When I was growing up, my mother always made me finish my dinner before serving dessert. Playing the obedient son, I made sure to leave every bone of my Harold’s fried chicken exposed before heading over to Zberry–Hyde Park’s first and only frozen yogurt shop. As my fingertips glistened with oil and my internal systems slowed to accommodate the influx of mild sauce, I sauntered down the street.
Zberry’s narrow storefront accounts for the “1/2” in its unusual address: 1368 1/2 East 53rd. Opening the door, I saw an older police officer leaning on the shiny counter. “What is sherbet?” he asked, slightly disgruntled. “It’s like our yogurt, but less bitter,” a cashier responded. “Sit still and I’ll get you some,” she added and ran off. Standing in the doorway, I peered into the candy-colored cave painted in baby blue and lavender. A welcoming nook in the front of the store houses two comfortable chairs and a small coffee table. Along one of the long walls is a counter with stools; across the room a bar is packed with toppings. The store narrows in the back where the wall surfaces abruptly change to metal and grumble audibly.
As I stood staring at the contrast of vibrant baby blue and navy blue of the CPD uniform, the cashier approached and asked if I was new. I was. Smiling, she told me the drill. Zberry is a self-service, pay-by-weight establishment–your custom-made treat costs 45 cents an ounce, toppings and all. She handed me a tiny cup, the kind you put ketchup in at McDonald’s, and told me to try some flavors before making a final decision. The grumbling stainless steel walls began to scream as I approached. These vociferous vaults hide the goods, you see. A quick pull on the nozzle protruding from the wall released the “mango peach tangy yogurt.” Lacking a utensil, I turned my back to the cashier so my tongue could sneak a taste out of the cup in the manner a lizard breathes. Instantly, I felt cleansed. Atop the light content of the yogurt, the flavor jumped like the crack of a whip–it was, I believe, the sensation known as tang. Instead of inducing pain, the essence of both fruits flittered across my tongue.Â Electrified, I tried other flavors, moving on to “passion delight,” “pomegranate raspberry tart yogurt,” and “cake batter yogurt.” I preferred the fruit flavors, seeing yogurt as a perfect stage for their refreshing nature. Finally deciding upon my first love, I layered some of the mango peach flavor on a foundation composed of “original tangy yogurt”–a nod to tradition.
My layering complete, I went straight for the toppings. No one approached me to stingily ration the adornments. I felt like a kid at an abandoned candy store. Had I dared, I could have piled as much candy, nuts, cereal, and fruit on my yogurt as I desired. But I am 20 now, and a composed individual. I thought to myself, why not get real? So I added the real mango to my yogurt. It was a success.
With a mouthful of fro-yo, I peered out of the window at Ribs ‘N Bibs, feeling a bit torn. Frozen yogurt is the butt of a lot of yuppie jokes, passed off as the dessert of choice for yogi lawyers and wine bar regulars from Lincoln Park. However, the cashier, Pairadeese, didn’t see the contradiction. “We are a black-owned business,” she said. I asked about the clientele. “We have gotten a lot of college students,” she acknowledged, “but neighborhood folk have come in too.” She closed with an excellent point, noting that the South Side needs a store to offer “good food that is also healthy food.”
“Soul and body food, perhaps?” I offered, but she did not hear. A mother with four wide-eyed kids had just entered. In the corner, the police officer slouched, his disgruntled expression melting into quiet bliss.
Zberry, 1368 1/2 E. 53rd St. Monday-Thursday, 11am-9pm; Friday-Saturday, 11am-10pm; Sunday, 11am-8pm. (773)8558754). myzberry.com