How will this summer differ from every other Minnesota summer? For starters, you now have an infinite number of frozen-yogurt sundaes, parfaits, and deconstructed banana splits at your fingertips, in nearly every neighborhood in town. Why have all these new spots opened? Because of a little phenomenon called Pinkberry, a frozen-yogurt chain that started in Los Angeles and quickly spread throughout the world, inspiring astonishingly long lines. Their shtick is that you get a cup, fill it with yogurt, choose toppings from the hundred or so on offer, and then pay for the whole kit and caboodle by the ounce, say 40 cents or so. Nothing succeeds like success, and suddenly over the winter in Minnesota all kinds of Pinkberry-like things have sprung up, some locally grown—The Yogurt Lab, Freeziac, FreeStyle—while others are chains, like Menchie’s (St. Paul) and Tutti Frutti (Maple Grove).
Why is this happening? On the one hand, these outfits have a health halo around them because of their fresh-fruit toppings. And it is indeed possible to get a little plain frozen yogurt crowned with a bunch of blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries. But it’s also equally possible to start with a Ghirardelli chocolate yogurt (it’s good, and found at St. Paul’s FreeStyle) and layer it with hot fudge, smashed Heath bars, marshmallow sauce, pretzels, Captain Crunch, cookies, chocolate chips, cheesecake squares, brownie crumbles—need I go on?
In any event, I went to all the new frozen-yogurt places and am prepared to answer the big questions. Are they interchangeable? More or less yes. Freeziac (with Mall of the America and other suburban locations) is the plainest Jane of them all, but certainly functional and good. FreeStyle and The Yogurt Lab have the best-tasting yogurt and freshest toppings. FreeStyle in St. Paul is the best for big groups, and its tropical design (surfboards for tables, mod scoop chairs) has a nice kid-friendly pop about it. The Yogurt Lab in Minneapolis (near Lake Calhoun and Whole Foods) is the best for grownups. The tongue-in-chic lab design has countless charming elements, from a faux periodic table of flavors on the wall (Fiore di Latte, a nice buoyant vanilla, is “Fd,” while Tahitian Vanilla is “Tv”) to test tubes on the walls filled with flavor elements.
I ended up paying between $3 and $5 per sundae or parfait, though I can readily imagine a hungry teenager’s sundae clocking in at $8. All in all, I’d say the shops are good to have around—as long as you don’t invest too much energy kidding yourself that these sundaes are salads. I think they’re a particular boon to citizens aged 8 to 16, who previously haven’t really had a place where you could take them and say, “You aced your report card! Go nuts!” And now we do. Ladies and gentlemen, you can hereby consider your kid’s next spelling test newly incentivized.
FreeStyle Yogurt, 500 Lexington Pkwy. S., St. Paul, 651-699-1992, freestyleyogurt.com
The Yogurt Lab, 3100 Excelsior Blvd., Mpls., 612-926-8212, yogurtlabs.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, facebook.com/pages/Tutti-Frutti-Maple-Grove
Menchie’s, 750 Cleveland Ave. S., St. Paul, 651-797-6428, menchies.com