Show Me the Chocolate

Discover Missouri's sweeter side.

Resembling a streetscape from Paris, there’s a fine sheen on the sidewalk from an early November rain. The St. Louis neighborhood known as the Central West End is oh, so stylish, a mix of old money and well-to-do urban professionals with just enough grit to keep it from getting too full of itself. 

On this day, pedestrians pass up and down the pavement that is lined with boutiques, trees, and cafés. I’m heading for Handcrafted by Bissinger’s (32 Maryland Plaza), a café and wine bar that also offers Bissinger’s award-winning chocolates. I order a mini cococcino (flourless chocolate cake), a chocolate truffle, and a Mayan mocha latte. I’ve entered chocolate nirvana. 

Missouri, a state known for beer and barbecue, jazz and blues, also is a chocolate lover’s ideal getaway. 

UNWRAP A GETAWAY IN KANSAS CITY

It’s an unexpected surprise to find one of the country’s leading chocolatiers in a city known for its barbecue and jazz, but unexpected surprises help to define Kansas City. Travel to the Missouri/Kansas border and you’ll find a city with a vibrant culinary scene, diverse artistic offerings, and welcoming hospitality. 

Kansas City’s sweet tooth is deliciously layered with European influences, trailblazing ingenuity, and the good old American attitude of “let’s get this done.” Award-winning chocolatier Christopher Elbow is a wonderful example of what is oh, so right about KC’s chocolate scene.

After working the Las Vegas food industry, Elbow returned home to create his artistic chocolate that’s almost too beautiful to eat.

In his retail location (1819 McGee St.), Elbow said he draws from his savory cooking experience to create the unusual flavor profiles for his chocolates. One of these savory-with-sweet flavors features caramel infused with fresh rosemary enrobed in a dark chocolate shell that’s beautifully molded and colored a vibrant green. Truffles are kissed with Kansas City-distilled whiskey or aged balsamic vinegar. 

In the Country Club Plaza area, Panache Chocolatier offers local favorites such as Choco Poppo and a line of wonderful handmade chocolate truffles. Nearby, Andre’s Confiserie Suisse, a family-owned business, has tempted Kansas City residents and visitors with mouth-watering chocolates and pastries for more than 50 years.

For a romantic inn infused with chocolate flavors, the perfect choice is Southmoreland on the Plaza. Its outstanding food service includes chocolate waffles, pixie chocolate cookies at night, chocolate zucchini bread, and more. Book the Russell and Clara Stover room and receive a box of Stover chocolates as part of turndown service. 

Oh, Fudge!

For more than 30 years, Chip's Chocolate Factory has been part of Crown Center in Kansas City, Mo. Chip's has a bit of a Willy Wonka vibe, from the imaginative sign over the front entrance, to the workers making candy in the window. Customers can't help but be drawn inside, where they'll find more than 40 flavors of fudge,  giant candy apples, bonbons, clusters, and chocolate bark. 

(816) 421-0012 • chipschocolatefactory.com

 

Deborah Reinhardt photo

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SCRUMPTIOUS ST. LOUIS

Some of the city’s chocolate traditions can be traced to 1904, the year of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition (World’s Fair) in St. Louis. Greek immigrant John L. Mavrakos settled in St. Louis that year, and soon opened a candy and ice cream shop at Vandeventer Avenue and Olive Street.

Another Greek immigrant brought his confectionary skills to St. Louis in 1913. Harry Karandzieff and his best friend, Pete Jugaloff, opened their candy store/soda fountain at 14th Street and St. Louis Avenue. Today, Crown Candy Kitchen is operated by the Karandzieff family at the same location in Old North St. Louis.

Crown Candy is wrapped in a time warp. Everything about it looks to be from another generation, and the memories made here are as thick as Crown Candy’s milkshakes and malts.

And while many come for the Heart-Stopping BLT sandwich or the five 24-ounce milkshake challenge, pick up some of the chocolate-covered raisin or  nut clusters, chocolate-covered cherry cordials, heavenly hash, and chocolate bars, plus some of the “penny candies” you loved from your childhood. 

Across town on the South Side, the Abel family is building a sweet empire that spans the country. And if the name doesn’t tell you what’s going on at the Chocolate  Chocolate  Chocolate Company store and factory, the aromas that greet you at the front door certainly will. Take a free factory tour and you’ll learn that all natural ingredients are used in the candy. During the week, you’ll likely see some of the candy being made. 

And if you want to stay at the hotel where, according to legend, the tradition of chocolates on a pillow originated, you’ll want the Magnolia Hotel (421 N. Eighth St., AAA Four Diamonds). While staying at the hotel (then known as the Mayfair), actor Cary Grant left a trail of chocolates from the living room in his suite to the bedroom to woo lady visitors. The hotel was impressed with his creative use of chocolate, so housekeepers were told to put a chocolate on each guest’s pillow at night, a tradition that holds today.

Sweet on Maplewood

St. Louis chocolatier Brian Pelletier, the man behind Kakao Chocolate (7272 Manchester Road), is a former marketing professional who says chocolate found him. He started selling his handmade chocolates at farmer’s markets using locally sourced ingredients whenever possible. No artificial ingredients or colors are used. Today, the candies are created at his shop in the St. Louis suburb of Maplewood, Mo., a city with a growing reputation as a hotspot for foodies. Gather a few friends and do a chocolate tasting party. 

(314) 645-4446 • kakaochocolate.com

 

Deborah Reinhardt photo

BrianPelletier

SPRINGFIELD SWEETS

One of the state’s best chocolatiers, Shawn Askinosie, hails from Springfield, Mo. His bean-to-bar chocolate business not only improves the lives of cacao farmers on four continents, but his philanthropic business model has garnered the attention of The New York Times and Oprah Winfrey. His luxurious chocolate bars have won national and international awards. It’s all captured in his new book, Meaningful Work: A Quest to do Great Business, Find Your Calling, and Feed Your Soul.

Take a factory tour at 3:30 p.m. on Tuesdays; the $5 fee supports Chocolate University, a program for high school students that teaches how to become a good global business partner. 

Samples are always available (there now are more than a dozen different bars) at the retail/factory location (514 E. Commercial St.), and Askinoise chocolate is widely available at various retail locations in Missouri and across the country. 

Allow yourself to feel like that kid in the candy store again when you enter Bon Bon’s Candy House in Pinecrest Center. Since 1970, southwest Missouri folk have known this to be the place for fine toffee, caramels, peanut brittle, and more. Candy classes for children are a nice touch, too.

Elle Feldman’s passion for fine living shines through in her purple-colored patisserie that’s located in the charming Rountree neighborhood. Step inside her charming shop at 1454 E. Cherry St. to sample all things French, like homemade pastries, macarons, and truffles. 

Book a room at the boutique Hotel Vandivort (305 E. Walnut, AAA Four Diamonds). Originally built as a Masonic Temple more than 100 years ago, this 50-room hotel is within walking distance of several attractions. Be sure to enjoy the hotel’s restaurant, The Order, featuring culinary creations using ingredients sourced locally. Save room for the Chocolate Pot de Crème made with Askinosie’s dark chocolate; it will change your life. 

This Valentine’s Day, let the Show-Me State show you its sweet, romantic side.

For more information, contact visitkc.com, explorestlouis.com, or springfieldmo.org.

Deborah Reinhardt is managing editor of AAA Midwest Traveler. 

 

 

More of a Good Thing

Chocolatier Conor Vanbuskirk creates fantastic truffles, caramels (pictured at right), and other confections for his VB Chocolate Bar (5326 state Highway N) in the small town of Cottleville, Mo. Did we mention there also are chocolate martinis, beautifully crafted cocktails, coffee drinks, desserts, and savory small plates in this St. Charles County oasis? 

(636) 352-1139 • vbchocolatebar.com

 

More Midwest chocolate finds are listed below.

 

Deborah Reinhardt photo

 

 

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  1. Annedore's Confectioners in Westwood Hills, Kan. Located just west of Kansas City's toney Country Club Plaza, this sweet shop has offered handmade chocolates on site for more than 25 years. (913) 831-0302, annedores.com
  2. Bittersweet Confections & Catering in Quincy, Ill., features imaginative truffles by chef Michael Mitchell, a transplant from Seattle, Wash. Look for these bite-sized treats (including flavors such as olive oil and shaved fennel or honey lavender) inside the local grocery, Grown and Gathered on Maine Street. (262) 960-5815, bittersweetquincy.com
  3. Cocoa Dolce Artisan Chocolates in Wichita, Kan., offers its customers a Chocolate Lounge in which they can savor rich hot chocolate or Belgian chocolates paired with wine. A second location recently opened in the city.  (316) 866-2906, cocoadolce.com
  4. Hazel Hill Chocolate Traditions makes Topeka, Kan., just a bit sweeter with small-batch, handmade chocolates created by third-generation chocolatier, Nick Xidis. In 2014, then First Lady Michelle Obama enjoyed some of Hazel Hill's chocolates while visiting the city. Return to Topeka in September for its annual Chocolate Festival. (785) 215-8883, hazelhillchocolate.com
  5. Schimpff's Confectionery has been at its current location in Jeffersonville, Ind., since 1891. Noted for its cinnamon Red Hots and hard candy fish, you'll also find traditionally crafted boxed chocolates here, as well as a old-fashioned soda fountain. (812) 283-8367, schimpffs.com
  6. The Chocolate Affair in Highland, Ill., just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, started as a B&B noted for its chocolate parties. The owners recently sold the inn and now devote all their time to their handmade chocolates. Happily, the Death by Chocolate parties did not go away.  (618) 654-9340, thechocolateaffair.com
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN AAA MIDWEST TRAVELER