Thursday, June 07, 2018

Swirl & Pearl, New Hampshire

Swirl & Pearl is a frozen yogurt and bubble tea shop (get it, swirl as in froyo, pearl as in boba), located on the side of Noodle Station restaurant ... an Asian-Italian fusion noodle bar.  In Hanover, NH. 

So, in a random small town in New Hampshire, there is an establishment not only mashing up Asian and Italian noodles, but also throwing frozen yogurt and bubble tea into the mix.  Uh, yeah.  Let's just say, I didn't have high hopes for this one.

Now, Noodle Station I haven't actually been to.  The reviews are not strong.  The concept is all about creating your own noodle dish, choosing from 11 different pastas/rice, 10 different proteins, 16 different vegetables, and 11 different sauces.  You have free reign to be your own worst enemy here.  Udon with meatballs, cabbage, and thai red curry?  You got it!  Fettuccine with teriyaki steak and pad thai sauce?  Why not!  Rice with classic tomato sauce and avocado?  Sure!  (Of course, they have reasonable, pre-set options too, including standard pad thai, fettuccine alfredo with chicken and broccoli, cavatappi mac and cheese, General Tso's chicken over rice, veggie lo mein, spaghetti and meatballs, etc, etc.  Salads, noodle soups, and a hilarious array of appetizers to match all those pre-set dishes (garlic bread, egg rolls, spring rolls, chicken wings, meatballs in marinara sauce, peking ravioli, crab rangoon ...).  I'm not making this stuff up.  On the plus side, seems like you could bring any group of people here, and there would be something to match everyone's interests.

I had eyes only on Swirl & Pearl though, owned by the same owners, located just on the other side of the restaurant.  You enter both through the same door, and they share a kitchen space.  There are signs inside Swirl & Pearl saying that if there are no staff around, just go next door to the noodle bar to get their attention.

Frozen Yogurt (Swirl)

The first half of Swirl & Pearl is "swirl", a pretty standard self-serve froyo shop.  Pay-by-weight, only huge cups available.  Toppings bar with all sorts of candy, boba, nuts, sprinkles, sauces, and more.

Interestingly, they offer no fruit toppings (besides canned cherries).  I was really surprised when I saw this, given how many other items they had, but, I guess fruit is more work, it requires cutting, it doesn't keep long, etc.  Once I tried the quality of the other toppings, I think I'm glad they choose not to offer fruit.  While the toppings lineup is extensive, none of it was very good, nor fresh.

The froyo though, is quite good.
8 Flavors at a time.
Swirl & Pearl offers 8 flavors at a time that rotate frequently, including dairy free, vegan options (almond milk based, not just sorbet), fat-free and low-fat, sugar-free, sweet and tart, etc.

I'll admit that I was impressed with the lineup.  When I visited the time I took these photos, the lineup included two tart (California Tart, Pomegranate Zinger), two basic frozen yogurts (Dreamy Dark Chocolate, Tahitian Vanilla), the later of which was also sugar-free, two more decadent frozen yogurts (Strawberry Shortcake, Peanut Butter), and two vegan, gluten-free options (S'mores Almond Milk Swirl and Strawberry Banana Frozen Fruit).

And they source quality product for the frozen items.  The froyo and sorbet comes from Honey Hill Farms, one of my absolute favorites, like served at Prima Cafe in San Francisco (seriously, love the peanut butter from here!), and the almond milk flavors are Almond Milk Swirl brand.

I am not a vegan, and love my regular dairy, but, for the sake of those who cannot have it, I appreciated that they not only had a sorbet, but also the almond milk option.  I tried it, and the almond flavor was strong and it certainly wasn't for me, but, if you need to go dairy-free, I'm sure it is a welcome item.

The yogurt in general suffers from consistency issues.  There are days when it is creamy, smooth, rich, and everything I love about Honey Hill Farms.  And there are times when it is icy and way too runny.  I may have even stopped in twice in one day, and found it amazing in the early afternoon, and really not good at all later in the day (yes, I went back twice for the peanut butter one day, I adore it when it is good!)

  • Cookies & Cream (Lowfat): "Our special Low Fat Cookies ’N Cream yogurt is like no other. We have REAL cookies blended into this delicious yogurt. Taste the creamy center and sweet outer cookies. You’ll never go back to plain ol’ cookies and milk as an afternoon treat!". Tasting notes: Very sweet, but nicely creamy
  • Mint Chocolate Chip (Nonfat): "Creamy mint green and specked with chocolate chip pieces, this traditional favorite will move to the top of your list!  Our Nonfat Mint Chocolate Chip combines smooth mint with chocolate mint droplets for frosty indulgence.". Tasting notes: Refreshing, minty, but icy.
  • Moon Pie (Nonfat): "Outta this world! Sweet marshmallow and golden graham cracker swirl with a hint of luscious chocolate to make our Moon Pie® frozen yogurt. This tantalizing nonfat treat will leave you over the Moon!" Tasting Notes: Very sweet, nicely creamy.
  • Old Fashioned Peanut Butter (Reduced Fat): "Nuts for nuts? Release your inner nut junky when you try our delightful Old Fashioned Peanut Butter yogurt. It’s smooth and creamy!" Tasting Notes: Sooooo creamy, sooo good, the ultimate Honey Hills Farm flavor.  No surprise that it is the highest fat content.
  • Pumpkin Pie (Lowfat):  "This flavor is so tasty and authentic, you may want to bring it to Thanksgiving dinner!  We combine real pumpkin puree with nutmeg in our Low Fat Pumpkin Pie yogurt – tastes just like Grandma’s!" Tasting Notes: a bit icy, not the best flavor but not bad.
  • Spiced Apple Pie (Lowfat): "This scrumptious mix of apple and spices is a winner for the holidays.  You won’t believe our Low Fat Spiced Apple Pie yogurt isn’t the real thing – and neither will Grandma!" Tasting Notes: great flavor, but still icy
  • Strawberry Short Cake (Reduced Fat Gelato): "Strawberry puree, fresh cream and sugar combine to make this tempting treat! Light pink and delicious, our Reduced Fat Strawberry Shortcake will win you over. Scrumptious!" Tasting Notes: Strawberry isn't my goto flavor, but I wanted to try the gelato.  It was good.
  • Tahitian Vanilla (Nonfat): "You may have to taste this sweet yogurt again and again (not that you’ll be complaining!) – you will not believe it’s nonfat! Our Tahitian Vanilla yogurt is smooth and creamy. It’s perfect alone or as a base for your favorite toppings!" Tasting notes: Sadly very icy, meh.
  • Tahitial Vanilla No Sugar Added: "This delicious yogurt is just like our Nonfat Tahitian Vanilla – except revamped!  Enjoy this nonfat, no sugar added treat alone or with your favorite toppings!" Tasting Notes: very creamy, nice vanilla flavor, better than the regular vanilla.
Popping Boba, Cherries.
For toppings, the first well is the wet items: popping boba in 4 flavors, and canned cherries.  No other fruit.

The boba is also used in the milk and fruit teas, the staff just scoop it from here.
Dry Goods.
Next comes dry goods, including rainbow mochi, cookie dough, brownie bits, cheesecake bits, and crumble.

The mochi were actually pretty good, soft, not hard, not stale.
Chocolate Candies.
Next up is all the chocolate candy: peanut butter cups, heath bar, snickers, reese's pieces, nestle crunch, M&Ms, chocolate chips, mint chips ...

Nothing surprising here, all your basics are covered.  They tasted as expected, the mint chips let me down though, they were very waxy.
Gummy Candy, Pretzels.
And then the gummy candy (sour patch kids, swedish fish, sour worms, gummy bears), and mini yogurt (or white chocolate?) covered pretzels.

Again, no surprises.

The only item in the entire bar that wasn't labelled was the pretzels.  So of course I went for those.  I still don't know if they were white chocolate or yogurt covered, but I can tell you that they were stale.  Very, very, very stale.
The next set of items is squirt bottles of sauces, including strawberry, peanut butter, marshmallow, and even real maple syrup.

I'll admit that the real syrup impressed me, an expensive item for them, and not a heavy one.

I eagerly used the peanut butter and marshmallow sauces.

The marshmallow was ... just sticky sweet.  As expected.

The peanut butter though let me down.  It was a strange consistency and didn't have a very good flavor.  Almost as if rancid?  I wonder if it too was just old?
Dry Toppings: Cereal, nuts, sprinkles.
And then come the shakes of other dry toppings: Chocolate and rainbow sprinkles, peanuts, graham cracker, cereals (rice crispies, fruity pebbles).  No nuts besides the peanuts.
Hot Fudge, Hot Caramel.
And a redeeming feature, hot fudge and caramel, both kept hot.  This is actually fairly rare for self-serve shops, so, kudos for this as well.

I tried the fudge, it was fine, but not particularly good, not very thick nor rich.

Bubble Tea (Pearl)

The other half of Swirl & Pearl is the Pearl, a bubble tea area, with milk and fruit teas.  Here, the customizations are shockingly few, particularly compared to the other aspects of this establishment.
Bubble Tea Menu.
Your only real choice is milk tea or fruit tea, the flavor, and if you want it iced, hot, or blended.  The only mix-ins are boba and popping boba.

They do have a decent lineup of flavors, but customizations are not anything like I am used to.  No options for how much ice, how sweet, what type of tea, what type of dairy, etc.

The milk teas use black tea as the base, and the fruit teas use green, although you can also ask for water instead (this is not listed anywhere on the menus, but, I asked because I was looking for a no caffeine option).  All use powders for the flavor, and the milk tea has powdered non-dairy creamer (Coffee Mate) as the only option.
Taro Milk Tea, Iced.  $4.75.
There is really only ever one choice for me for bubble tea.  Taro.  I've had this several times from Swirl & Pearl.

The first time, I was impressed.  "Great flavor! Legit!", my notes read.  I noted that the tapioca was decent, soft, not clumped together.  

The next time, I was less impressed.  My drink was not purple, didn't taste much like taro, and was really more like Thai tea, just sweet, creamy, black tea.  The boba was a bit too soft.

The third try, I opted for not just taro, but taro and coconut.  This was a nice mix, I liked the slight coconut flavor combined with taro.  I noted that I should try taro + vanilla next.

But overall, this really is just generic bubble tea.  For Hanover, NH, a lovely option.  But if you are used to higher quality bubble tea shops, like the places around San Francisco offering up 20 flavors of house brewed tea, local organic dairy, house made puddings and jellies, etc, this is not even in the same league.
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