Dining Guide 2012: The froyo glow

Frozen yogurt is the new ‘it’ dessert

Ice cream better watch out.

Its skinny cousin has slinked into Louisville with the aim of becoming the city’s favorite cold treat.

Sure, there have been other “it” desserts, from cake pops to cupcakes. But frozen yogurt has become downright ubiquitous, with dozens of shops sprouting up across the city. These businesses follow a mostly identical formula. Customers grab and fill a jumbo-sized container after they’ve helped themselves to samples of frozen yogurt. They finish off their dish with selections from a smorgasbord of toppings that range from the traditional (almond slivers, pineapple chunks, chocolate chips) to the adventurous (Sriracha sauce, Goldfish crackers, pretzels). The trip ends at the register where customers sit their dishes on a digital scale, and a cashier charges based on weight (most shops charge around 45 cents per ounce).

Each shop, however, has its own nuances. Imaginative flavors. An eclectic selection of toppings. A more generous hand with the sample cups. Here is a rundown of some of the best qualities you can find in Louisville’s crop of frozen yogurt shops.

Best Atmosphere: Lula’s Frozen Yogurt and Treats, 1501 Bardstown Road
The world slows down a little bit inside Lula’s. Behind the counter, glass jars filled with gummy worms, rock candy and other sweets line the shelves. The wood accents and cute school-themed centerpieces (pails filled with school supplies) add to the warm vibe of this local business. And it doesn’t hurt to have a prime people-watching perch at a table in the front window, which faces the intersection of Bardstown Road and Eastern Parkway. Oh, and the frozen yogurt is just as pleasant as the atmosphere.

Other highlights: generous pieces of brownie and cheesecake on the toppings bar, rewards card

Best Place to Take the Kids: Menchie’s Frozen Yogurt, 4600 Shelbyville Road
If Willy Wonka enjoyed frozen yogurt, he would have stopped by Menchie’s for a cup. Menchie’s has its own line of child-friendly cartoon characters that grace the ends of the store’s plastic spoons. Sample cups are arranged on platters near the register, easy for little hands to grab. And there are plenty of toppings to satisfy even the pickiest kids. Adults also have their own selection of more sophisticated yogurt flavors, such as dulce de leche and praline.

Other highlights: outdoor seating, Weight Watchers points displayed for each flavor

Best Signage: Choices Yogurt Bar, 2214 Holiday Manor Center
This shop doesn’t leave much to question — everything you need to know is posted on a snappy sign. The nutrition information is hung directly above the serving bowls. Little symbols indicate important dietary facts, such as gluten-free. Not sure about the price? Check out the whopping sign above the register — 45 cents an ounce. Choices’ amenities aren’t as nice as the shop’s signs. The meager toppings bar was splattered with drips and crumbs during a slow weeknight visit. And maybe it was just bad luck, but at least three yogurt dispensers simultaneously flashed its lights because the product was low.

Other highlights: all Kosher-certified yogurts, smoothie option

Best Twist on the Genre: Sweet Savannah’s Frozen Yogurt and Toppings, 4675 Outer Loop
The froyo-and-toppings concept can get old fast — especially when you patronize more than two of these places a week. Fortunately, Sweet Savannah’s changes the formula enough to offer customers a new experience. There’s a YoNana Split, a cute take on the traditional banana-based dish. And this local shop provides containers full of “bottoms” — pound cake, brownies and waffle cone pieces — to line the bowl before you put in the yogurt. Though other stores offer these foods as toppings, Sweet Savannah’s knows that digging into a yogurt cup with a slab of cake at the bottom is a completely different experience.

Other highlights: exceptional cleanliness, recycling bin for spoons

Best Yogurt Flavors: Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt, 3567 Springhurst Blvd.
Why eat a heavy dessert when you can get the same flavors swirled into an Orange Leaf cup? This minimalist yogurt bar offers 16 flavors at a time with a surprising range of dessert-flavored options. Brownie batter, birthday cake, cotton candy and cookie cake were all available in the yogurt machines during one weekend trip. Orange Leaf puts its efforts into the taste of its product rather than the snacks you put on top. There’s nothing fancy when you get to the toppings bar. But when a store offers a brownie-batter flavored yogurt that tastes like licking the mixing spoon, you can rest on taste alone.

Other highlights: spade-like spoons, slick decor