Upon hearing about the recent influx of frozen yogurt shops, a colleague remarked, "Is this the 1980s all over again?" Though we have yet to see a Flock of Seagulls haircut resurface, he does have a point: The Twin Cities hasn't seen this many fro-yo places open in quite some time.
Of the four recently opened frozen yogurt shops we visited, two were home-grown concepts and two were franchises. The national chain Tutti Frutti, located in Maple Grove's Shoppes at Arbor Lakes (7781 N. Main St.), was the first of the four, opening in September. Another popular chain, Menchie's, entered the market in October when manager Whitney Anderson and her family opened their location in Highland Park.
The holidays brought a third fro-yo concept to the area: The Yogurt Lab, (3100 Excelsior Blvd., Mpls.) at Minneapolis' Calhoun Village. According to manager Marie Tavlin, owners Aaron and Andrea Switz and Phil Becker saw the trend explode on the West Coast and saw an untapped niche here. And back in St. Paul, former restaurant and retail consultant David Brandner launched FreeStyle Yogurt (500 S. Lexington Pkwy.) last month.
The Heavy Table did an exhaustive, gut-busting pilgrimage to sample the frozen yogurt, discover new toppings and feel the vibe of each shop. Overall, we found the yogurt quality and flavor selection ranging from good to excellent, but subtle differences among the shops' offerings exist.
All four shops offer small cups for tastes so you can find your favorites, then pick up a big bowl. (Menchie's offers a waffle bowl for an extra $1, while FreeStyle also has a cone option.) You'll always find vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, a cake batter/cupcake flavor and other classics among the 12 to 14 flavors available daily.
Red velvet seems particularly popular these days, and our preference is for the not overly sweet version at Tutti Frutti. Seasonal favorites rotate in and out frequently, though we saw candy cane flavors holding on through January. According to Tavlin, the rock star at the Yogurt Lab is the salted caramel, which they pair with green apple for a caramel apple swirl option, but our favorite was the fior di latte, a milky smooth base that easily takes on toppings. Other standouts include the white chocolate mousse at FreeStyle, the almond and coffee at Tutti Frutti, and the gingerbread at Menchie's.
All the shops offer at least one tart yogurt flavor, as well -- the California favorite may be new to many Midwestern palates, but it's slowly catching on.
"It takes an acquired taste. At first people would want to mix it with fruit to sweeten it, but now it's selling more," says Tutti Frutti franchisee Kelly Gaspar.
The Tate Laboratory of Physics will host a free public lecture called "Physics and Cooking." Prof. David Weitz will demonstrate the use of physics in cooking. His lecture will be based on an introductory science course offered at Harvard University by Weitz and a team of chefs, including Ferran Adria, and the Alícia Foundation, which explores a new way of motivating interest in science and teaching it to nonscientists. (7 p.m. next. Thu., 116 SE. Church St., Room 150, Mpls. www.eatrightmn.org.)
- The Heavy Table team writes about food and drink in the Upper Midwest five days a week, twice a day, at www.heavytable.com