Thursday, May 31, 2018

21 Choices, Pasadena

21 Choices is a froyo "chain" ... of only two stores, that I discovered in Pasadena, CA.

It is also the best froyo I've ever had.  And I've had a lot of froyo.

They make the frozen yogurt in house daily.  It is soft serve.  But not like any other you have had.  They have two different concepts, and both are amazing.  Trust me.

I must return.
Amazing Froyo Experience.
I experienced both sides of 21 Choices - a made to order Mix-In (a la Cold Stone) and a pre-made "Today's Choices".  Everything about the experience was incredible.

I was in Pasadena for 2 days only, and went to 21 Choices 3 times.  Yes, that means I went after both lunch and dinner one day.  Don't judge.  It was amazing.

Setting

21 Choices is found on a corner of Colorado Boulevard, right in Old Town, just a block away from other froyo places like Yogurtland, and a number of local ice cream shops.

But it is unique.

And the best.
Long Counter for Customizing!
The store layout is pretty simple: one long counter, behind which all the toppings and soft serve machine are located.  Menu boards span the walls above.

There are no tables for seating, not inside nor outside, but along the window there is a bench where you can sit.  The place gets *really* busy in the evenings, but I was there right when they opened, and had the place to myself the first time I went.

On all my visits, the staff were incredibly friendly, offering samples the moment you walk in.  They *want* you to sample.  They offer more and more.  "What else you wanna try?", they prompt, before you even ask.  Its incredible.

Even when the lines get longer, they offer up the samples to start.  They ask you to sample your creation as it is made.  Incredible service.

If you are in a rush and just want a quick item though, you can go straight to the Express lane, to get a simple yogurt, check out, and pay quickly.

Menu

So, yes, 21 Choices is a froyo shop.  But it isn't like any other froyo shop I've ever been to.  Not only is it not self-serve, pay-by-weight, etc, its more like Cold Stone, where they make it on a cold slab with your choice of mix-ins, but, it is soft serve yogurt.

Or, it isn't.  It can also just be incredible pre-made flavors of soft serve, with or without toppings.  Or milkshakes, etc.

Many, many choices, and the 21 Choices actually *only* refers to their 21 suggested mix-in versions.  That is in addition to the 8 flavors of the day, and once you add in the ability to create your own, etc, seriously, limitless choices.

Soft Serve

So, starting with the froyo bases.

Every day includes 3 staples, all made fresh throughout the day:
  • French Vanilla (used by default for the base of most of the Mix-Ins, but, you can sub in any you want)
  • Belgian Chocolate: "Made With 72% guittard Chocolate."
  • Simply Yogurt: "Made with our plain tart cultured yogurt!"
You can get them in a cup or cone, Small for $4.25, Medium for $5.25, Large for $6.25.  

You can have multiple side by side if you want, or swirled if on the same machine. You can add any toppings too, for $0.75.

If there is a line, you can skip the main line, and go right to the cashier, to have this served up without a wait.

Of these, I tried only the French Vanilla, curious how it was on its own, before using it as a base for a  Mix-In.  It was my least favorite - actually a bit icy, not nearly as creamy as any others, and seemed most like, well, froyo (the others really were much more like ice cream). 
Daily Selection: Thursday.
And then, the other 5, which change completely every day.  Some are pre-made versions of the signature 21 Choices, but many are not.  As they told me, "it just depends what the chef wants to make each day!".  I adore that they 1) call them chefs and 2) let their staff have so much control.

The options always include at least one non-dairy option (sorbet or soy milk base) , and one no sugar added option.

The list the first time I stopped in was:
  • (Non-Dairy) Baja Mango: "Made with fresh mangos, strawberries, and 7up!" 
  • Oreo Cookie Magic "Made with oreos, (eggless) cookie dough, and rainbow sprinkles!"
  • Salted Caramel Chip: "Made with sea salt, caramel, and guittard chocolate chips."
  • Brownie Sundae: "Made with house baked coconut-walnut brownies & bananas!"
  • (No Sugar Added) Stumptown Coffee: "Made with cold brew Stumptown Coffee!"
Of these, only the Oreo Cookie Magic was a repeat from their 21 Mix-In Versions (and of course, you could opt to have it freshly made that way if you prefer).

I tried two, and was blown away by the creaminess and consistency.  It was perfectly creamy, not distinguishable from ice cream.  How was this frozen yogurt?  How did they get the mix-ins so perfectly integrated, and served from a standard froyo machine without clogging it?  I've never seen anything like this before, and it was mind-blowing.

(Side note: check out the huge Nutella containers below!)
Daily Selection: Friday.
The next day, the options were *entirely* different:
  • (Non Dairy) Strawberry Pineapple: "Made with fresh strawberries and pineapples."
  • Junior Min't Chip: "Made Guittard chocolate chips and Junior Mints."
  • Chocoholics Anonymous: "Made with house baked brownies, Guittard chocolate and Oreos."
  • (Non Dairy) Peanut Butter Pretzels: "Made with natural peanut butter, organic soy milk, Guittard chocolate chips and pretzels."
  • (No Sugar Added) Fresh Organic Banana: "Made with fresh organic bananas."
These were all originals, none from the 21 Choices menu.

I tried several, and again, was hooked.  I was happy *just* with the froyo, it was that good.  I didn't need toppings, not even sprinkles.  I didn't need to create my own thing.  I never expected that, but the creaminess and texture from mix-ins was just remarkable.

But still, there were many, many more options.

Toppings

Starting with the toppings, available on top the soft serve, or inside Mix-Ins.
Fruit: Strawberries, peaches, mango, pineapple. 
First up, fresh cut fruits.  This was just part of the lineup, there were blueberries, raspberries, and more in the next section.

I didn't try any fruit but it looked decently fresh.
House Made Cookie Dough.
Fruit not your style?  How about the other end of the spectrum: cookie dough!  Several varieties available, very large balls (which are chopped up when used in Mix-Ins, or just perched on top as a topping).

I think they had a non-dairy cookie dough too.

The cookie dough was a highlight for me, buttery, soft, delicious.
Baked Goods.
Giant globs of cookie dough not enough?  How about house made brownies (with or without nuts) or blueberry lemon pound cake.

Yes, those are Mix-Ins, not individual baked goods you can buy.  And yes, if you opt for a brownie or pound cake, you get the entire thing chopped up inside.  Crazypants.
Globes of Toppings.
And then, the globes.  Full of assorted toppings.

These ran the gamut of basically everything, your standard ice cream/froyo toppings of assorted nuts, cereals, candy, etc, and some more unique ones like the Lay's Potato Chips and pretzels.
More Toppings Globes.
These globes went on and on, on both sides of the ordering station.
Globe Close Up: Circus Animals.
Each globe had the easily accessible and visible items up top where the server would take from, but then down below in the tube was the stash of extra, which also showed you what brand they were.

Mix-Ins

So, yes, the more novel section of the menu is the Mix-Ins.  Made to order like Cold Stone, e.g. on a cold plate, with a base froyo, then toppings chopped up, and mixed in.
The 21 Choices of pre-defined Mix-Ins.
The menu board suggests their namesake 21 Choices, each of which sounds pretty amazing, and well crafted.

Of course, these are just 21 Choices that are suggested, you can make any custom creation you want, picking any base, any Mix-Ins.

Small is $6.50/Medium $7.50/Large $8.50, with additional mix-ins $0.75 no matter the size.  But the sizes are large, I've heard the large is actually a pint!

Crafting a Mix-In

Once you order a Mix-In, your server springs into action.
Froyo on the Slab.
First up, they serve some froyo from the machine, like normal, a swirl in a cup.  Then they dump it on the cold slab, and flatten it out.
Toppings Added.
Next, the toppings get added.

Here you can the generous pile of whole circus animals, a big ball of cookie dough, and rainbow sprinkles that went into my mini size.
All Mixed Up.
Chop, chop, chop, and, suddenly, a totally different creation!

As she finished, she got out a spoon, and handed me a spoonful, "Here, taste it, let me know if anything needs to be done differently".  I wasn't expecting this, but they did it for every guest.  I did see one lady ask for more peanut butter, so, I guess it works!

Frozen Yogurt

So, after all that, what did I get?

I was having an incredibly hard time deciding.  I really, really liked the soft serve flavors direct from the machine that I tried.  But ... I felt like I *should* get a Mix-In.

I told my server which two things I had narrowed down to, and she said, "Why not just get both, as a side by side?"  Amazing.

So I got half a Mix-In (from their 21 Creations) and half just a pre-made one from the machine.  Charged as if it were all a Mix-In, which was fine with me.

I opted for the off-menu "Tres Small", which I knew existed from my research, even though not shown on the menu boards.  It was plenty big.
Junior Mint Chip & Circus Animal Cookie Mix-In, Tres Small.
Junior Min't Chip: "Made Guittard chocolate chips and Junior Mints."

The flavor I picked direct from the machine was the Junior Min't Chip.  It was really crazy good.

Soooo creamy and smooth, lovely mint flavor, amazing texture from the bits from the chips and chopped up Junior Mints.  Seriously, perhaps the best froyo I've ever had in my life, and certainly the best version of any mint choc chip of any kind.

Seriously amazing.  I do kinda wish I had just stuck with this, maybe with a topping.

But I also wanted to experience the Mix-In, so I went for the Circus Animal Cookie, drawn in by the cookie dough and sprinkles.  This section came topped with a full size Circus Animal Cookie as well.
Circus Animal Cookie: Close Up.
"Made with circus animal cookies, (eggless) cookie dough, and rainbow sprinkles."

I ... didn't love it though.

The base I think was much of the problem.  I thought it was kinda icy when I tried the sample, and it was no different once mixed.  Much more standard froyo.  Kinda icy, not smooth, vanilla.

But the real reason I didn't love it was it was just too sweet.  I loved the crunchy bits inside, from everything, the chopped up cookies, the sprinkles, and the cookie dough.  I adored the bits of cookie dough.  But ... it was just too sweet.

[ Other Flavors ]

Oreo Cookie Magic: "Made with oreos, (eggless) cookie dough, and rainbow sprinkles!" This was the first one I tried, and it was really quite good.  I was shocked, actually.  Creamy, chocolately, and the texture from the sprinkles was awesome.  This was one of the daily flavors, it came out of a machine this way, which I've just never seen with soft serve before, and honestly loved!

Salted Caramel Chip: "Made with sea salt, caramel, and guittard chocolate chips." The guy accidentally made a sample of this when he meant to do a different one for someone else, but it was another flavor I was interested in, so I said I'd take it (he was about to throw it out!).  It too was great, creamy, sweet, loved the texture from the mix-ins.

(No Sugar Added) Fresh Organic Banana: "Made with fresh organic bananas." I'm not really a big banana fan, but the server said it was her favorite, so, I tried it.  Eh.  It was ... banana.  Probably best used as a base, it reminded me a lot of just frozen banana made into banana soft serve (a thing I used to do when I was trying to be healthier ...)

(Non Dairy) Peanut Butter Pretzels: "Made with natural peanut butter, organic soy milk, Guittard chocolate chips and pretzels."  This was very, very rich.  Amazingly creamy, but the peanut butter made it a heavy choice.  I didn't really detect the pretzels nor the chocolate chips, which was too bad, as I was looking forward to both the salty pretzel element, and the chocolate/peanut butter combo.  I also didn't taste the soy.  Really, this was just very rich peanut butter ice cream to me, and I think would make an excellent base.


21 Choices Frozen Yogurt Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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