When Nabil Bacha, owner of downtown’s fancy Cafe Bel Ami at 229 E. William, announced that he would turn the space at 301 N. Mead into a burger and yogurt shop, it was a little difficult to envision.
It’s wasn’t just that Bacha is the owner of a fancy restaurant. It was also that, for a decade, only fancy restaurants had occupied the corner property at Old Town Square: Uptown Bistro from 2004 to 2011, then Luca Italian Kitchen from 2011 until last summer.
Yo-B Yogurt & Burgers is not fancy, but it is attractive inside. Bacha remodeled the space, giving the interior a mod look reminiscent of chain frozen yogurt stores Orange Leaf and Peachwave. He opened the restaurant in February after several construction delays.
It’s been a welcome addition to post-movie date nighters at the Warren Old Town, kids and parents splashing in the Old Town Square fountains, and downtown residents who don’t want to travel for a burger or frozen yogurt.
It wasn’t. The “skirt,” the cashier explained, is a disc of baked, crispy cheese that tops the burger and gives it the appearance of wearing a skirt. I couldn’t exactly envision a skirt, but baked cheese is one of my favorite things. (Next time, I might just order a dozen skirts.) The skirt burger was $3.29 and came topped with tomato, onion, lettuce, pickle and mayo. I liked the char-grilled flavor of the beef, and the vegetables were fresh and colorful. The flavor of the cheese disc was lost, though, so I pulled it off and enjoyed it separately.
We also tried the egg burger ($3.39), which had the same setup as the skirt burger, minus the cheese and plus a fried egg. It was good, too, except that the picture in the menu shows a runny, sunny-side up egg and the one we got was smashed, fried flat and devoid of any liquid yolk. No one asked us how we wanted the egg cooked, and the best part about an egg-topped burger is the exploding yolk seeping all over the place.
A basic build-your-own burger costs $2.10. We added American cheese for an extra 35 cents and bacon for an extra 50 cents. It also was good, thanks to the buttery bun, but it was a pain to add ketchup, which at Yo-B is available only in small packets that must be torn open, one by one. We got fries on the side for an extra $1.39. They were crispy and nicely seasoned but again required bothersome and messy battles with ketchup packets.
After burgers, we were ready to try out the frozen stuff. Yo-B is set up the same as frozen yogurt chains. Customers choose a ginormous dish (which the shops hope everyone will overfill) then choose from a rotating array of flavors and dispense the yogurt themselves. When we were there, Yo-B had pineapple, orange, root beer, cookies and cream, pistachio, pomegranate, strawberry and no-sugar-added cherry. Unlike other yogurt shops, it also offered a few self-serve frozen custard options in flavors such as salted caramel, cinnamon roll, chocolate and vanilla.
Customers can load their yogurt up with a variety of sweet toppings. Some, like Oreo cookie crumbles and mini Reese’s Pieces, are in turn-knob dispensers on the wall. Others, such as fresh fruit and boba balls, are on a buffet line with spoons. When they’ve loaded to their satisfaction, customers put their creations on a scale to determine the cost. Yo-B charges 42 cents an ounce, compared with Orange Leaf’s 45 cents an ounce.
We weren’t overly impressed with the yogurt and custard options, many of which had off-putting, unnatural flavors. The cookies and cream yogurt and salted caramel custard, in particular, tasted like straight-from-the-lab artificial flavorings. And the custards didn’t offer the thick, creamy texture that custard eaters crave. The kids in our party, though, were perfectly thrilled with their bright pink strawberry yogurt and the fact that they could load it with gummy bears, gummy worms and intact Oreos. And, except for the few sad, browning bananas left in one tray, the topping options were plentiful and varied.