Casellula @ Alphabet City is the first dining spot in Pittsburgh to end its no-tipping policy, just 10 months after it opened.
The job of Munch is only partially about abject gluttony, hiding behind anonymity and missing deadlines. It's also, of course, about public service. And so when Munch saw frozen yogurt establishments sprouting in Pittsburgh like potholes in springtime, Munch knew that Munch had a job to do.
Call it yogurtpalooza if you wish, or call it a very special episode of Munch. Because this week, Munch has visited not one, not two, not three, but FOUR eating establishments for your reading pleasure.
A bit of background: The tart frozen yogurt craze began in 2005 with a Los Angeles yogurt shop called Pinkberry. The nonfat yogurt was tangier and lower-calorie than most, and the sleek store offered beautifully presented toppings such as diced fresh mango, Fruity Pebbles or shaved Belgian chocolate.
Celebrities seemed to have a knack for getting photographed there, and both Pinkberry itself and Pinkberry imitators quickly spread across the country. Pittsburgh now boasts four tart frozen yogurt establishments -- all opened roughly within the last year.
The first to open in Pittsburgh, Karmic Yogurt is a teeny-tiny shop with no seating capacity. At Karmic Yogurt, Munch gleefully dug into a tart yogurt with mango, granola and chocolate, and sampled Dear One of Munch's delicious pomegranate-tart swirl with chocolate chips.
Part of the fun of eating tart yogurt is pretending that it's healthy (the yogurt is generally advertised at about 100 calories per serving) while simultaneously dousing the yogurt in sugary toppings.
Prices range between $2.99 (small) and $4.99 (large) with 50 cents additional for the flavor of the day. Toppings are one for $1, two for $1.75 and two for $2. Though the prices at Karmic Yogurt are typically steep, the portions are generous. Karmic Yogurt also offers tea lattes (matcha, Darjeeling and rooibos, $2.80).
731.5 Filbert St., Shadyside. www.karmicyogurt.com. 412-567-3959.
Razzy Fresh, which opened in Squirrel Hill this spring, is the only self-serve option in Pittsburgh. Payment is entirely by weight, priced at 42 cents an ounce. Munch's yogurts have ranged between $3 and about $5.50, with the latter portion completely excessive. The containers are quite large, so it's a bit tricky to know how much yogurt to fill them with.
Frankly, the power to choose the toppings was a bit overwhelming. Munch started small, with kiwi and blackberries, but before long Munch had a mess of graham cracker crumbs, multicolored sprinkles and coconut shavings. Sad but true: Munch so overdid it with the toppings that Munch had to go back and get more yogurt to regain proper proportions. Razzy Fresh offered six different yogurt flavors -- four more than anyplace else.
1717 Murray Ave., Squirrel Hill. www.razzyfreshyogurt.com. 412-521-3145.
The newest offering, Sweetlix opened last month on Liberty Avenue, Downtown, next door to Pittsburgh Popcorn Co. The place has more of a personal feeling than the others, with cartoons on display drawn by one of the employees.
Munch also liked the crumbled cheesecake topping and the syrups (including mint chocolate, which Munch didn't know even existed) available for no extra charge.
The tart yogurt (with a generous helping of brownie bites!) tasted great and looked good enough that Munch was stopped by more than one Downtown worker asking where it came from. Prices range between $2.50 and $5.50, with 50 cents additional for the flavor of the day. Up to three toppings for an extra $1.45.
820 Liberty Ave., Downtown. www.sweetlixyogurt.com. 412-281-2171.
Sweetberry is a national chain with other locations in California and Texas. A true Pinkberry knockoff, they hardly bothered to even change the name! Munch liked some of the more inventive toppings here. Some sort of dark chocolate powder, for one. Mochi, for another.
But Munch takes issue with the stinginess of the toppings. Munch got a whole THREE raspberries on the medium yogurt. And Grad Student Friend of Munch ordered one topping on her yogurt and got charged for three. Not cool. Yogurt prices range between $2.99 and $4.99, with an extra 50 cents for the flavor of the day. Toppings cost 99 cents for one and $1.49 for three. Sweetberry also offers smoothies and Seattle's Best coffee.
115 Meyran Ave., Oakland. www.sweetberryus.com/pitt.html. 412-235-7623.
For those wondering about Munch's dedication to the cause, Munch has indeed been to a Pinkberry (Miami, February 2008) and as Munch remembers it, there isn't much of a difference between the real thing and Pittsburgh's crop of imitators.
If Munch had to pick just one such imitator, it would be Razzy Fresh by a mile, which Munch thinks is both the best value and the most fun (although Munch would give the service award to the exceptionally nice people behind the counter at Sweetlix).
Also, Munch would be remiss in not mentioning that at the non-self-serve yogurt places, yogurt plus toppings can get a bit pricey. At Karmic Yogurt, Munch and DOOM paid a whopping $14.16 (including tax) for two yogurts.
For those not dining a la expense account, Munch recommends the tart frozen yogurt sold at Trader Joe's -- less than $4 for a quart. And for those interested in doing up it Munch-style, Munch also recommends picking up some frozen blueberries, frozen mango and ginger snaps there for a splendid do-it-yourself tart yogurt experience in the privacy of your own home.