Cafe Reviews

Frozen yogurt makes its cultural comeback

Pop culture is conspiring to give me a major flashback. From leggings to neon-colored sneakers, hipster kids are dressing like it's the end of the Reagan era. The Police, who reunited last year, are on a world tour. Poison lead singer Bret Michaels has a hit reality show on VH1. And frozen yogurt is all the rage — again.

But a few things are different, this time around. First off, I'm happy to report that mall bangs and acid-washed denim are not part of the retro fashion resurgence. And the trendiest kind of frozen yogurt is nothing like the soft-serve dessert that made TCBY so ubiquitous in the '80s and early '90s.

Back then, people adored fro-yo for its resemblance to ice cream. It was sugary and dense, intended to deceive our taste buds. But the new wave celebrates the true taste of yogurt: It's considerably lighter, with a sweet-and-sour appeal.

The boom started in South Korea, and then took off in Los Angeles with the debut of Pinkberry three years ago. That homegrown chain has blown up into dozens of stores — not to mention imitators — nationwide, and since Starbucks founder Howard Schultz's venture fund invested almost $28 million into the brand (in a deal announced last October), it promises to be bigger than ever.

Locally, it's a fledgling fad, and while there's no Pinkberry presence, several savvy businesses are banking on our taste for novelty — and our sizzling summers.

Seven Sisters Sweet Shop
20731 N. Scottsdale Rd., #103, Scottsdale 480-585-6103, Hours: Monday through Saturday, 11 7 p.m.

Seven Sisters Sweet Shop owner Christine Kim was way, way ahead of the curve on the tangy fro-yo phenomenon. Kim has been selling her handmade chocolates here since 1990, but in November 2006, she got in on the yogurt game, too.

Discreetly tucked alongside the Bashas' in the Grayhawk Plaza, this tiny storefront seems hidden in plain view. Up front, the seating area has an old-fashioned tea parlor feel. Shelves full of candy and a long display of truffles lead to the compact yogurt counter in the back. Plain yogurt is always available, and green tea, raspberry, and blueberry are alternating options; there are eight fresh fruit toppings and twice as many dry toppings, from Callebaut chocolate chips to plump blackberries.

Kim says her original recipe is non-fat, with 200 calories in an eight-ounce serving. I sampled the plain and green tea flavors. Green tea was delicate, with just a subtle hint of matcha. And compared to what other places are selling, Seven Sisters' plain yogurt has a creamier consistency. Still, it's proudly tangy.

"Well, I am Korean, so we are very familiar with this kind of yogurt," she says.

Ice Tango
15560 N. Frank Lloyd Wright Blvd., #B9, Scottsdale, 480-767-2665. Hours: Daily, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

If I had any lingering doubts that this healthful dessert is the wave of the future, Ice Tango fully reassured me.

"Smells Like Teen Spirit" was blaring on the sound system when I got there one afternoon, and besides the three cheerful teenage girls working behind the counter, there were a few teenage customers lounging on retro-futuristic green plastic chairs and a tangerine banquette. Nostalgia was lost on everyone but me.

Open since October, Ice Tango neighbors a Subway in the Scottsdale Towne Center, but its offerings aren't typical strip mall fare. Along with plain "twangy" frozen yogurt and three rotating fruit flavors (currently pomegranate, blueberry, and mango), the menu includes yogurt smoothies, frozen custard, custard shakes, several savory crepes, a dozen dessert crepes (such as Nutella-banana, and Brie with fruit preserves), and a cereal bar.

Still, I came for the plain yogurt, which I found a little bit lighter than its competitors, both in texture and intensity. Pomegranate was refreshing, too, with a mildly floral tartness. After I learned that Ice Tango's original recipe is fat-free and only 20 calories an ounce, I felt like I could probably inhale that much more of it.

But let the eater beware: This place has the biggest selection of toppings in town, about 40 in all. And, no doubt, those can add fat and calories. Stick to fruit or fresh, chewy mochi (glutinous rice cake) if you want to play it safe.

7700 W. Arrowhead Towne Center (75th Ave. and Bell Rd.), 623-334-5237, Hours: Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

You'd never guess from the Schiaparelli-pink walls, opalescent tiled counter, and Philippe Starck Louis Ghost chairs that Yogurberry — located inside the Arrowhead mall — is straight outta Korea. But it's the real deal.

This chain, started in South Korea in 2004, has locations throughout Asia. Franchise owner Mike Lee, who also owns a Yogurberry at Gilbert's San Tan Village, opened his doors in early December.

Plain yogurt, raspberry, peach, and strawberry are on the menu for now (along with 24 toppings, including mochi, granola, candy sprinkles, and fresh fruit), but within the next month or so, Yogurberry will expand to eight flavors. All of them are non-fat, with 25 calories an ounce.

The Glendale crowd is still catching on to the tangy flavor. I mention to Lee that I think his version is a little bit sweeter than the other fro-yo options in town, and he explains that he tweaked the recipe to suit customer tastes.

"I started off with Yogurberry's formula from Korea, which is tangier and icier, but people wanted it sweeter and creamier," he says. "It's still pretty tangy, though."

No argument there.

1250 E. Apache Blvd., #104, Tempe 480-968-6101. Hours: Monday through Thursday, 11 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

The strip mall that houses Pita Jungle and Tasty Kabob was already a Tempe destination, but it got a whole lot cooler with the debut of Chill, in February.

As you'd expect from something in the orbit of ASU, the vibe at this compact dessert shop is young and energetic, with a lime, melon, and chocolate color scheme that evokes the shades of housemade gelato in the big glass case. There are 15 gelato flavors in all, from Snickers to birthday cake. There's also vanilla soy soft-serve, a hit with the vegan crowd that's actually quite tasty.

In the way of yogurt, there's just one flavor: good ol' plain. More flavors will be added this month, although I'm already hooked on the refreshing zing of the original, perhaps topped with some pineapple and coconut. Chill makes its fro-yo with non-fat yogurt and low-fat milk, so yeah, there might be a smidgen of milkfat in it. And the calorie content is undetermined.

Honestly, though, I couldn't care less. Low-cal and fat-free promises are nice, but when it comes down to it, as long as it tastes good, you can count me in.

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Michele Laudig
Contact: Michele Laudig