Updated Aug 25, 2019
You don’t know what’s good and what’s bad until you try something better. Our first visits to France and Italy many, many moons ago taught us this lesson in spades. If you grew up in many parts of America before the tidal influx of imported chocolates and the explosion of craft chocolatiers, the only chocolate you may have known was Hershey’s. And Hershey’s, as it turns out, barely qualifies as chocolate. That’s not an exaggeration. In the US, the minimum cocoa solids that are required to constitute a milk chocolate instead of a what is ambiguously referred to as a “confection” is 10%, and Hershey’s is camped out right on that line. By comparison, Canada requires 15% and Europe 35%. Don’t you feel cheated?
We’ve always talked about access being one of New York City’s greatest assets. It’s a rare thing to find such an incredible diversity of food, art, fashion, architecture, and events in a single locale, but that’s New York City in a nutshell. And chocolate, if you are as obsessed with it as we are, is no exception. The following post, which we thoroughly enjoyed “researching”, offers multiple ways in New York City to increase your knowledge, expand your palate and indulge your sweet tooth all at the same time.
Visit The Center of the Chocolate Universe
Just like a Molten Chocolate Lava Cake contains an ooey, gooey chocolatey center, so does New York City. With its bustling park, pedestrian plaza and weekend market, one doesn’t really need another reason to visit Union Square. But did you know that it is also a chocolate mecca? That’s right! In a narrow radius, you’ll find multiple locations to indulge your chocolate obsession.
Max Brenner Chocolate Bar has a location in Union Square, but we find the chain to be more of a novelty. Blue Stripes Cacao Shop comes from its co-founder and features more experimental and creative recipes. Here they take raw cacao, grind it on the spot, and mix it with hot water, making some of the purest drinkable chocolate you’ll find. They also offer an array of chocolate-centric dishes, such as chocolate and fruit stuffed french toasts. But the show-stopper here, if we had to pick only one, is the wholly addictive drinkable chocolate mousse on tap.
Mere steps away, you’ll also find Nutella Café. If you were paying attention, you might be thinking “That’s not chocolate!” And you’d be right. Based on what we stated above, Nutella qualifies as a confectionary spread flavored with a minute amount of hazelnut and cocoa solids. But we include it here because Nutella holds a special place in our hearts and the hearts of its many obsessive fans. The café offers much of what you’d expect: hazelnut spread crêpes, pancakes and waffles, as well as pastries and gelato.
On the opposite end of Union Square, you’ll find the newest and our favorite addition, Venchi, where the centuries-old Italian gourmet chocolate manufacturer opened its flagship store. Boasting, among other things, a 45-foot-long, 10-foot-high chocolate waterfall inside the store, Venchi offers absolutely delicious chocolates, in the form of bars, truffles, pastries, and drinks.
Learn The History of Chocolate
(Update March 1, 2019: THE MUSEUM HAS CLOSED; HOWEVER, CLASSES ARE STILL CONDUCTED ON-SITE)
Our love affair with Jacques Torres began at his original chocolate shop in DUMBO. It all started with his chocolate chip cookies–easily one of the best in the city (all these years later, only those offered by Levain Bakery, Culture Espresso and Untitled warrant being included in that conversation). In addition, Jacques Torres’ drinking chocolates, barks and brittles became mainstays of our gift-giving over the years. So, when we heard he’d opened the Museum of Chocolate at his flagship location, it seemed like a fun way to learn more about chocolate.
Choco-Story, has plenty of visuals, demonstrations and historical facts, but it still manages to be a light, quick little tour. For a more interactive experience, you can download the Choco-Story app for virtual 3D animations during your visit. Or just use the browser on your phone to access the audio guide online for a self-guided tour. There’s a truffle-making demonstration (with samples!) and a Mayan hot chocolate demonstration (with samples!). And afterwards, the flagship shop is right next door so you can pick up more of your favorites.
Get Chauffeured Around to Brooklyn’s Chocolate Destinations
When it comes to tours in New York City, A Slice of Brooklyn is a cut above the rest. And we should know. We’ve thoroughly enjoyed both their Pizza Tour and Dyker Heights Christmas Lights Tour. With their modern, comfortable buses, detailed multimedia presentations and personable tour guides, theirs are what first class tours are meant to be. The New York Chocolate Tour is no exception.
It’s the only bus tour of its kind, taking its participants on a fun-filled, tasty jaunt through Brooklyn’s abundant craft chocolate scene. You’ll venture from neighborhood to neighborhood–Cobble Hill, Red Hook, Industry City and Gowanus–enjoying tastings at such renowned chocolatiers as Jacques Torres Chocolates (his original DUMBO shop), The Chocolate Room, Raaka Chocolates, and Li-Lac Chocolates. You’ll learn plenty about the chocolate making process (bean to bar) and satisfy your sweet tooth along the way.
For a detailed review of the Chocolate Tour, check out our blogger buddy New York Cliche‘s experience.
Learn to Make Hand-Rolled Chocolate Truffles
Rhonda Kave, the entrepreneur, chocolatier, and owner and operator of Roni-Sue’s Chocolates, is a force of nature. She opened Roni-Sue’s back in 2007 and instantly became a New York City fixture. Her handmade truffles are divine and her signature Buttercrunch–the confection that made her name a known commodity–is obscenely delicious. Rhonda isn’t just passionate about making craft chocolates, she’s also passionate about educating and supporting the ethical production of chocolate.
We first met Rhonda back when we visited The Big Chocolate Show. But did you know you can do much more than buy treats at her shop on Forsyth Street? Rhonda knows her business and knows it well, so we jumped at the opportunity to attend her truffle-making class. During the two enjoyable hours we spent with her, we touched upon the cultivation, fermentation and processing of cacao. After a glass or two of wine and a robust chocolate tasting, we walked through the truffle making process, which was less arduous than expected. And knowing that, you’ll be obsessing over truffle flavors to make at home for days to come.
Learn How to Pair Chocolate with Wine and Cheese
If you think chocolate goes with everything, we agree! But there’s no denying that pairing it with the right flavors can bring out more of its magical qualities. It’s an art, and there are experts who can help.
Sebastian Brecht Obsessive Chocolate Disorder is easy to miss. Its basement-level door and unassuming storefront in the East Village allows it to feel like a well-kept neighborhood secret. Sebastian Brecht was born in France but emigrated to the US at the age of two. He comes from a long line of artists–writers, performers, critics and designers–and is also an accomplished pastry chef. After stints at such acclaimed restaurants as Ye Waverly Inn (with the great Chef Willie) and Lafayette (under Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten), Brecht turned his attention to chocolate making. He converted a portion of his basement kitchen into a storefront, and named his new enterprise Obsessive Chocolate Disorder. The name isn’t just a clever play on words, it ties back to Brecht’s experience with obsessive compulsive disorder. As he puts it, “OCD Chocolate hopes to bring light and joy to an otherwise distressing mental disorder.”
Sebastian Brecht OCD Chocolate offers traditional chocolate making classes, but the truly unique offering are the pairing parties, which delve into chocolate, wine and (yes!) even cheese pairings. These events often hearken back to the cooking Brecht did with his mother and grandmother and the famed dinner parties they held in his youth. Classes are led by an ensemble of notable experts, such as Wine Educator Gwen Connors and Cheesemonger Sean Kelly. You’ll discuss how to pair sweet and savory foods with delicious wines and cheeses from around the globe. Follow the shop’s Facebook page so you don’t miss the next one.
Procure the Ultimate Chocolate Lover Gifts
Whether it’s straight chocolate, bon bons, or chocolate-infused items, chocolate is the perfect gift for almost any occasion. Over the years, we’ve carted our favorite chocolate bars and boxes across state lines and international borders. We’ve wrapped them up as hostess gifts and issued them as party favors. And because of that, The Meadow has become one of our go-to gifting destinations. The Meadow, an enchanting, white-washed storefront in the heart of the West Village, is difficult to describe. Simply calling it a “gourmet-food nook”, as we’ve heard it casually mentioned, doesn’t do it justice.
We discovered the New York City location of the Portland-based foodie haven in the best way possible: serendipitously, on one of our typical weekend jaunts through the city’s neighborhoods. The Meadow has three particular specialty items it focuses on: salt, cocktail bitters, and (of course) chocolates. They have a tremendous selection of high quality chocolates from various international and domestic locales, though they do highlight a number of Oregon’s premier chocolatiers. Inside the shop, you’ll find a large bookcase–aptly named the Chocolate Library–showcasing the myriad varieties for sale.
They also offer the “Chocolate Club”, a subscription service that delivers beautifully packaged chocolate bars to your door each month. Packages come with tasting notes from James Beard Award winning author and owner, Mark Bitterman. With membership packages ranging from 3 to 24 months, the Chocolate Club is an excellent gift for yourself or someone special.
Sample An Iconic New York City Chocolate Dessert
When we travel, we are always on the lookout for iconic foods that originated in a particular locale. New York City is home to many delicious chocolate creations, but for something truly iconic, nothing comes close to the Brooklyn Blackout Cake. The famed pudding-filled chocolate layer cake, with chocolate cream frosting and an ample dusting of chocolate cake crumbs, originated in Brooklyn’s Ebinger’s Bakery. Ebinger’s Bakery’s first shop–opened in 1898 by husband and wife team, George and Catherine Ebinger–was located on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn, not far from the Brooklyn Navy Yards. It sold hundreds of varieties of German pastries, but what made Ebinger’s Bakery a New York City icon was the famed Brooklyn Blackout Cake. The cake was named for the blackouts drills that were held in homes throughout the borough during World War II in order to avoid silhouetting and endangering battleships leaving the navy yard.
Before bankruptcy in 1972, the Ebinger empire included 50 locations throughout Brooklyn and Queens–the largest commercial baker on the eastern seaboard at the time. No definitive recipe was ever released, but innumerable copycats have surfaced. You can find versions at various bakeries and cake shops throughout the city, like Ovenly in Greenpoint and Two Little Red Hens on the Upper East Side. But for an accessible version of this delight, you can always opt for the Brooklyn Blackout Cake doughnut at Doughnut Plant, which has multiple locations around the city.
A sweet ending
To create an exhaustive list of every chocolatier, purveyor or dessert in a single post would be impossible. Suffice to say, New York City offers a veritable playground for the chocolate addict. So, using whatever excuse you can find–holiday, housewarming, birthday or just a day for yourself–get out there and explore this decadent delight to your heart’s content in the greatest city in the world.
Disclosure: Jacques Torres and Roni-Sue’s Chocolates provided us with complimentary access, but the opinions expressed here are strictly our own.