Friday, August 28, 2009

Let's Get f'REAL

"Milkshake" and "convenience" are not words that usually go together. And while a thick, frosty shake isn't exactly what I'd call a thirst-quencher, there's something about (happily) struggling to get that ice cold, creamy concoction up a straw that lends itself to lazing about on a hot summer day.

Unfortunately, grabbing a milkshake has never been the easiest thing in the world. In fact, other than a fast food joint like McDonald's – whose "shakes" have long been the subject of dark, nasty and unfounded rumors – I wouldn't know where to get one that didn't involve making one myself (a process that would include finding our blender) or sitting down to order one. I suppose ice cream parlors (I think I'm dating myself with that terminology) serve them but it's not like they're on every corner, even if I had the time to leisurely kick back for a shake.

Enter the f'REAL, the invention of Jim Farrell, fellow milkshake lover and a man who knew there had to be a better way. I was vaguely familiar with the company's blender kiosks and squat refrigerated cases that sat in some of the Wawas I would frequent during my travels, but I readily admit that: a) I'm a Wawa purist and tend to only purchase hoagies, chips, Diet Lemonade Tea, soft pretzels, and coffee; and, b) I'm usually in a hurry whenever I'm in a Wawa and rarely take the time to stop and smell the roses, so to speak.

In other words, I'm a creature of habit. So when the fine folks at f'REAL offered me the opportunity to give their handy – and interactive – milkshakes a try I couldn't resist.

I'd been walking around with a couple f'REAL coupons in my wallet for a few weeks but was always in too much of a rush to get to the beach or eat my hoagie to succumb to the allure of their high-tech gadgetry. But on a recent trip to LBI the milkshake gods started nudging me, reminding me of the opportunity that lay before me. While stopping midway for gas and dinner one night the guy in front of me was buying a f'REAL... a day or so later another customer in line had a f'REAL as I ordered up my morning coffee. These were literally the first people I'd ever seen buying these.

I got the hint. It was time to get f'REAL.

Unfortunately, the Wawa on the Boulevard in Beach Haven was out of the limited edition Cookie Dough flavor. In fact, the refrigerated case seemed low on most flavors which I suppose is a good sign for the folks at f'REAL. With Cookie Dough out of the mix I opted instead for Cookies and Cream which combines ice cream with crushed Oreo or Oreo-like cookies. (Other regular flavors include Chocolate, Vanilla, Strawberry, Chocolate Malt and Mint Chip which is available from February through May.)

After choosing the plastic cup filled with the frozen blend of ice cream and dairy-fresh milk from the case, I popped the lid, chose my preferred blend (regular, one of three options) and stepped back while the blender did the rest. About a minute later I had my f'REAL.

As somebody who doesn't have a sweet tooth I was actually a little concerned that the shake would blast me with a sugary, too sweet concoction I'd be passing off. Not the case. Though the regular blend mode left some of the ice cream a bit too solid, requiring some deft work with my straw, the resulting shake was eventually creamy and refreshingly cold, like slightly melted ice cream before it turns to ice cream soup. As we drove down the Garden State Parkway I happily worked away at my shake, noisily slurping up the last bits and almost waking my daughter in the process.

Available in Milkshake, Smoothie and Frozen Cappuccino blends, f'REAL products run about $2.50 and are available at convenience stores around the country. In addition to the standard flavors, exclusive, limited edition offerings are available at selected convenience stores, such as the Reese's Peanut Butter Cup shake available now at Sheetz.

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