For one of the healthiest cities in America, Burlington suffers from a curious lack of soft-serve frozen yogurt. There's Dakin Farm in Ferrisburgh, with its heavenly frozen maple yogurt, but I can't think of another place nearby to grab a swirl of the light stuff.
So the late June opening of SoYo on Pine Street is a big deal. The owners, Sabrina Gibson and Hans Manske, committed to using local cream, maple and berries for their suite of flavors, which they based on recipes purchased from GoBerry, the bustling, minimalist yogurt place in Northhampton, Mass.
A yogurt-head, I've visited GoBerry a lot, though I initially walked out when told that vanilla yogurt doth not flow into my cup. What the hell was a frozen yogurt place without vanilla? That was archaic and rigid froyo thinking, it turns out. GoBerry is all about fresh, local and imaginative (think green tea and strawberry-basil yogurt) with a minimum of flavor choice but a surfeit of toppings. Now I hit GoBerry whenever I drive through the Pioneer Valley.
So on a muggy day early this week, I was eager to visit SoYo for a comparative taste. I slipped in through the back hallway (painted magenta) into a Euro-style space — both neon and spare — with cinder-block walls, polished cement floors, lime green counters and a corrugated metal ceiling. Giant photos of raspberries and kiwis adorn the back wall; an enormous mural of a blue cow fills another. Bubblegum electronica played over the speakers. A pair of high tables and a long metal counter were filled with others trying to cool down.
SoYo, like GoBerry, has three flavors on deck: The standard-bearer, Original, plus Creamsicle and Nutella, which has just the slightest tinge of chocolate. A kaleidoscope of toppings — from various berries, nuts and sprinkles to dark chocolate chips and even Fruity Pebbles — round out the offerings.
The owners point out on Facebook that more than two dozen toppings, three flavors and four sizes makes for over 30,000 combinations. Most people have their grooves, though, and mine is Original topped with blueberries and walnuts.
The first bite felt like déjà vu: The yogurt was pillow-soft and ethereally white, with the tang that fresh, unadulterated Greek yogurt might have straight from the freezer. Sweet and tart flavors jangled on my tongue, which was refreshing, but it would probably be unfamiliar to those not used to (mostly) unsweetened frozen yogurt.
The only difference between GoBerry's and SoYo's frozen treats might be that SoYo's yogurt has a sort of grassy creaminess that I've noticed in some Vermont ice cream; it's so rich you don't notice the lack of fat or calories.
The prices are a bit jarring: $2 for a kids-size portion, for instance, and $3 for a small cup. Toppings cost $1 each ($1.75 for two), so my small cup of yogurt with two toppings rang up to $5.27. It's not an everyday pleasure, but the blueberries were plump and juicy, the heap of walnuts was generous — and many dog days lie ahead.