By Mitch Broder
You walk along the boardwalk, then you step up to the counter, then you order some milk with bacteria and yeast.
That’s how you know it’s summer.
And actually, it’s not just like frozen yogurt, which is why Rovshan Danilov and Arthur Simonyan saw their entrepreneurial future in it. Kefir is tangy, which is to say piquant, which is to say sour, but in a good way. Freeze it and turn it into key lime pie, and you can startle even Mister Softee.
Kefir is popular in places like Arthur and Rovshan’s homelands of, respectively, Russia and Azerbaijan. It is indeed made by fermenting milk with bacteria and yeast, in kefir grains. It’s supposed to be good for digestion. And like most things, it’s made more acceptable to the American palate by the addition of fruity flavors, chocolatey bits, and mini marshmallows.
He gave me the pomegranate, which blended kefir tang with pomegranate tang. He gave me the caramelized pineapple and the strawberry-banana, which tasted like pineapples and strawberry-bananas. Then he gave me the Key Lime Pie — kefir with key-lime custard and graham-cracker dust — which proved that there’s a sound reason for this place to exist.
The Key Lime Pie is one of the Kefir Concoctions, which are combinations that further reveal the star ingredient’s versatility. It is an explosion of flavors, and exploding flavors are getting hard to come by. It induces you not only to keep spooning it but also to want to spoon the others.
The others include the PB&J, made of peanut-butter kefir and grape jelly, the Walnuts & Syrup, made of kefir and walnuts in maple syrup, and the Balsamic Strawbs & Cream, made of kefir, balsamic strawbs, and whipped cream. They’re “strawbs” because the menu blackboard’s too small.
I didn’t try any toppings besides the Key Lime graham dust, but there are a couple of dozen to add to your flavor explosion. Along with the conventional nuts, Gummy Bears, and Oreo crumbs, there are mango, kiwi, lychee, Cap’n Crunch, halvah, and Japanese rice cake.
The café has other delicacies, including crepes and waffles, but it is resolutely built on frozen kefir. That’s why the owners are wisely at work perfecting a chocolate frozen kefir. It’s tricky to balance chocolatey and tangy, Arthur explained: “We’re trying to find the best middle between those two.”Try a little something at Treat Petite, 61 Grove Street, at Seventh Avenue South, in New York City.