You'd be forgiven for thinking of soft serve as the lesser ice cream. It's best known as the dessert of choice at fast-food joints, usually prepared from a ready-made mystery packet, its ingredients more likely to be found in a laboratory than a dairy.
But lately, Seattle's sweet shops have been embracing this long-maligned treat. With wholesale dairy bases now available from the likes of Edaleen Dairy and Snoqualmie Ice Cream, the soft serves we're seeing in Seattle are better-tasting than their forbears, and with pronounceable ingredients to boot.
In an increasingly crowded artisan ice cream market, soft serve has become a more attractive option for many restaurant owners. It's quicker and easier to serve, a particularly appealing quality at places where lines can stretch down the block (not naming any names). There's also the novelty factor—after all, who doesn't secretly love that sky-high swirly cone of indeterminate origin?
Or, as Plum Restaurants' Makini Howell puts it, "it just makes you happy. Who doesn't like soft serve?"
Who indeed? Here are some of the newer places in Seattle where you can pick up a cone (or mason jar, or doughnut vessel) of the stuff.
The new Capitol Hill outpost of Autumn Martin’s molten chocolate cakery has been dishing out soft serve since its August 10 opening. Toppings are reminiscent of Hot Cakes’ sophisticated product lineup: smoked chocolate magic shell, crushed potato chips, cacao nib toffee, and peanut butter fudge are all available atop cups and housemade cones.
Rachel’s Ginger Beer
Alongside their new soft-serve lineup, Rachel’s Pike Place flagship store and new 12th Avenue location both dish up vanilla soft serve floated on their classic ginger beer or any of their special flavors. You can also spike it with rum or vodka, if that’s your jam (it’s ours).
Top Pot Doughnuts
After a few years in the ice cream biz, Seattle’s far-flung doughnut chain has added soft serve to its Fifth Avenue and Alki Beach locations. Their vanilla soft serve is available in a cone with housemade magic shell, but it’s the towering doughnut sundae that’s really taken the Alki boardwalk by storm. Soft serve machines are expected in more stores next year.
To say the parfaits at Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi’s Capitol Hill fourplex are a departure from the vanilla Carvel cone would be an understatement. Their surprising flavors—buttermilk custard with mochi and Thai basil syrup, mandarin soft-serve with coconut-jasmine tapioca—are served through the ice cream truck window on the restaurant’s Pike Street façade. You can return the mason jars they arrive in for a $1 discount.
Trophy’s new soft serve comes in chocolate and vanilla, but it’s anything but basic. Valrhona chocolate and Madagascar bourbon vanilla cones are currently available at Trophy’s Wallingford location, with plans to expand in the near future. Cupcake sundaes, floats, milkshakes, and affogato are also on the menu—and itty-bitty soft serve cones, which you can ask for atop any of their cupcake flavors.
Makini Howell’s new vegan 15th Avenue sweetshop unveiled its chocolate and vanilla soy soft serve with free sidewalk samples last weekend. Howell hopes to add banana split, caramel, and other seasonal flavors to the menu by the café’s September 13 opening, and to keep experimenting with other alternative milks (cashew soft-serve, anyone?)