The Wildly Imaginative and Irrepressible Charm of the Morgan St. Theater Ice Cream Pop-Up

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Listen up, couples (you too, singles): The next time you plan a night on the town, you could always take the time-tested dinner-and-a-show route. Or, you could feed you inner child by skipping dinner altogether — and being part of the show.

Portland’s Jared Goodman — a former social studies teacher who became a stay-at-home father of two — is the man behind Morgan St Theater, a sometimes monthly pop-up that marries scratch-made ice cream desserts with some form of performative art. And it was born, he tells us, out of his desire to reconnect with other adults.

“As a stay-at-home dad, I missed adults and throwing dinner parties,” he explains. “At the same time, I wanted to pursue this idea I had to ‘revolutionize the ice cream sundae’ by making it smaller, less sweet, and more thoughtfully composed.”

After hosting a few pop-ups, Goodman’s wife suggested that he, a natural yarn-spinner, thread storytelling into each evening. This gave him the opportunity to aesthetically contextualize each dessert served.

Since then, Morgan St Theater has whisked in other forms of art. Past pop-ups have leaned on the talents of flamenco dancers, musicians, and puppeteers. And after three years, it’s a smooth emulsification made up of equal parts dinner theater and ice cream social.

But that’s not to say it’s without surprises.

At one of Morgan St Theater’s pop-ups, Goodman and his wife passed out a half dozen desserts, each based on a Dr. Seuss book, as six guests read from those books. Some desserts were deceptively simple. “Horton Hears a Who” inspired Goodman to nimbly rest an island-like scoop of rhubarb-strawberry-rose sorbet into a delicate puddle of rhubarb water.

Others were slyly subversive: In heeding the Lorax’s environmental warning, Goodman composed a dessert comprising coffee ice cream, chocolate ganache, banana bread, and hazelnut praline. As he said at the time, he combined those four endangered flavors because his future grandchildren may never experience them if climate change isn’t seriously — and promptly — addressed.

“I think food and storytelling are so intricately related,” Goodman says. “But every medium tells a story — a story that can be interpreted into a dessert. I want my guests to engage in meaningful ways. Since Morgan St Theater is as much a social experience as it is a culinary one, I think talking about art or ideas with other people is a natural match.”

And there’s a reason he works with ice cream as his medium.

“The reason I do composed ice cream desserts — instead of just ice cream — is for the textural contrasts,” he says. “Each component in each dish brings a new flavor or texture to the experience, and I like that.”

In 2017, Morgan St Theater will pop up monthly, from February to August, with themes incorporating Elliott Smith, Passover, cannabis, and, once again, Dr. Seuss.

You can catch Goodman on summer weekends, too, when he pedals his Pedal Parlor ice cream trike to the Woodlawn and King farmers markets.

And you can catch him sometime this year on an episode of “Art Beat,” in which he’s interviewed at length about how he’s spent the past three years as the culinary artist in residence for the Portland Art Museum’s Edible History program.

Chad Walsh is a freelance writer living in Portland, Oregon. He contributes to—and sometimes pinch hits as editor—at Eater PDX, and writes for other publications like Edible Portland.

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