If you think yogurt is just a sweet, gelatinous concoction to be eaten out of a container as you rush to work, you should check out Aroa Craft Yogurt & Café, serving artisanal yogurt made onsite that's mixed with either roasted vegetables and spices or fruits and other healthful sweets.
The space, located in Plantation in Broward County, is modern, clean, and inviting and includes a yogurt microfactory, which needed its own special permitting from the state. "The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services guided us through the whole process. They have been our strongest ally in this project since day one," cofounder Nacho Aguerrevere says.
Aguerrevere explains the importance of Aroa's look: "People walk in, they like the green, the wood, the clean approach."
According to cofounder Maria Fernanda Vargas, the creative and culinary force behind Aroa, the café's inspiration came from her family. "The business originated in Venezuela, where we are from. It was my mom's passion to eat healthy and delicious, but it really goes back to my French grandmother, Jacqueline. She started the food philosophy of eat everything, in the right amounts."
Vargas' mother, Dalia, runs a successful yogurt business in Caracas. Vargas, an economist seeking a career change, decided to take the artisanal yogurt to the States, so she partnered with her husband Ricardo, a lawyer whom she calls "the visionary"; his brother Nacho; and Nacho's wife Matea, a professional photographer. They took inspiration from their homeland when choosing the name "Aroa," which is a region in Venezuela known for its lush vegetation, fruits, vegetables, and milk.
Aroa offers four kinds of artisanal yogurt: a loose, almost liquid variety; a thicker, Greek-style one; a labneh version; and yogurt cheese, similar in texture to cream cheese. The yogurt is fermented longer than commercial yogurt and then strained, giving it a tangier taste with more healthful bacteria per serving that the kind you buy in stores.
There are two portion sizes for both sweet and savory yogurts, the half ($4) and the full ($6). Sweet options include lime pie (lime yogurt served with blueberries and graham cracker crumbles) and the Floridian (yogurt with orange marmalade, chocolate chips, and granola). Salty yogurts, which are meant to be enjoyed as a dip, include roasted carrot (lime juice yogurt, carrot spread, lime and orange zest, and chopped pistachios) and caramelized onion (caramelized onion, yogurt, aged balsamic vinegar, and preserved figs).
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The savory dishes are served with toasted whole-wheat pita chips and casabe, a crisp flatbread made from cassava typically eaten by native tribes in Venezuela.
For lunch, there are cold soups (cup $3.50, bowl $6) such as mint cucumber, made with fresh yogurt, almonds, golden raisins, dill, scallions, sumac, and rose petals; and balance bowls ($11.50), a combo of greens, grains, beans, vegetables, and seeds, all topped with a tangy yogurt dressing. Sandwiches include a roasted pesto chicken ($11.50) and a Mediterranean veggie ($9.50), both served on multigrain bread and spread with yogurt cheese spread. All balance bowls and sandwiches include a small soup or yogurt.
Everything is made in-house — from the granola to the orange marmalade to the slow-roasted carrots. Vargas explains the importance of varying textures as well as flavor, highlighting the roasted carrot dish: "There are different layers to it, from the yogurt to the thicker roasted carrots to the crunchiness of the pistachios."
Aroa Craft Yogurt & Cafe
1045 S. University Dr., Plantation; 954-533-0328; aroayogurt.com. Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.