Frozen Yogurt Showdown

September 22, 2009

Okay, so I know I said I’d update the flog on Sunday. My bad. It’s been a hectic week back at college. Everyone’s declaring their major, and I’m off daydreaming about Gran Marnier Soufflés. Hrm…

ANYWAYS, I went to Berryline and JP Licks to see how they compared to Spün. After much rumination and finger-licking, I’ve decided that there is indeed one fro-yo to rule them all, one fro-yo to bind them, one fro-yo to bring them all and in the darkness bind them. Ok, I’ll stop. Sorry for that. If you just want the quick summary, skip all the writing and photos and scroll to the bolded part at the end. I won’t judge you.

So last Wednesday I decided to try out Spün, the new frozen yogurt store in Powderhouse Square. The froyo was good, but I wanted to compare it to the other options here in Boston.

The first challenger was Boston’s preeminent ice cream parlor, J.P. Licks. I’ve had their ice cream more times than I probably should; however, I’ve never really bothered to try their froyo. Licks has a real stranglehold on the Tufts community, so they are probably Spün’s biggest rival.

There you see JP

JP Licks famously offers a myriad of inventive and scrumptious flavors. Some are pretty generic (cow tracks→moose tracks and Cherry Garcia→Cherry Garciaparra Ortiz), but even these staple ice cream options taste great. The real enjoyment, for me at least, is checking out the monthly flavors. This month Licks is featuring Fresh Avocado ice cream and sweet roasted red pepper sherbet. Whenever I’m craving some fresh new flavor or just the perfect cake batter ice cream, I hit up JP Licks.

Don't let this picture fool you... it wasn't that good.

Don't let this picture fool you... it wasn't that good.

I wish I could speak as highly of their frozen yogurt. The plain flavor, YoTango, was disappointingly bland. That tanginess was noticeably absent. The froyo wasn’t as creamy as Spün’s. JP Licks in Davis offers 4 flavors at a time, which is more than either competitor. My options—Coffee, YoTango, and two sugar-free versions of chocolate and coffee. I should mention that I’ve had their cookies and cream frogurt before and I remember enjoying that.

Licks didn't offer discounts on multiple toppings... lame

Licks didn't offer discounts on multiple toppings... lame

JP Licks had a large selection of toppings—both wet and dry—but I wasn’t as impressed with the freshness of the fruit. The blackberries and whole strawberries didn’t inspire much confidence. The strawberries and peaches were floating about in what looked like that canned syrup. What a far cry from those bulging varieties over at Spün! They did ask whether I wanted my fruit diced or whole, which seemed like a very logical question. Perhaps other places should look into this…

The cost of my small froyo with two toppings was a whopping $6.22! The yogurt set me back a $4 and the two toppings totaled more than $2 (fruit topping=$1.25, while most other toppings were 95¢). This was absurdly expensive! Here’s the problem. JP Licks uses the same pricing model for ice cream that they do for froyo. Most people I know don’t bother getting toppings with their JP Lickings. After all, the oreo cake batter already has oreo in it. And what would you possibly want to add to a Roasted Red Pepper Sherbet? If people get toppings, they get just one or so. With Froyo, it’s totally commonplace to get several. It’s a different game, and should be treated as such.

The other issue was the staff was slightly impersonal. I’m sure that this had to do with the constant flow of customers. But compared to the friendly and talkative owners over at Spün, these workers seemed just a little too business-like for ice cream.

What did Licks get right? They used a larger sized bowl, which allowed the toppings to comfortably surround the center spiral. This stands in stark contrast to Spün where the froyo filled the entire cup and the toppings had to cling precipitously to the side.

No wonder they don't give froyo a shoutout on the bowl

No wonder they don't give froyo a shoutout on the bowl

I left duly unimpressed with JP’s froyo. My friend had ordered a small ice cream and boy was I jealous. I suppose it’s hard to be a renaissance frozen dessert parlor. JP Licks is still my main choice for ice cream, but they are the last place I’d go to for Froyo.

The third and final place I visited was Berryline. Of the three Berryline locations, I went to the recently built Porter Square shop. They say it’s in Porter square, but it’s a good ten-minute walk from those goofy red windmills. Very clean and nice

The frogurt at Berryline was very good. They definitely have the best variety of flavors. These options rotate—my options were original, mango, and basil. Upon sampling the basil, I decided to play it safe and order a mango/original swirl. Not the basil flavor was bad; it was actually pretty good—reminiscent of a pesto cream sauce. Kudos to them for busting out a savory froyo flavor. That takes some cajones.
Kiwi And Moshi
The mango froyo was a little too subtle; I wish it had a more pronounced flavor. The plain was good, probably on par with Spün, which is to say that it was vastly superior to JP Licks. Size-wise, the serving for a small was probably the same. The difference is that Berryline’s workers weigh out each froyo—5oz for a small, 8 for a medium, and 12 for a large. This uniformity seemed perfectly logical. After all, how many times have you gone to your favorite ice cream shop only to be handed an underscooped sundae by a stingy worker! While this does erase the possibility of the rare magnanimous scooper, I think the pros outweigh the cons. The reasonable prices (the same as Spün’s) made the trip as pleasing to my wallet as it was to my tummy.

Kiwi and Strawberry-flavored Moshi

Kiwi and Strawberry-flavored Moshi

The toppings at Berryline took the cake. They bested Spün in quantity with at least 25 different options (both wet and dry), and their fruit was fresher than Licks. They also carry something called “Moshi” (pronounced Moe-She). I asked the walking coloring book (i.e. the heavily tattooed employee) behind the counter to enlighten me. Moshi is a Japanese rice cake that has a consistency somewhere in between marshmallows or gummi-bears. I had some put in my froyo, and to my pleasant surprise they kept their texture! So often toppings change when put in frozen desserts—fruit begins to freeze, gummi-bears and Swedish fish begin to harden. The Moshi was refreshingly different after all these ho-hum attempts to accessorize my frogurt.

So to sum up…

JP Licks
+4 different flavors
+Lots of topping options
–unremarkable flavor (YoTango)
–Astronomically high price
–By comparison, the fruit toppings weren’t as good

+3 flavors
+Best toppings (Freshest and best variety)
+Reasonable Price

+Good flavor
+Reasonable Price
–Comparatively few topping options (no wet toppings)
–Only two flavors

I find the winner to be Berryline! Granted, if you’re craving ice cream, then get your ass over to JP Licks. Or the Chilly Cow–just make sure to order the frozen custard. It’s not as good as St. Louis Frozen Custard, but it’s the best I can do.



September 17, 2009

As promised, I will be flogging about my culinary adventures here at Tufts. While I definitely will be cooking, I will also be exploring Boston one bite at a time. On Wednesday, I visited a brand new shop, and here are my humble thoughts…Spün's clean and sharp storefront is quite eyecatching

It seems like just yesterday that cupcakeries were the hottest trend. Now, the gauntlet has been passed to fancy-shmancy frozen yogurt parlors. First, it was Pinkberry and Fraîche, but since then places have started to crop up in urban areas. Hell, even St. Louis has one, and we’re usually the last to pick up on these culinary fads.

As you all know, I am quite the ice cream aficionado, but deep down I’ve got a soft spot for soft serve frogurt. The healthy bacteria and low level of fat  keep me from feeling too guilty.

Anyways, Powderhouse square is now home to Spün, a decent froyo place. Powderhouse square doesn’t really have much to offer (other than a Dunkin’ Donuts and a Funeral Home), so it’s nice to see some development. Spün (pronounced spoōn) opened its doors last week, despite a target opening back on August 1st. The two owners purchased the lot back in March; however, they needed to gut and redesign the space.

The set up is pretty bare-bones, but this can probably be associated to the recent (and possibly rushed) opening. Maybe it’s just because I’m a teenage guy, but décor doesn’t make or break a dining experience for me. The most important aspect to any place is the food.

Spün offers only two flavors, one being original, the other changing every day. Today, that rotating flavor was banana. The two men greeted us warmly and offered us a free sample of the banana, which tasted very good. Banana is a hard flavor to get right, so I figured this would be a perfect test. Most banana-flavored goods taste grossly artificial, as if the powers that be arbitrarily created a flavor that would be banana (sort of like what happened to green apple). If you’ve ever had banana laffy taffy, you know what I mean. Luckily, Spün didn’t disappoint. The flavor was subtle, so it didn’t smother the intrinsic tartness of the froyo. And most of all, it tasted like a real banana! I asked how they accomplished the flavor; it was simply purreed ‘nanas blended with the plain variety (all yogurt is made in house). Of course! How obvious! The plain froyo tasted like all the other plain froyo I’ve had, which is a complement. It was creamy, tart and tangy. Hard at Work

The toppings were fresh and tasty, but pretty mundane. At this point, fresh fruit is nothing new; nor are sugar cereals like fruity pebbles. The options included blueberry, mango, pineapple, strawberry, raspberry, blackberry, kiwi, granola, toffee, chocolate chunks, fruity pebbles, Captain Crunch, graham crackers, oreos, and granola. Fresh fruit is nice, but they should also try candying some citrus fruits (like kumquats) for a fresh take on things. The froyo was served in cups that didn’t really leave much room for toppings, so the guys resorted to smooshing them into the sides. I found myself having to carefully spoon out my ice cream to avoid spilling. Bigger bowls would be nice.

Another issue was the lack of liquid toppings, or lack thereof. No hot fudge or syrups. More than anything, I was craving some hot blueberry syrup (which is like the simplest thing to make—blueberries, a little sugar and water and lemon juice in a saucepan on medium heat for like twenty minutes) drizzled on top. Or honey–honey would be nice. The owners said that they were a week away from getting liquid toppings ready, so hopefully my wishes will be granted.

I was a little bummed out to see the bags of Nestlé semi-sweet chocolate chunks lying in plain view. I don’t think of myself as a big chocolate snob; the brand wasn’t the problem. But the chocolate chunks seemed too large and proved to be unwieldy. Mini Chocolate chips would be better, I think. Size wasn’t the only problem. Froyo has such a distinctive and bohemian flavor that it deserves an equally unconventional chocolate topping. Plain-Jane Nestlé chunks just don’t do it for me. My friend and I both came to the same conclusion: Taza Chocolate! For those of you that don’t know, Taza chocolate is a local company that makes stone ground chocolate. They make a guajillo chili variety that’s got a great kick to it. We thought that small bits of this chocolate would deliciously contrast with the frogurt. Taza also produces nibs, which are crushed bits of shelled cocoa beans dipped in dark chocolate. They are truly delicious and would kick the shit out of “jimmies” in the flavor department. If Spün is serious about bringing something new to frozen yogurt, here’s their chance. Doing so would not only help support other local businesses, but also greatly enhance their topping selection.

Taza please

Taza please!

I ended up getting a small swirl of the two flavors with those chocolate chunks and raspberries as toppings. The small was a reasonable $2.75 (the cost of one Kickass cupcake), but the two toppings cost an additional $1.60 (one topping is $1; two, $1.60; three, $2). So it ended up being a little more than $4.00. They also gave me a choice of spoon. In the end I settled for hot pink, but the electric blue was a close second.

I don't care that it's gotten cold. I love my frozen desserts!
Boston is home to about a bajillion ice cream parlors, so the competition is quite fierce. I really do wish Spün the best of luck. I think I’ll visit them again in a month or so, once they get some of the kinks worked out. They have free wifi, so if you have the time to sit and relax, then here’s a nice alternative to Diesel café.

As we scraped the bottom of my bowls, my friends and I made a pact to visit J.P. Licks and Berryline this weekend. By Sunday night, I’ll post my comparison of the three. As always, I’ll keep you posted.