When I first moved into the city an alarming number of moons ago, it was still fairly easy to find a TCBY. I don’t know exactly when the country demoted it to SECOND best yogurt, but at some point in the mid-90s, the stores seemed to become extinct. For the next 10 years, unless they were at the airport with access to a Columbo machine, Manhattanites seeking low-fat frozen desserts were forced to settle for a local chain called Tasti D-Lite.
Tasti D-Lite was the inspiration for a famous episode of Seinfeld, in which Elaine’s beloved “non-fat yogurt” turns out to be full o’lard. You can read the episode’s script here, should you need a refresher. In reality, Tasti D-Lite is not any kind of yogurt. It is not any kind of ice cream. It is not ice milk. It is not custard. I cannot tell you what it IS. I can only tell you that it feels cold on your tongue and is vaguely creamy. It comes in dozens of flavors, from German Chocolate Cake and White Russian to Latte Fudge and Pecan Praline. Except that all of them taste exactly the same: like air. I gave Tasti D-Lite several opportunities to prove itself. It failed to do so, and I was forced to begin referring to it as Tasteless D-Lite.
Frankly, ingestion of low-fat faux ice cream was a sham for a junkie like me. None of it had the same kind of impact. None of it made me forget about Brownies a la Mode at Haagen Dazs or the soupy Chocolate Marshmallow I enjoyed at Buxton’s in my New Jersey girlhood. No ice cream-like concoction was ever going to take the place of actual ice cream for me.
But I have to tell you. It takes a strong woman to eat real ice cream in broad daylight in a city like New York. Sure, digging in to a pint in the privacy of your own apartment is one thing (and one thing I do often). But it’s just not feminine — it’s not lady-like — to publicly indulge in full-fledged ice cream if you’re not visibly knocked up and/or accompanied by a preppy gentleman with whom you’re on a pukishly cute, wholesome date.
Just this afternoon, a riotously funny co-worker and I took a post-lunch stroll to the Mr. Softee truck at 23rd and 6th. We both ordered milkshakes, and I got a cone for the VP of Marketing, who then chided me for accidentally going with rainbow instead of chocolate sprinkles. I cannot tell you how self-conscious I felt walking that block back to the office, milkshake in one hand, wilting cone in the other. I could practically hear the thoughts of those who saw me: She’s obviously bulimic; Poor thing has been eating heavily since the divorce; Wow, if she keeps that up, they’ll have to bury her in a midget’s piano.
This lack of social acceptability almost certainly stems from a ridonculous belief held by many a female: that if no one sees you eating fattening food, you can’t actually get fat. Case in point: there’s a restaurant on Amsterdam Avenue called Josie’s. There’s also one in a neighborhood called Murray Hill, and FYI, both are owned by the actor Rob Morrow. Josie’s fare is organic, free-range, grass-fed, locally-grown, hormone-free, antibiotic-free and largely TASTE-free. But it’s allegedly healthy, so the body-dysmorphic love it.
Behold an ACTUAL conversation I heard two girls having one night when I was forced to dine at Josie’s and fantasizing about the frozen pizza I would have when I got home. [Insert Long Island version of the Valley Girl accent.]
Girl 1: “Uh. Muh. Gud. Jen. This. Is. Like. Amazing. It’s AMAZING.”
Girl 2: “Uh. Muh. Gud. Rully? I’m. Like. Suh. Hap-pay. Fuh. Yuh. Wha. Is. It?”
Me (but not really): “Uh. Muh. Gud. Do yuh. Morons. Have. Like. Rully. Hot. Food. In. Your. Mouths? Why the FRICK are you talking like that?”
Girl 1: “Uh. Muh. Gud. It is just. Plain. Brown. Rice. Buh. It. Is. AMAZING.”
Girl 2: “Rully? Wow. I shu. Like totally. Get some for Alana. She like. LOVES. Brown. Rice.”
Me (but not really): “Uh. Muh. Gud. Alana wuh. TOTALLY heart you if. You like. Brought. Her. Brown. Rice.”
You see what I’m dealing with. For years, this internal battle between conformity and amour de creme raged on, torturing me. Then, at long last, it seemed there might be an answer: Pinkberry. Billed as a new take on the world-renowned tart-n-creamy frozen yogurt at Bloomingdale’s, it had a great deal of potential. It wasn’t trying to replace ice cream; it was merely another option that required freezer storage. Kiki treated me to my first Pinkberry. And it sucked. It tasted like Lemon Tasteless D-Lite, and it pissed me off. What kind of name was Pinkberry, anyway? Where do pinkberries naturally occur? Screw you, Pinkberry.
So the battle raged on. And then, about two weeks ago, I noticed a shiny new sign above a storefront in Chelsea: Red Mango. I was annoyed at first: again with the stupid made-up fruit name? What was next? Another yogurtorium called TealNectarine? PurpleKumquat?
But then curiosity got the best of me. I ordered a small, original with strawberries, tiny little chocolate chips and … brace yourself … GRAHAM CRACKER CRUMBS. The strawberries were real and fresh, the chocolate not even remotely waxy and the GCCs reminiscent of S’mores. The yogurt itself — a mere 90 calories! — actually tasted like yogurt, but better. In a word: dee-LICIOUS! Thanks, Red Mango! You earn my highest endorsement.