My first thought when I saw the "Coming Soon" sign for the new Red Mango location on Mill Avenue in Tempe: Are you kidding?
Ever since the fro-yo craze revived a few years back, along with cupcakes and bacon (and bacon cupcakes, shudder), self-serve yogurt shops have been popping up in Phoenix like choking weeds in a culinary garden already over-saturated with frozen treats. And in this case, the yogurt shop in question is a block away from two ice cream shops and another self-serve fro-yo joint called Mojo.
Red Mango looks much like every other fro-yo game in town, with one wall of shiny silver machines set against a red glass tile backdrop, a handful of white chairs for dining in, and a toppings bar featuring such favorites as mochi, strawberries and crushed cookies. Color me unimpressed.
Then I tasted the yogurt.
I'd heard the hype about how Red Mango's yogurt is all-natural with no artificial sweeteners, lowfat, and contains probiotics. Basically, all the health claims every food product seems to be making these days.
Regardless of its purported health benefits, Red Mango's yogurt is pretty damned tasty.
The White Peach variety tasted like a tree-ripened piece of fruit, with no trace of the too-sweet artificial flavor that plagues most fruity yogurts. It was subtly tart and sweet, with a strange texture that I swear had the fuzzy mouthfeel of real peach skin. Whatever chemical product created that texture I have no idea, but it's one of the best imitations of nature I've found in a dessert.
The Caribbean Coconut and Mandarin Orange formed a sort of creamy, tropical oasis on my tongue. The coconut was rich and creamy, with a slight textural bite, while the orange was reminiscent of summery sherbet. Pomegranate was equally enjoyable, with a powerful sweet-tart flavor that tasted like the fruit's red seeds at their ripest.
After sampling the mandarin, the banana yogurt fell flat. The flavor was certainly closer to a real banana than any other yogurt (usually it taste more like the disgusting yellow Runts candies), but no frozen treat mimics the distinct, almost mealy texture of ripened bananas. Raspberry Cheesecake was also a bummer, with an overpowering perfume-like fruit flavor that soured on my tongue and a barely detectable whisper of cream cheese.
Surprisingly, Red Mango's vanilla -- normally a bland and nondescript flavor -- was a standout. The texture was remarkably similar to fresh, non-frozen yogurt. The flavor was complex, with a primary sweetness followed by the recognizable mellow tang of fresh Madagascar vanilla bean. It was refreshing and delicious, especially when paired with the enjoyable original tart yogurt.
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After tasting every flavor currently offered at Red Mango and swirling up a heaping cup, I barely glanced at the toppings. Frankly, the yogurt itself is so delicious that why would you want to cover it up? I suppose it's like putting lipstick on an already gorgeous, full-lipped model: In some people's minds it enhances the original, while to others, it just covers the original beauty (or in this case, tastiness) up.