A Girls’ Night In with 16 Handles

A couple weekends ago, I took a bus from DC to New York City to spend a night with Kris, one of my college roommates and dearest friends. Kris has a glamorous (but demanding) career in the PR/fashion world. And while she may attend high-profile dinners and galas, Kris still loves a low-key girls’ night as much as I do. Given our busy schedules this summer summer, we were both looking forward to a night of girl talk, cocktails, and ice cream.

We dined al fresco at an adorable Mexican restaurant in Kris’ neighborhood, enjoying guacamole and fancy versions of margaritas and sangria. Unlike most Manhattan restaurants, the staff here didn’t make us feel rushed, and we lingered over our drinks and food for a couple hours. We eventually decided to head back to Kris’ apartment to watch a movie. Kris knew that I was looking to sample NYC ice cream, so she mentioned that we’d pass her favorite frozen yogurt spot – 16 Handles – on our walk back.

The first 16 Handles store opened in NYC back in 2008. And in just five years, it’s become the most popular self-serve frozen yogurt chain in the city – with stores beginning to pop up in other East Coast cities. Obviously, I wanted to know what all the excitement was about!

It wasn’t difficult to spot 16 Handles; bright neon sign, colorful storefront, and lots of people. The line to the soft-serve machines was vey long, but it moved surprisingly quickly. Plus, the wait time was very enjoyable… thanks to the employee walking down the line offering to grab samples for everyone. I asked to sample the Peanut Butter, which was top-notch. Rich and creamy, it tasted like real peanut butter – no hint of that strange artificial flavor sometimes found in pb ice creams.

Before long, Kris and I were grabbing our empty cups and contemplating the sixteen different flavors available that night. Yes, there are sixteen handles to pull at 16 Handles. You can choose to fill your cup with one flavor (boring!) or all sixteen. Consistent with the modern vibe of the store, the flavor names are posted on bright LED screens. As a gluten-free girl, I really appreciated how 16 Handles identifies its gluten-free flavors with little icons on these screens.

16 Handles seems to offer a flavor for everyone – including people looking for low-fat or no-sugar-added frozen yogurt. For the vegans and lactose intolerant, 16 Handles offers non-dairy sorbet flavors (including Watermelon and Berry Melody). I usually refrain from mixing fruity sorbets with regular dairy flavors after a particularly unpleasant combination (watermelon mocha, anyone?). In the end, I pulled three handles: the Chocolate Love Affair, Salted Caramel, and New York Cheesecake (in honor of NYC). The toppings bar was the best I’ve seen – with plenty of healthy fruit, colorful sprinkles, kid-approved cereal, and one-of-a-kind specialties (including the seasonal “bananas foster”, which was essentially banana slices covered in brown-sugar syrup). I kept it simple and topped my frozen yogurt with rainbow sprinkles, mini chocolate and yogurt chips, and a few toffee chunks.

Because we were still full from dinner, Kris and I asked to take our creations “to go.” The efficient staff quickly weighed our cups before packaging them up. Knowing how expensive everything is in New York City, I was surprised that each of our servings cost less than five dollars! We paid and continued on to Kris’ apartment, where we popped our 16 Handles bag into the freezer. We then relaxed on Kris’ couch, watching the first Sex and the City movie (i.e. the best one) until we had an appetite for dessert!

The verdict? Go ahead, you can add my name to the list of 16 Handles fans. Not only was the self-serve experience fun, but this frozen yogurt was top-notch. Despite an hour in the freezer, my frozen yogurt was smooth and creamy  – more like great soft-serve ice cream than low-fat frozen yogurt. The New York Cheesecake had that distinct cheesecake flavor, but it was mild enough to pair well with almost any other flavor. I really liked the Chocolate Love Affair, as it tasted more like dark chocolate than milk. But my absolute favorite flavor was Salted Caramel. Unlike some versions I’ve tried, 16 Handles’ flavor has that deep, buttery caramel taste without being, well, salty. After all, the theory behind salted caramel is that a pinch of salt enhances the taste of caramel – not that salt should be a separate flavor! I was impressed that such a complex flavor could be achieved in frozen yogurt. Sure, 16 Handles may be trendy – but I think this is one trend that’s here to stay.

The Stats:
16 Handles
Various locations in NYC and beyond
http://16handles.com