Portland is a gelato town. Mio, Staccato, Alotto—we love 'em all, even in the winter. So when two boutique yogurt shops recently opened in Northwest Portland under the guise of serving healthy treats (like wildly popular Los Angeles franchise Pinkberry), we wondered how they'd fare.
The answer: When pitted against our Portland favorites, they can't compete just yet .
Although it only opened in August, Northwest 23rd Avenue's sleek, minimalist Bleuet (French-Canadian for blueberry) harbors some disheartening signs: an often-empty shop and increasingly limited offerings (the crêpes available on one visit had disappeared by our second).
That's too bad, because Bleuet's housemade, nonfat, organic soft-serve frozen yogurt is quite decent; the original plain flavor is tart, pucker-worthy and favorable—especially if paired with toppings like organic granola or fresh seasonal fruit. The shop's cinnamon yogurt has an odd, lingering aftertaste, but its honey blend redeems Bleuet with nuanced sweetness.
Sold with or without toppings like chocolate chips or dull rum raisins, the yogurts are all pretty darn expensive. A small, two-topping yogurt costs $5.15, a medium three-topping fro-yo is $5.75. Co-owner Erez Buki explains that Bleuet sells a "higher quality" product. "Traditionally, the yogurt you have in other stores is made from a powder or formula," he says. "Ours is a homemade recipe and we mix it in the store."
A second yogurt shop opened in this same 'hood last September. Skinnidip is housed in a building with a tired blue overhang, but its interior, bright with hanging lanterns, warms patrons up fast.
Skinnidip distinguishes its product from Bleuet by serving plain frozen yogurt with live, active cultures alongside three fruit-flavored options. All are sourced from the familiar, Portland-based YoCream brand made popular during the frozen-yogurt craze of the late 1990s. The bright, sweet flavor of each variety (original, mango, raspberry and strawberry) makes Skinnidip's yogurt more likable than the yogurt at Bleuet—but they're not much cheaper—a small cup with two toppings costs close to $5.
The shop actually offers 24 toppings: 12 different kinds of fresh fruit—including kiwi and pomegranate seeds—as well as naughtier add-ins like Cap'n Crunch, Fruity Pebbles and crumbled Oreos. Those toppings distance the product from its healthy image but, luckily, the yogurt doesn't need these enhancements to taste good.
Still, we're betting that for locals, the allure of guilt-free treats won't be enough to transform gelato addicts into yogurt lovers. Unlike the gelato shops that frame our city, these yogurt shops are simply not habit-forming. Unless they start serving warm winter alternatives (like Mio Gelato's rich hot chocolate) and lower prices, they likely won't draw crowds until summer's swelter makes a cool treat a necessity, not an indulgence.
Bleuet, 1019 NW 23rd Ave., 295-5981. 11 am-9 pm daily. $. Skinnidip, 2230 W Burnside St., 222-5230. 11 am-9 pm Monday-Thursday, 11 am-10 pm Friday-Saturday, noon-8 pm Sunday. $