The Sweets Issue
There are moments of adulthood—like when you lie awake until three worrying about health insurance—that make you wish you had remained young enough to play in the sandbox forever. Then there are moments, like when you're holding an ice cream cone in one hand and a glass of porter in the other, when you remember that sandboxes are more likely to contain used Band-Aids than beer or ice cream. Full Tilt—an ice cream parlor with beer, pinball, video games, and live music—supplies the type of experiences that make you savor adulthood daily.
I first set foot in the White Center Full Tilt three years ago. The walls were throbbing neon green; pinball machines buzzed and dinged everywhere; I had a mind-blowing scoop of chocolate peanut butter and a 9LB Porter. A customer bought a giant bag of glow-in-the-dark cock rings from the sex shop across the street and distributed them to everyone. Iron Maiden was playing at a volume appropriate for metal but comfortable enough to talk over. The place felt like the Belltown I glimpsed through windows when I was underage.
Justin Cline and his wife, Ann Magyar, opened Full Tilt in 2008. Justin, inspired by the positive changes he had observed in Columbia City when La Medusa opened, decided to start a business in his own neighborhood. (Coincidentally, La Medusa is now for sale, after 15 successful years.) "[White Center] has a great little main street core that was 60 percent vacant," Justin said. "I knew that if I opened something, other people would do the same."
Justin used to be the Off Ramp's booking agent, then he worked for Microsoft while serving sandwiches at Salumi in his off hours. Bored of tech, he took up boat construction until Full Tilt's popularity allowed him to devote his existence to ice cream full-time. There are now locations in Columbia City, the University District, and Ballard: triumph! And now Justin books shows for Full Tilt's White Center and Columbia City shops, leaning toward "punk, stoner metal, folk, and electronic noise." Full Tilt also hosts Dungeons & Dragons nights and "Vinyl Appreciation Night" every Sunday, when customers can play any music they like—as long as it's on vinyl.
Justin's relationships with other local businesses like Top Pot, Theo Chocolate, and Big Al Brewing have yielded some of Full Tilt's most interesting flavors. Last year, Full Tilt even collaborated with Uncle Mike's BBQ to produce a barbecue ice cream, which was much more palatable than finding a steak in your Häagen-Dazs. Currently, two flavors are inspired by White Center's Mexican grocery stores—light, cinnamony horchata and tangy mango-chili.
I love nearly anything salted caramel and have eaten enough of it to fill a small car (not that I have ever filled a car with caramel, especially not for revenge), and a still-warm waffle cone of Full Tilt's version is nothing short of awesome. It pairs beautifully with a can of Maui's CoCoNut Porter. I'd hoped to try their ube—a sweet, purplish-blue Filipino yam—but they were out, so I opted for Blue Moon, an electric-blue concoction that called to mind creamy, frozen Smurf flesh.
Full Tilt begins the ice-cream-making process by pouring a mixture of ice cream base and Filipino yams, cake pieces, Smurfs—whatever flavorings each type of ice cream requires—into a 950-pound steel machine called a batch freezer that would probably liquefy you if it was sentient. The batch freezer cools and stirs the mixture until it's the consistency of soft-serve, which is transferred to a blast freezer until it is the proper consistency.
When the New York Times did a piece on his business, Justin celebrated by getting Full Tilt knuckle tattoos in a color and font that wouldn't look out of place on one of the shop's vintage pinball machines. "I figured at that point, it had been such a high point in my life, owning this business—I'm happy with the memory of it tattooed on my hands even if it tanks tomorrow," he told me. With a recently opened Ballard location and plans to increase wholesale business, Full Tilt seems more likely to necessitate increasingly elaborate and creatively placed tattoos.