Alright, so unless you’ve been hiding under a rock some place you’re probably aware of the resurgence of frozen yogurt. Sure, the current trend still touts frozen yogurt as a healthy alternative to ice cream, but the newest incarnation is worlds apart from the overly sweet, ice cream mimicking flavors and strange fluffy/ pseudo creamy texture of the Yogurt Delites of your youth (ok maybe just the youth of everybody old like me).
If my exhaustive research (i.e. wikepedia) proves correct, the new wave of frozen yogurt has it’s origins either directly or indirectly in Korea. Most of you already know that that the first purveyor of the new fro yo in the U.S. is a place called Pinkberry and was started by a Korean – American woman who opened up her first store in LA a few years back in 2005 or so. Of course there is some dispute as to whether Pinkberry got the idea from Red Mango a fro-yo chain that started in S. Korea a few years before Pinkberry. But I think most can agree that Pinkberry was the first to open stores in the US. Now, I started seeing Pinkberry shops pop up in NYC a little bit over a year ago and I admit, I was pretty skeptical. The idea of standing in line and paying a lot of money for a frozen yogurt with – OMG fresh fruit! – struck me as akin to idiocy. Sure it was a brilliant business plan designed to separate “health conscious”, trendy hipster/suckers from their money, but really was it all that? Well being a man who constantly strives to better himself and confront his prejudices head on, I decided to give Pinkberry the benefit of the doubt and last summer while visiting visiting friends on the occasion of their annual Brazilian BBQ (another post on this event will appear in a few months when I visit them again for the all day eating affair) I entered a Pink Berry in Santa Monica or maybe Venice, ordered a small plain yogurt with strawberries and kiwis for the price of $3.50 and dug in…
It was good. The tart and gently sweet yogurt with it’s light creamy texture complicated by the juice of the kiwi and strawberry took me back to a childhood of frozen yogurt pop ups. But this was- dare I say it? -healthy tasting and ever so refreshing! Ok, so now I was a certifiable sucker. But, fortunately a sucker with some self control so back in New York, while I noticed new Pinkberrys popping up all over Manhattan, I only indulged a few times and mostly with friends who were visiting from out of town and also new converts to the Pinkberry /”crackberry”.
Of course it was only a matter of time before other folks got in on the act to cash in on the fro-yo craze. Other yogurt places began popping up offering the same “healthy specially formulated frozen yogurt” with an assortment of fresh fruits as well as more traditional sundae like toppings. I maintained my distance, not out of any loyalty to Pinkberry mind you. Just because I viewed the frozen treat as precisely that – a treat to be indulged in occasionally – not as a meal replacement as is the case with many a fashionable young New Yorker.
But this past spring, I had a couple occasions to go back to California both to visit friends and for work and of course when I hang with my people in Cali, we eat, a lot. And since these were some of the folks with whom I’d lost my Pinkberry virginity, I felt safe in their company to broaden my frozen yogurt horizons, if you will.
1. Yogurt Harmony
So the first Pinkberry imitator I tried with my friend Simon was called Yogurt Harmony in downtown Berkeley.
It was good. I don’t know if I liked it as much as Pinkberry (but really can a fro-yo experience ever be as intense as the very first time?). Well I guess I liked it well enough to visit it a second time the next day with other friends and family after a gut busting meal of korean bbq. This time along with my sis and her family, PK, Matt, Arlie and DJ Dave were present and all offered their opinion of Yogurt Harmony. For the Pinkberry loyalists like PK, Yogurt Harmony did not match up. But that also could be because PK, who is Korean is so fiercely nationalistic and as far as I am aware Yogurt Harmony was not started by a Korean American (wrong – go to the comments for this post for the 411), I thought that while it lacked the distinctive tart almost sherberty quality of flavor, the flavor was still good – lightly sweet and yogurty – and the consistency was smooth.
To be perfectly honest, my memories of yogurt harmony are vague at best because as I write this almost three months have passed since I was there (so much for timely blogging). The next time I ventured out into new fro-yo territory happened to be again in California only about a month and a half ago with the same cast of characters. But this time, I brought my digital camera so fortunately (or maybe not) I took some video to document the experience of hitting two competing fro-yo establishments, Papamingo and Ryno, in one night. So now I don’t have to rely on my shoddy memory to give you the review. Just watch the shoddy video. And then watch the video of another new fro-yo place in Brooklyn, NY called Yogo Monster that me and JG sampled after we put in time devouring burgers at Dumont Burger, the review of which which will appear soon (hopefully) in the burger reviews.
2. Papmingo v. Ryno
3. Yogo Monster
4. Red Mango
Ok, I’ll make this review quick and to the point. Last weekend during the heat wave me and Shef went to Red Mango on 14th near 6th Ave. in Manhattan to treat ourselves to a late afternoon treat. Now Red Mango might be the OG (see above) in the Korean frozen yogurt hood but being the (disputed) original does not mean being the best. In fact out of all the fro joints I’ve been to, I’d say I was the least impressed with Red Mango for a couple reasons. First of all, the yogurt was mildly yogurty, but basically lacked the sharp tartness that makes this stuff different than Yogurt Delite. Ok, it was better than Yogurt Delite which we actually passed on the way (it was packed by the way – Yogurt Delite is not completely dead). But it wasn’t that good. And given the $6 for a medium with two toppings, it almost wasn’t even good. I didn’t feel any of the refreshed delight I that usually accompanies these fro-yo forays. Perhaps I’m over it and Red Mango just happened to be the place where I got over it. Or perhaps, Red Mango with it’s too sweet yogurt base and too high price pushed the yogurt past a novel culinary experience and into the realm of cold calculated attempt to make a whole lot of money from suckers like me. Basically, that’s how I felt after my Red Mango experience. Used. And get this:I even tried to prevent someone else from feeling this debasement by offering my advice free of charge to a few folks were outside of the shop debating if they should enter or go to the Pinkberry on the other corner of 6th and 14th. Despite my persuasive way and magnanimous commentary they still elected go to Red Mango. One of the women said she liked it better. I think the heat was affecting her sense of reason. Oh well, you can’t say I didn’t try. And in life isn’t that all you can do?