You can have your newfangled organic yogurt concoctions, but we'll take our '80s-style fro-yo tarted up with sugary extras, prepared by the most capable servers we know: our control-freak selves.
So imagine our delight at the emergence throughout Portland of what might be categorized as DIY yogurt shops: coupling old-school, soft-serve fro-yo with a self-serve approach. The yo of the new decade? A veritable salad bar of cold, squishy goodness and all of its accouterments, usually located in a crisp, clean shop tiled in fruity colors.
Maybe we want just seven strands of coconut, 10 Fruity Pebbles or three Junior Mints. Or perhaps a dish of blueberries topped with a small dollop of vanilla yogurt. Possibly we'd like our caramel on the bottom and a sprinkle of malt powder on the top. Just try getting away with that crazy-lady OCD behavior at your local scoop shop: You'd be 86'd.
With all of these burgeoning outposts, we decided to embark on our very own "cultural" experience, a Tour de Fro, if you will. So here's the dish on the squish, yo.
3538 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 235-0422, swirl-frozenyogurt.com.
The basic template is similar throughout self-serve frozen-yogurt joints: Get a container. Fill it however much or little you want. No matter if you pile on the toppings or like only a slight dusting of Butterfinger, you pay what your container weighs (most prices around town range from 36 cents to 45 cents an ounce). And let's not forget the samples: If you want to try before you buy, just ask for some sample cups from the counter. (Or, if you're like Carin, keep asking for sample cups until Joanna stages an intervention.)
Yogurts served are from local company YoCream International; flavors range from basic chocolate to cake batter and red velvet (a bit liquidy on our visit), as well as a unique ginger-lemonade sorbet. We also spotted a sugar-free vanilla that, happily, had no acrid aftertaste. The toppings stand out by their sheer quantity; highlights include marshmallow sauce, malt powder and several types of mochi nuggets—which become pleasingly chewy when cold.
Cedar Hills Crossing, 3205 SW Cedar Hills Blvd., No. 21, Beaverton, 746-7729; Pointe of Bridgeport, 7122 SW Hazelfern Road, Tigard, 747-0630; peachwaveyogurt.com.
Initially daunted by the long haul to the suburban strip mall, we entered the shop and were struck dumb: 16 spouts dispensing a shocking spectrum of flavors. If you love fruit—guava, lemon, pineapple, strawberry—or the richer tastes of cookies and cream, coffee or cheesecake, you'll find something, no matter what your palate. (That said, we weren't fans of the banana, which had all the authenticity of a Now and Later.) Upon spotting the tiramisu lever, we turned to each other, eyes as wide as Peachwave's oversize serving cups. Damn, Peachwave! Oh no, you di'n't!
The yogurts are Peachwave's own recipe, and we found them to be thicker and creamier than the others we sampled. Toppings are more sparse than at Swirl, with odd liquid offerings ("cupcake flavor" sauce? really?). Carin leapt for the chemical nostalgia of the chocolate Magic Shell, while Joanna recoiled.
Washington Square Mall, 9585 SW Washington Square Road, H14, Tigard, 971-238-1208, orangeleafyogurt.com.
Having high hopes after visiting its slick website and contemplating the promise of people-watching, department stores and frozen yogurt all under one air-conditioned roof, we were disappointed by the cramped shop with its less-than-immaculate surroundings. If you enjoy sitting in the very last row of the airplane while passengers stand in line for the toilet with their sweaty, rumpled asses in your face, you might enjoy your yogurt tucking into one of the tiny shop's two plastic tables.
As for the flavors, the chocolate was as flat as the service and…what, no vanilla? But the peanut butter was decent and the shop offered mango "caviar" as a unique topping. Honestly, if you need a sugar fix after your Macy's meandering, you'll be far better off next door at See's Candies.
4941 NE Fremont St., yochoiceyogurt.net.
Newcomer YoChoice was the most earnest of the bunch. And how hard it tried made us kind of sad. It has potential, but left us, er, cold on our visit. Opening-week brain freeze, perhaps? So as self-anointed fro-yo pros, let us offer our advice: First, you do not need four different types of granola. Plus: five kinds of cereals, but nary a nut?Second, sunflower seeds have no business in frozen yogurt. None. Third, while the topping chutes are lovely and sanitary, they are a control freak's nightmare—an avalanche of chocolate-covered pretzels tumbles out with the tiniest turn of the dial.
Here's what we liked: The yogurt is YoCream, never a disappointment. We particularly enjoyed the Irish mint. Also, the shop is spotless and the serving-cup size does not resemble a movie popcorn tub. And some of the toppings are inspired, especially the waffly sugar-wafer cookies. Sure, it's YoChoice; we just wanted more choices.
YOCREAM COMPANY STORE
Cascade Station, 10209 NE Cascades Parkway, 288-6300, yocream.com.
By now we were in danger of a fro-yo OD. But we soldiered on, hitting up YoCream at Cascade Station near IKEA and the airport. Much like an airport during the holidays, YoCream gets congested easily—and it gets ugly. When crowded, doling out dessert becomes oppressive. If you're the least bit claustrophobic, avoid peak times. It offers 10 yogurts and two shakes daily—favorites included peach, cheesecake and Cable Car Chocolate. There's typically one sugar-free option; we enjoyed the strawberry. In addition to the fro-yo buffet, the shop offers some other choices: yogurt smoothies, shakes and waffles—made with Bob's Red Mill wheat-free flour—that can be used as a vehicle for yogurt and toppings. Just remember: Adding a quart of soft-serve and a box of Oreos to your waffle cancels out any whole-grain health benefits.
345 1st St., No. 109, Lake Oswego, 699-6284; 8100 SW Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway, 206-4358; uuyogurt.com.
Let's talk toppings: to each her own. Some, like Joanna, enjoy a toasted almond or two or a few mini-marshmallows dotting her dish. Others, like Carin, view the yogurt primarily as a topping delivery system. But at UU, we both agreed: This yogurt stands on its own—even bare-ass naked. Although it's YoCream, the same as at other establishments, the quality stands out. We're not sure why, but the mint was mintier, the peanut butter more peanutty. It was like Baby Bear's porridge: not too icy, not too thick, not too creamy. Just right. The toppings were plentiful and inspired (Rice Krispies Treats! whole, unbroken Kit Kat columns!)—not to mention sanitary: The Dustbuster-wielding clerk kept the pineapple segregated from the cookie-dough bites. Hey, UU? What do U think about an eastside location?