Back in April, I read an article about the crash of the cupcake market. Although I've never been exceptionally passionate about cupcakes, I do find the concept of food trends very interesting. At the end of 2012, The New York Times wrote that 2013's big trends would include, among other things, long-aged meats, barrel-aged hot sauce, artisanal soft-serve, and pork rinds (huh?). It's already June and I'm not sure I've seen a lot of these items catching on in Charlotte, but there is still half a year to catch up! While I'm waiting for that to happen, I'll stick with my favorite of the trendy food items- frozen yogurt.
My froyo addiction really started surfacing during the three years I lived in Chapel Hill. I am absolutely obsessed with The Yogurt Pump. There's really no froyo that can compare when it comes to taste (perfectly tart with no artificial aftertaste), consistency (creamy, not icy), variety of flavors, and value. A large cup is $2.95! One of my roommates used to order a pint with no lid ($3.35) and then eat it in one sitting. Personally, I'm a fan of the large cake cone. My love for YoPo is so intense that I pack a cooler full of ice so that I can stock up on some pints of my favorite flavors (peanut butter, key lime pie, blackberry) when I know I'll be driving through Chapel Hill. I also made an app for my phone that shows the YoPo flavors. I realize this is insane.
That brings me to the battle of the froyos! The contenders, Menchie's and Tasty Yo, will be judged on 1) overall taste, 2) flavors/toppings, 3) service, and 4) value. The Menchie's I visited is located in Kenilworth Commons in Dilworth. Menchie's was founded in 2007 and is based out of the San Fernando Valley area. Currently, there are over 235 franchises across the world, all of which are set up in the familiar self-serve style. Locally-owned Tasty Yo opened in the heart of NoDa in 2009 and prides itself on being environmentally-friendly (the cups are made of corn!). Tasty Yo is not self-serve but instead you can pick one or a mix of the three daily flavors and then get it smothered in your choice of toppings. Let's get down to it!
1) overall taste: Menchie's has pretty good flavors, but they're all very sweet (versus tart). The tart flavors they do have tend to be the fruity or no sugar added flavors. I love some fruity, tart yogurt, so in that regard, Menchie's is disappointing. The fruity flavors, I'm specifically thinking of the strawberry banana and blueberry, taste very artificial and I didn't like them at all. Unfortunately I feel the same way about their no sugar added flavors. The day we went, there was a no sugar added cheesecake option that was absolutely terrible. It was almost bitter and did not taste at all like cheesecake -just like Splenda and old milk mixed together. Yuck. While that all sounds very negative, Menchie's does make up for their icky fruity/diet flavors (and who wants those anyway?) with their other selections. The plain tart is great -perfectly tart and like a much better version of frozen greek yogurt. It's also smooth and creamy, not icy as some tart flavors tend to be. The day we went, I steered clear of anything fruity and opted for red velvet cake and peanut butter (left). Both tasted exactly like the foods they were modeled after and were great mixed together when I let them get a little melty. Menchies' peanut butter closely rivals the peanut butter yogurt from my beloved YoPo. There's a hint of a saltiness, but it is still refreshing, light, and yogurt-y. The consistency is great -completely creamy with no ice granules. BFTB opted for raspberry and peanut butter (middle), and when I went back later in the week, I bought a vanilla/chocolate swirl combined with a peanut butter/cake batter swirl (right). While I wasn't a huge fan of the raspberry, the swirls were spot on.
2) variety/quality of flavors/toppings: I like that Menchie's has 12 flavors at a time. That way I can avoid the fruity and diet flavors that I loathe and stick with the ones I love! Usually there is at least one bizarre flavor to try. Currently, the Dilworth Menchie's features "Pop-arazzi Popcorn." I opted to steer clear of this... um... intriguing flavor, but might be brave enough to test it out next time. Toppings-wise, there are a lot of different types of nuts, fruits, cereal, candy, and typical ice cream toppings (the toppings bar is pictured in the upper right picture). I'm a huge fan of their cookie dough bites, which taste like actual cookie dough rather than a flaky blob of corn starch and fat, but unfortunately they didn't have any on either of the occasions I most recently visited. Instead, I went for blackberries, chocolate sprinkles, and sour gummy worms (don't hate on my mix). BFTB covered his yogurt with granola and dried cranberries. A big plus for me is the fact the yogurt and toppings areas are kept very clean. I find it so gross to go through a yogurt line and feel like every person before me has smeared their hands/faces/miscellaneous body parts all over the machines, toppings, and inevitably, everything I'm eating. Thanks for at least fooling me into thinking they haven’t, Menchie’s.
3) service: I've had some bizarre encounters with Menchie's employees and there's at least one very grumpy person that works here, but usually everybody is very friendly (bonus points when they don't put my spoon in the cup until after they weigh my yogurt).
4) value: Menchie's charges by the ounce ($.45/oz) and the prices seem comparable to other self-serve establishments. They also have a loyalty program that gives you points every time you buy yogurt. You also earn bonus points on your birthday, when you register your card online, and during designated promotional periods. The best part is that your phone number is linked to your card, so when I inevitably forget to bring it, they can look up my account and give me points anyway.
1) overall taste: The day we went to Tasty Yo, our choices were pistachio, chocolate, and blueberry acai. I opted for the pistachio and chocolate swirl and BFTB went straight pistachio. I’ve had the uber-tart blueberry acai on another occasion (and have some in my freezer right now) and if you close your eyes, you might be fooled into thinking you were eating a creamy version of a sorbet. The chocolate is also very tart and really tastes like yogurt rather than mock-ice cream. The pistachio was the least tart of all the options, but is still a great option. I don’t really know what I expected pistachio yogurt to taste like (maybe saltier?), but it fell short of my mystery requirement. It was more than decent, but I don't think I'd ever ask for it alone -it's a good mixing flavor. All in all, I really like that Tasty Yo let’s yogurt be yogurt. There’s no saccharine-y, fake-tasting flavors here.
2) variety/quality of flavors/toppings: I really like that Tasty Yo uses local ingredients from the farmer's market whenever possible. However, you don’t have a lot of options flavor-wise here. Like I said above, you only have three flavor options if you want it from the pump. They normally carry several pre-packaged pints, but I'd feel kind of weird whipping the pint open and asking them to sprinkle on some toppings. Speaking of, there is a large variety of fruit, cereal, different syrups, and other toppings with which to adorn your yogurt. I opted for melted peanut butter and chocolate sprinkles while BFTB went for chocolate chips and coconut. It seemed like an overload of sprinkles so next time I’ll probably ask for just two scoops of toppings, but I like that you can mix and match your choices.
3) service: I feel like the same, very friendly girl is always working whenever I go into Tasty Yo. The store hours are somewhat limited -closed Monday/Tuesday and open from 1:00pm to 8:30pm all other days except on Friday and Saturday, when they're open until 9:30pm. Tasty Yo is going to have to be a weekend (or a prepackaged pint) activity for me, because it seems like I rarely get out of work in time to get to NoDa for my yogurt fix.
4) value: Relatively, Tasty Yo seems pretty expensive. Perhaps it's the environmental-friendliness and focus on local ingredients that's driving the cost up, but I really feel like you're not getting a lot of yogurt for your money. A while back I went to buy two pints and I think I spent $15. That seems pretty out of control to me. However, like Menchie's they have a loyalty card. After you collect enough stamps, you get a free yogurt. I just need to remember to keep it with me...
THE VERDICT: This was a tough call, but I have to lean towards Tasty Yo. The big factor Menchie's has on Tasty Yo is variety. However, I think the consistently great, strongly yogurt-y and tart yogurt combined with the excellent, friendly service at Tasty Yo makes the small variety of flavors a non-issue. Regardless, Menchie's is in a solid second place. Menchie's -7/10. Tasty Yo - 8/10.