Growing up in the '90s, ice cream was my dessert of choice. Sure, brownies were nice, and cake was great for birthdays, but nothing made me drool like a delicious bowl---or cone---of ice cream. I didn’t know what frozen yogurt was until my mom explained it to me in the fourth grade: “It’s like ice cream, but healthier.” Even the original acronym for the one frozen yogurt place I'd heard of was TCBY, or “This Can’t Be Yogurt,” aimed at the average ice cream lover rather than a frozen yogurt, or "froyo," aficionado.
Fast-forward about a decade and you’ll find that froyo has taken over the dessert world. It consists of live yogurt cultures, milk solids and flavors that can range from original "tart" to chocolate to dulce de leche. A treat that is quite capable of maintaining its own standing in the dessert world, froyo no longer requires misguided ice cream lovers to sustain it. With its own niche carved out, it seems that upwards of a dozen froyo cafés can exist in any given city. And Sarasota is no different.
After researching online, I chose five different froyo restaurants in Sarasota and decided to see what all the fuss was about, hopefully without breaking this poor college student’s bank. Let's see if this ice cream lover could be tempted over to the dark side---or rather, the healthy side.
Menchie’s, 2809 University Pkwy., Sarasota, FL 34243
My first foray into the froyo world was overall a pretty good experience. I invited a group of friends, because nobody should froyo alone, and we set off on our adventure.The atmosphere in Menchie’s is very friendly. When you walk inside, one of the cashiers greets you, asks if you would like some assistance and points out where the sample cups are. The androgynous Menchie character is plastered all around on the walls and a small set of merchandise, as well as a number of child drawings and chalkboards for customer fun. Like many froyo places, it leans towards simplistic furniture, but the white and metal frames lend to a funky, futuristic vibe.
Menchie’s has a large spread of self-serve flavors, the most of any place that I went to: A total of 16 reside in pairs to be swirled together at will and rotate seasonally. Their toppings include a modest collection of mostly candy, but also fruits and nuts. At $0.49 per ounce their prices weren’t supremely expensive, but with no internal weighing mechanism I was forced to play it safe as I concocted my own dish.
“I really like it here, and I think it’s the most affordable place nearby,” New College thesis student Shane Donglassan told me.
"Original tart," the one flavor that tastes most like actual plain yogurt in any given restaurant, was not very appetizing. It was too tart for my liking, and it had no other redeeming qualities in my mind.
Instead, I was rather delighted with Menchie’s sorbet option, which includes a sour apple that I paired with chocolate froyo, as well as strawberries, kiwi and small cookie dough pieces. All in all, I spent about $3.50, which I think was worth the experience as a whole, and my friends seemed to agree.
If had to remark on one negative thing about Menchie’s it would be the layout. The seating was all pushed forward and into a side room, which forced all of the froyo and toppings to be crammed into the back, with little maneuverability when a large group was inside.
Earthfruits, 5275 University Pkwy., Suite 133, University Park, FL 34201
Just a hop, skip and a jump away from Menchie’s on University Parkway, Earthfruits was my favorite of all of the froyo places.
It was the most café-styled of all of the restaurants and reminded me a lot of Starbucks. The seating was all very laid-back and the colors were warm and inviting. There was also a bar that held outlets for cell phones or laptops, which I thought was very modern and caters to those people who might not like to spend all of their late night study sessions at a coffee place.
Earthfruits also maintained a pleasantly large selection of flavors, most notably lemon and Thin Mint. As a huge Girl Scout cookie fan, I was particularly enraptured by the latter. The price was also comparable to Menchie’s at $0.49 per ounce.
And the toppings! Oh, the toppings. Dispensable from a large, avant-garde, circular metal post, the sheer number of toppings blew me away. There were some rather obscure candies offered (such as large chewy Spree), a few cereal options and even iced animal crackers. For a little extra, customers can purchase brownie bowls and waffle cone bowls and pile their delight on top.
“I really liked the tart and their variety of toppings,” New College thesis student Sean Benningers commented. “I wish they had more fruit and cereal options though. I really wanted Fruity Pebbles or Crunch Berries.”
After having tasted Menchie’s tart, I was very wary about trying the one at Earthfruits, but I, too, was pleasantly surprised. It was a perfect balance of tartness and yogurt consistency, and it actually was something that I could see myself buying---if it weren’t for the Thin Mint, of course.
After sampling everything, I eventually chose strawberry to compliment my Thin Mint flavor, with sour gummy worms, chewy Spree and SweeTarts as well as dark chocolate chips and strawberries for my toppings. I was able to hold back enough to not exceed four dollars, but I did come close at $3.92.Besides froyo, Earthfruits also sells milkshakes, smoothies and a few pieces of merchandise.
A lot of my love for this particular froyo restaurant might be in part due to the ambiance and my interactions with the staff. Everyone was very polite and welcoming and we shared a few jokes throughout. Considering their name, however, Earthfruits did not have a large number of fruit topping selections.
An interesting side note---like many froyo places, Earthfruits gives out cards that grant you one free yogurt after a certain number of purchases. However, according to our cashier, if you bring in a card from a competing froyo restaurant and let Earthfruits cut it up, they will give you a free froyo.
Sarasota Yogurt Company, 327 A John Ringling Blvd., Sarasota, Fl 34236
This was probably my least favorite place. A lot of factors fed into it, and none of them had to do with the yogurt itself.
The first and foremost was the layout. I’m not sure if it was the size of place or simply the way all of the furniture and counter space was arranged, but I felt very cramped while inside. There wasn’t a lot of sitting space to begin with, and though there was plenty of space for creating a froyo masterpiece, my friends and I all commented on how crowded we felt. Additionally, we were not able to give ourselves samples. Although Sarasota Yogurt Company is self-serve, an employee came over and served us our chosen samples while we all stood around awkwardly.
On a more positive note, they flavors were good and this froyo restaurant had a fairly large fruit selection and the most concentrated amount of chocolate toppings.
“I think one of the problems with a lot of froyo places is they put a lot of effort into getting a wide variety of toppings, when most people just want something chocolate,” New College thesis student Stephanie Larumbe said.A more unique topping that they offered were doughnuts, made in-store and kept behind a second counter. The smell of freshly-made doughnuts permeating the air made a lot of my original ire dissipate.
Also interesting was the fact that they actually had two flavors of tart, and neither was the ubiquitous “original tart.” Instead, they had a tropical tart, which had hints of pineapple and mango in it. They also had a previously unheard of “Eurotart” that tasted very similar to what my perception of original tart is. Furthermore, for our lactose intolerant friends, Sarasota Yogurt Company was the only place that offered Greek yogurt options.
I went plain for this froyo excursion, with just chocolate and vanilla topped with brownie pieces and strawberries, but I still spent the same amount that I did at Earthfruits---$3.92---because Sarasota Yogurt Company costs $0.59 per ounce.
Whiteberry, 1473 Main St., Sarasota, FL 34236
Whiteberry was the only froyo place that I went that did not have self-serve. They also have a limited number of flavors (only four). When I visited they had their constant three of original tart, green tea and organic chocolate, along with their “flavor of the month,” Irish mint.
Due to the limited options, Whiteberry charges by cup size and topping count rather than by the ounce. Their smallest cup, four ounces, begins at $2.95 plus an additional $1.00 for one topping, $1.25 for two toppings and $1.50 for three toppings.Despite this, Whiteberry does give a lot of bang for your buck. They pile their yogurt high, almost twice as tall as the cup it comes in. They seem to pride themselves in making each froyo look like a visual masterpiece, because the added toppings are arranged beautifully around the cup instead of a haphazard pile that most of us make when we pick our own.
“I’ve never had green tea [froyo] before and I really like it,” New College second-year Samantha Kreeger said. “If I wanted one specific flavor, this is a good place to come. But other places are more fun because you get to pick and choose from a lot of different options.”
Their tart, apparently their best seller, was just as good, if not better than the one at Earthfruits. Not too tangy, with just the right amount of creaminess to make it delicious. Although I eventually bought organic chocolate with strawberries (have you noticed a trend?) and mini M&Ms, I was sorely tempted to add the original tart. This was the only place where I spent more than four dollars, but I believe it was worth it.
Whiteberry prides itself in being particularly healthy amongst froyo. Their yogurts are all non-fat, gluten free, kosher and contain less sugar than most other froyo. They also offer a number of other things for purchase, including smoothies, coffee, parfaits and Boba tea.
Yogurt On In, 8431 N. Tamiami Trl., Sarasota, FL 34243
The final froyo café on my list was the one closest to my residence at New College of Florida. Yogurt On In is rather new, having only opened over this past summer. Due to its proximity, I walked over with my friends for an after-dinner treat.
Perhaps the smallest of all of the froyo restaurants that I went to, it was very simple. A spacious room with a line of tables, a leather couch and two mounted TVs exemplified minimalist decorating. The walls were painted with a sea mural to complement the manatee and dolphin duo on the logo hanging behind the counter.There weren’t that many flavor options, and of the 10 self-serve stations, only nine were in use. However, they did have an eclectic variety of particularly dessert-oriented flavors, including red velvet cake, pistachio and dulce de leche. Their original tart was not very good in my opinion; it was tart to the point of being sour and also rather watery.
However, my favorite was their strawberry-kiwi sorbet. I would probably go back there just for that. I coupled it with a bit of vanilla and some brownie pieces on top.
“I uaually get the tart, but I didn’t really like it here,” New College second-year Moriah Bray said. “However, I absolutely loved their strawberry-kiwi sorbet. I came in here full, but now I want even more!”
For such a small number of yogurts, they had a large assortment of toppings---nothing out of the ordinary, but they also had a variety of sauces and even whipped cream.
Perhaps the best part about Yogurt On In is the fact that they offer a 20 percent discount to students who bring in their IDs, and I only ended up spending a little over two dollars.
“I think it’s a good place, especially for the price,” New College third-year Paul Zombory added.
***Each of these froyo cafés had their own strengths and weaknesses. I will forever defend that Earthfruits was my favorite, but I can see the benefit of each place, whether it was flavors, toppings or even the people who served us.
Investigating froyo in Sarasota like this also has cemented my belief that froyo is more than just a healthy treat. Like most things in life, it’s the journey that matters most---whether it’s trying each flavor, talking about it with your friends or arguing about what’s the best topping, it all adds up to make the trip and money worth it. Even the drive (or walk) can amplify the experience.
So while I’m still probably an ice cream girl at heart---nothing beats childhood nostalgia---whenever I reach for that pint of Ben & Jerry’s Half-Baked at my local Publix or Target, I might double back and get the froyo version instead.
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