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The Ultimate Summer '09 Guide to the EVill Fro Yo Wars

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Shitshow Week may be over but one of the city's most obvious shitshow situations can't wait to be addressed until SSW 2010. Of course, the matter at hand here is the continued Fro-Yo war that has plagued the East Village in the past few years. Given this new heat wave (aka normal weather for any other summer) has no sign of breaking, it's time for an assessment. What are all these places, what are they serving, are they different in any way whatsoever, how can the EVill sustain the sheer volume? Eater interns Leah Herman and Gabe Ulla went to find out.

1) Pinkberry
24 St. Marks Place, (212) 228-0373.
The Yogurt: Comes in four flavors: original, pomegranate, and the recently introduced coconut and passionfruit. The later three are seasonal, and should be changing come fall. The original's tart flavor and icy texture was addictive enough to start the fro yo revolution back in 2005. But the pomegranate tastes like stale toothpaste. They should bring back the far superior green tea and coffee.
Topping Selection: Pinkberry offers eighteen toppings including various kinds of fruit, chocolate, sugar cereals, shredded coconut, and the polarizing mochi.
Price: A medium original with three toppings is a whopping $6.25.
Scene: The 14 Pinkberrys around the city appear to be constantly busy. This one's outdoor area can be packed while Red Mango across the street is a ghost town.
Bottom line: Fine but sometimes the berries are frozen, a huge misplay.

2) Red Mango
19-23 St. Marks Place, 212 777 2747.
The Yogurt: The yogurt comes in four flavors: original, POM pomegranate, green tea and tangomonium (described by the store employee as "a refreshing citrus blend"). The original has a sour-cream like tang, and is creamier and less icy than Pinkberry's (more akin to the texture of Mr. Softee). Nutritionwise, the yogurt "meets the National Yogurt Association's criteria for live and active bacterial cultures". Phew. They also have a terrible smoothie version. Skip.
Topping Selection: The toppings are very similar to Pinkberry, with a fresher looking selection of fruit.
Price: A medium original with two topping will still set you back $4.75 (before tax).
Scene: This outpost is the most subdued of the EVill fro yo spots. Unlike its competition, Red Mango is comfortable and calming; its feels sort of like a sushi bar and doesn't have the Tokyo Paris Hilton's playhouse vibe of its competitors. It is also the only spot with a lot of indoor seating (which was completely empty on the day we visited).
Bottom line: For fro-yo you could do a lot worse.

3) 16 Handles
153 2nd Ave, (212) 260-4414 .
The Yogurt: There are sixteen flavors, some of which are creamy and taste similar to Tasti-D-Lite, while others are labeled "tart" (meaning they are more sour and icy). Some of the varieties (like coffee and chocolate) work, and others (like irish mint and snickerdoodle) don't. Repeated spot checks reveal that sometimes the yogurt isn't properly frozen and has an unappealing runny consistency.
Topping Selection: At around 30, the topping selection is the largest of any of the places sampled, and includes such illustrious mix-ins as cookie dough and litchi.
Price: You pay by weight, and at $0.49 an ounce, the average serving comes in at around $4.00
Scene: The fact that the place looks like a cross between Kelly Kapowski's bedroom and a children's hospital cafeteria doesn't seem to have diminished the crowds at this self serve fro yo joint. But many of the visitors are first timers, and it can be annoying to wait behind a novice who needs to be explained the concept four times before they realize you help yourself to whatever you want.
Bottom line: The selection here is the best but the self serve concept can be overwhelming. Customers routinely complain that they end up with too big a portion (which is encouraged by the tub-like size of the smallest cup) or a gross flavor combo.

4) Yogurt Station
18 St. Marks Place, (212) 677-5017.
The Yogurt: Very similar to 16 Handles, it includes fro yo staples like plain tart, pomegranate and green tea, as well as strawberry, peanut butter and NY cheesecake. Some of the more exotic flavors have an offputting artificial taste.
Topping Selection: Very similar to 16 Handles.
Price: It's priced per weight and at $0.35 an ounce is marginally less expensive than16 Handles.
Scene: This two month old self-serve spot is essentially a narrow yogurt closet, with the yogurt machines along one wall. As a result, there is almost no seating, with only a few tables outside.
Bottom line: Thank god they opened up this joint in June, otherwise fro yo enthusiasts would have to walk two whole blocks to get to the almost identical 16 Handles.

5) Recess
60 University Place, 212-822-0663.
The Yogurt: They do a mighty fine job with the yogurt, which is prepared here by one of the former partners at Flurt (another yogurt establishment, not a dating site). Among the offerings is a matcha green tea flavor that actually tastes like matcha green tea and a dark chocolate that actually tastes like dark chocolate. Also on handle are original and pomegranate.
Topping Selection: Very similar to pinkberry and red mango.
Price: Yogurt costs $2.95-$7.95, depending on the size and toppings.
Scene: When the folks over at Recess opened their doors a few months ago, they thought they'd mix things up by offering baked goods and coffee to go along with their fro yo program (also by making their establishment look like the inside of a geometric abstractionist hamster cage, one assumes).
Bottom Line: The yogurt alone makes the case for their survival, but the "Pause, Taste, Escape" mantra is a bit much, as is the aforementioned restaurant design, which could have been stolen from Stanley Kubrick's plans for a sauna.

6) Daydream
110 Third Ave, (212) 228-4288.
The Yogurt: The yogurt here comes in original creamy, original icy, pomegranate and cookies n' cream. All the flavors are good, but its almost impossible to tell the difference between the two originals. The cookies n' cream has a surprisingly rich, authentic taste far superior to the other varieties sampled.
Topping Selection: Daydream has the most original selection of toppings, with a focus on accoutrements that actually go with yogurt. This includes a small variety of fresh fruit, honeys (including vanilla, raspberry and apple), and other items made by an in-house chef (like granola, butter rum crunch, spiced pecans and vanilla bean cookie crumbles). They also offer fruit dust and flax seeds.
Price: The yogurt varies depending on the size ($3-$6) and so do the toppings, which range from $0.35-$0.85. The smoothie is an exorbitant $6.50.
Scene: The inside of the store is painted to look like a cloudy sky; relaxing only when compared to the rest of the fro yo spots, which resemble the inside of a pack of Chiclets.
Bottom line: Original but pricey.

In the end perhaps the fro-yo boom isn't a shitshow. It's more a surfeit of inanity here: too many places doing the same, inoffensive thing.
-Gabe Ulla & Leah Herman
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