Dining with Dara: Frozen yogurt is hot again

Frozen yogurt
A salted caramel frozen yogurt dessert topped with raspberries, blueberries and chocolate sprinkles Wednesday, May 30, 2012 at Yogurt Lab in Minneapolis.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

Any attentive city dweller has noticed them: New frozen yogurt shops have popped up all over the Twin Cities. Our regular food and dining correspondent, Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl, senior editor of Minneapolis St. Paul Magazine, spoke with MPR's Tom Crann about where they came from, and which are the best.

Tom Crann: So where did all these frozen yogurt shops come from?

Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl: They come from California. Well, conceptually they come from California, though some are home grown.

Here's the deal. In the winter of 2005 a little thing called Pinkberry was founded in West Hollywood, California. It was pretty simple: Frozen yogurt with Asian influence -- that is, it had flavors like green tea and toppings like fresh mango.

It became a thing -- people would get it three times a week, stand in line for hours. People proclaimed themselves Pinkberry Groupies. Pinkberry detractors called it Crackberry, new locations would open and prompt frenzies. It was a thing. It still is. Today there are more than 180 Pinkberry locations around the world, and hundreds more copycats and let's say inspired followers.

Crann: But there are no Pinkberry locations in Minnesota.

Moskowitz Grumdahl: Not today. But there are lots of new Pinkberry-inspired creations, some homegrown, some national chains. There are at least a dozen now in the Twin Cities, with names like Yogurt Lab, Freeziac, Freestyle, Menchie's, Tutti Frutti, and Chilly Billy's.

The first was actually from the local Asian restaurant chain Leann Chin, and it was called Red Cherry, but the real enthusiasm seems to be coming for the stand-alone ones with the cute new names.

Crann: It sounds like they all have cute names, and a common ancestor as their common ground. Anything else?

Moskowitz Grumdahl: Toppings. Typically the way these places work is, you go in, you get an empty cup, you dispense frozen yogurt into that cup, and then you approach the toppings bar.

Crann: A toppings bar?

Moskowitz Grumdahl: Yes. Imagine a salad bar, compartment after compartment after compartment, filled with your choice of fruit, candy or random stuff.

Fruit like: Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, grapes, kiwi fruit, mango chunks, watermelon. Candy like: M&M's, chocolate covered almonds, smashed up Heath Bars, jelly beans, Reese's Pieces. Random stuff like: Pretzels, Teddy Graham's, Captain Crunch, mochi rice cakes, tapioca pearls in jelly, marshmallow sauce, hot fudge, brownie chunks, Froot Loops --

Crann: Wait, wait, that's too much!

Moskowitz Grumdahl: Yes, it is too much. Then you take your too much, and you bring it to the counter, and pay somewhere between 40 cents and 50 cents an ounce. Whenever I've been, I end up paying between $3 and $5 for a frozen yogurt sundae.

Crann: And I suppose you pay the same whether you get the candy or the fruit toppings?

Moskowitz Grumdahl: Yes. I think part of the reason these are so popular is because it's possible to go in as a family and have the grownups get a little sundae of nonfat frozen yogurt sprinkled with a handful of antioxidant rich berries, while the kids get some Ghirardelli chocolate yogurt (at St. Paul's Freestyle, for instance) and pile on hot fudge and Gummi Bears.

Just do yourself a favor and don't fool yourself into thinking that hot fudge and Gummi Bears are healthy because they're on a bed of frozen yogurt. Experts call this the "health halo," the idea that because something is associated with health, it's healthy.

Crann: The health halo, such as when frosted granola bars are marketed with pictures of people camping.

Moskowitz Grumdahl: Yes, or when you get a milkshake at Starbucks and think it's healthy because it's just coffee.

Crann: But if you don't fool yourself into thinking hot fudge is diet food, you are recommending these new frozen yogurt spots?

Moskowitz Grumdahl: Absolutely. My two favorites are the homegrown spots Freestyle, in St. Paul, which has the cutest little surfboard tables and a Santa Cruz/Hawaii vibe; Yogurt Lab, right by Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis, which will have two more locations before the end of the summer, in downtown Minneapolis in the IDS center and at 50th and France near the Edina border.

So kids, do well on your report cards! And you might get to go out for frozen yogurt and cover it with Cap'n Crunch and mini marshmallows.

More information on the places Dara mentions:

• The Yogurt Lab, 3100 Excelsior Blvd., Mpls., 612-926-8212, (and forthcoming locations in downtown Minneapolis and Edina), yogurtlabs.com

• FreeStyle Yogurt, 500 Lexington Pkwy. S., St. Paul, 651-699-1992, freestyleyogurt.com

• Chilly Billy's, 314 15th Ave. S., Mpls., 612-843-4278, chillybillysfrozenyogurt.com

• Freeziac, 375 N. Mall of America, 952-303-6801; 16532 W. 78th St., Bloomington, 952-934-4748; 4105 Vinewood Ln. N., Plymouth, 763-383-0300; freeziac.com

•Tutti Frutti, 7781 Main St. N., Maple Grove, 763-416-0362, tfyogurt.com

• Red Cherry at Leann Chin, multiple locations; leeannchin.com/frozen_yogurt.php

•Menchie's, 750 Cleveland Ave. S., St. Paul, 651-797-6428, menchies.com

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