The brainchild of a pair of Midwestern sisters who hawked the concept of gourmet edible cookie dough (ya eat it, not bake it) on a 2014 episode of Shark Tank, the Cookie Dough Cafe is a bit of a take-home hit—it sells its wares by the pint in supermarkets across the nation, from Market of Choice and Key Foods to Walmart. In early November, the CDC opened its first brick-and-mortar “scoop shop” in Portland’s Pearl District, a spartan white chamber with around eight flavors of spoon candy—think chocolate chip, gluten-free oatmeal, Oreo, and sprinkle-studded sugar cookie. The cafe serves generous orbs of dough scooped into cups ($3.50–9), dough paired with waffle wafers ($8), and even dough sandwiched between discs of overachieving dough (aka cookie dough sandwiches, $6). You can get it by the pint too, for $8—but you might die if you ate all that.
PoMo staffers were skeptical of the concept (cue the salmonella jokes) but we couldn’t help but be intrigued if not a little excited. I mean, who among us has not snuck a spoonful of thick, sticky, crazy-rich cinnamon-sugary snickerdoodle dough or chocolate-studded, brown sugary chocolate chip batter before popping a sheet of cookies in the oven? (The answer: only monsters, that’s who. That shit is delicious.)
Prepared cookie dough of varying quality is already a staple in supermarket freezer aisles (good), fro yo toppings bars (bad), and Papa Murphy’s Pizza cold cases (surprisingly OK). The CDC aims to upgrade the guilty pleasure into a gourmet experience, with all the bells and whistles of a local ice cream shop. They’re not alone: Dough bars are popping up all across the country, vying with goth ice cream for dubious dessert trend supremacy. And, yes, CDC makes all its doughs without eggs, which means there’s no danger of salmonella and you can't bake ‘em even if you wanted to. (“They just kinda come out flat…and oily,” explained a friendly staffer.)
The verdict? Sadly, the silly concept is better than the staid execution so far: overly soft doughs with the texture of whipped frosting and sharply salty or bland flavors. It’s just not good enough to justify the indulgence. If you’re going to spackle your stomach with a month’s worth of butter and sugar in one go, it better be frickin’ amazing.
That chocolate chip dough is dull and white sugary with a waxy chocolate aftertaste; the snickerdoodle overwhelmingly creamy and with little cinnamon bite. The Oreo actually tasted like crushed-up Oreos, so good on them. And the baked cookies they sell? They’re unpleasantly sweet and a bit tough. Biting through a whole sandwich of this stuff is not fun.
The mostly young and overwhelmingly female customers who populated the counter stools at the CDC during our visit seem fine with these snoozy sugar bombs (a CDC gift card would make a solid present for a sweet-fiending high schooler), but I made a dozen game PoMo staffers dig into a CDC to-go order and they unanimously found that one spoonful—and one spoonful alone—was plenty.
“Is this frosting with chunky bits?” asked one staffer. “My stomach is clenching up,” reported another. “This [oatmeal and M&M Monster cookie dough] tastes like when you’re backpacking and you put a bunch of peanut butter in your oatmeal…because you just need the calories and have to get through the day.” “I think the vegan brownie batter is the best,” weighed in a more hopeful eater. “It tastes like bad vacation fudge—in a good way.” “This cookie dough is worse than the new tax plan,” quipped another.
"Why does this exist?" We wondered. “Because, you see,” explained our health editor. “Once every 28 days, a woman gets a feeling. And the only solution is a cookie dough cafe.” (She was poking fun at stereotypes about ladythings, obviously, but truthfully the link between PMS and garbage food is real and was bound to be used as an excuse for a dessert franchise sooner or later. I'd just hoped it would be better.)
But our digital editor identified a larger, more philosophical problem with a Cookie Dough Cafe. “One of the joys of eating cookie dough is that it feels a little dangerous. You sneak just a little bit,” she mused, chewing through another lump of CDC’s eggless dough. “To walk in and just pay someone to give you a bunch of cookie dough is no fun without the danger.”
Another editor nailed it: “We could all make better cookie dough than this,” she whispered sadly. (Please, do that, someone. I think you could make a killing in this town.)