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Because Missing Out Is Never Fun!

Viva Cocolat

Limited time!  Eat now!

Viva Cocolat
110 Petaluma Boulevard N.
Petaluma, CA

Sometimes, chocolate is meant to be shared.  How else would I be able to justify ordering a $20 “fondue experience” immediately following breakfast?

Breakfast consisted of a Bacon and Egg Hand Pie across the street at the Petaluma Pie Company, so I was ready for something sweet.  Fully intending to pick up just a quick piece of chocolate (or two) to round out my morning, my eyeballs were accosted by a blackboard with two words in yellow fluorescent lettering: CHOCOLATE FONDUE.

Attention all chocolate shops: mentioning something is available only on Fridays and Saturdays will pique my interest.  Why?  Because I’m a sucker for marketing.  Case in point: I exclaimed “Sweet! This is available right now!” to my pseudo sister-in-law as I practically sprinted to the counter.  I didn’t have to twist her arm much.  We sat down and attempted to master a peg-jumping game which I assume was strategically placed there to take our minds off the long and arduous 10-minute wait while the fondue was being prepared.

Soon enough, an embarrassingly large platter of dipping items arrived: fresh slices of green apple, strawberries and bananas, angel food cake, marshmallows, Rice Krispie treats, and salty pretzels for a savory kick.  We dunked each into the warm, smooth milk chocolate and kept on dunking.  And dunking.  And licking our lips.  And dunking.  This continued until we were scraping the bottom of the fondue cup, realizing it was only 11:30 in the morning.

I felt customers staring at us while we sat back and rubbed our bellies.  I didn’t care.   The blackboard clearly stated this treat is only offered two days a week.  Why would I be silly enough to pass that up?

DeBrito Chocolate Factory

Get your wallet ready...

DeBrito Chocolate Factory
160 Briggs Road

If you told me in 1993 there would come a day when I would spend the equivalent of two hours of hard-earned mall wages on a single Granny Smith apple, I would have thrown my AP Calculus textbook at you…because THAT math would have sounded preposterous.

Fast forward nearly two decades, and I’m walking out with a Rocky Road AND a Triple Treat.

Any idiot can dip an apple in caramel and roll it in a number of toppings.  Few, however, can do it well.  Overheat your caramel and it, along with any toppings, will slip right off that apple like a dress on prom night.

DeBrito has mastered the technique.  Crisp, sweet Granny Smiths are dipped in a buttery caramel, melted just enough to provide a thick coat and support an abundance of substantial toppings from gumballs to chili-lime salt to banana leather.  The result is amazing, due to the quality of the ingredients and the care taken as each sinful treat is prepared by hand.  This is a real fork-and-knife dessert.  Even I don’t have a mouth big enough to wrap around one of these things.

That’s what she said.

Smitten Ice Cream

The tastiest laboratory in San Francisco!

Smitten Ice Cream
432 Octavia Street
San Francisco, CA
Smitten Ice Cream on Urbanspoon

Would you stand in a 20 to 30 minute line down a city block for a couple scoops of ice cream?

You would if you knew how good Smitten Ice Cream is.

There's no shortage of sweet destinations in San Francisco, but those in the know make a pilgrimage to this unique stand where ice cream is made to order.  I'm not referring to the kind of place that scoops from tubs to create your sundae; I'm talking about a place where ice cream starts as liquid and is served to you, solid, in SECONDS.

The genius behind this concept is Robyn Sue Goldman, a culinary wizard who has made liquid nitrogen sexier than ever through her very own Kelvin technique. The ice cream stand features a station for each flavor featured that day, and at the heart of each station is a stainless steel mixer receiving raw ingredients and the star of the show, liquid nitrogen.

Although my mouth started to water at the thought of a cool treat starring cocoa from local chocolate maker, Tcho, I decided on the Blood Orange with Pistachio Shortbread to fulfill my New Year’s resolution of trying the wackiest thing on the menu (March isn’t too late to start, right)?

Once you choose you particular flavor, step over to the appropriate station and watch as dairy comingles with flavorings and mix-ins, crafting a one-of-a-kind treat.  Then the magic happens.  Liquid nitrogen is added, and POOF!  The mixer starts looking like a bubbling witch’s cauldron, causing both kids and adults to stare in amazement before everything settles down and the scooping begins.

I couldn’t have made a better choice, as the subtle orange flavor was highlighted with bits of crunchy, nut-infused cookie.  Because liquid nitrogen freezes the mixture instantaneously, crystals aren’t given the time to form and it results in an extraordinarily velvety ice cream that coated my tongue and boosted my taste buds into high gear.  Add a thick, sweet waffle cone and I had myself a nice little afternoon treat.

Sugar and science?  Definitely worth the wait.

Nelson's Candies

Confectionery gold, right here in Calaveras County!

Nelson's Candies
380 Main Street
Murphys, CA

If every town had a candy shop like Nelson's, there would be no war in the world.

Okay, okay, maybe that's a stretch.  But once I stepped into this adorable store, all of my troubles seemed to disappear.  Greeted by not one, but two friendly ladies, I was delighted when my eyeballs were assaulted by an elaborate selection of classic and unique treats.

   Something interesting immediately caught my attention: Vanilla Cream Pinenut Rolls.  I thought to myself, "Um, really?  Don't those things belong in pesto and El Torito salads?"  I couldn't pass up a giant ball of sugar coated with pine nuts; two seconds in, I was thankful I hadn't passed them over.  The mild nut provided a subtle crunch that balanced the softest, most tender homemade nougat I'd sampled to date.

A variety of chocolate and nutty treats did not disappoint, either, and I walked out with a small bag of chocolate-covered Brazil nuts and macadamias as well as coconut brittle I mistakenly assumed would last for at least a few days.  Oops!


Insects never looked so appealing!

179 Pomeroy Street
Pismo Beach, CA

It's official: I'll try almost anything if it's covered in chocolate.

Hotlix is where laughter turns into curiosity and eventually a purchase of something you have never considered to be "food".  At ease, entomophobiacs, the creatures here can no longer squirm, leap, crawl or scare the bejesus out of you.  The lifeless corpses (yum!) are immortalized in lollipops, enrobed in chocolate, or dusted with herbs and spices.

The chocolate covered crickets were the easiest choice for me since they were a little less recognizable as former living creatures than the cheddar cheese-dusted "Larvets".  They tasted just like everyone said they would: like Kit-Kats.

Other treats include chocolate ant wafers and scorpion brittle.  Dinner, anyone?

Ginger Elizabeth Chocolates

Leaving without some of these would be 
a HUGE mistake.

Ginger Elizabeth Chocolates
1801 L Street
Sacramento, CA

Attention Ginger Elizabeth:

Under no circumstances are you allowed to close up shop or move farther than 50 miles from my house...ever!

This chocolate is TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE.  One day, I came this close (thumb and index finger half a centimeter apart) to heading home without making a stop here.  Boy, would that have been a mistake!

Unless you're looking for it, you may miss this sweet little shop.  Look for it.  Burn the address into your memory.  Then, visit again and again and again.

On my first of many, many visits to come, I chose a couple of Parisian Macarons and the Cafe Cremeux.  My boyfriend chose the Gianduja Cake and European Sipping Chocolate.

Believe me when I say this may be the BEST HOT CHOCOLATE EVER!  One sip, and I was hooked.  With a robust, not-too-sweet chocolate flavor, coupled with giant homemade marshmallow cubes, it was instantly declared the best hot chocolate I've tried.

The Cafe Cremeux was a hemisphere of awesomeness: shortbread, cake and chocolate creme housed within a thin chocolate shell, topped with a tiny chocolate candy (of course) and the smallest slice of candied orange peel.  A masterpiece.

We left, completely satisfied and looking forward to a chocolate macaron breakfast the next day.

Rick's Dessert Diner

Calories, schmalories.  Just do it!

Rick's Dessert Diner
2322 K Street
Sacramento, CA

To those opposed to birth control:

If you must bring your family of eight, please note:

1)  There WILL be a line.  Single file should be the obviously logical choice here.
2)  The queue progresses along the dessert case.  When you get to the register, please do not ask, "So, what kind of pies do you have?"
3)  The dessert case area is not the size of a ballroom, so kindly think of the diners and control your brats (if they are brats, of course)!

Now that I've gotten that off of my chest...

Amazingly beautiful, scrumptious delicacies can be found here.  Slightly pricey, yes, but quality takes time and effort.

Two thumbs up!

Penny Candy Store

Where copper turns to candy!

Penny Candy Store
10221 Live Oak Boulevard
Live Oak, CA

Had I known the Penny Candy Store sold over 30 varieties of Hawaiian Snow starting at $1.50, I probably wouldn't have guzzled down a malt from Ice Burgie down the street only moments before.

Luckily, you CAN take candy home to enjoy later, unlike an ice and syrup creation.

Stepping into the Penny Candy Store was like a trip down memory lane for me.  One bite of a Brach's Sundae Neapolitan Coconut cube and I was transported back to my great-grandparents' house - this time, without the lingering cigarette smoke.

With most candies selling for several cents apiece, "Penny Candy Store" may very well be a misnomer.  But really, who cares with such a great mix of classic confections like Necco Wafers and modern treats like Pez and Junior Mints.  There are several giant bins dedicated to different-flavored Tootsie Roll Midgees, and this is the only place I can recall that sells bite-sized Turkish Taffy in both chocolate and strawberry.  You will even find individual Sugar Daddies on sticks here!  Chocolate snobs can choose from dipped nougats and bon-bons behind a glass case while watching a snow cone being artfully carved for patrons approaching the walk-up window.

Fond childhood memories...a bargain for a few hundred pennies!

Doc Burnstein's Ice Cream Lab

Science: delicious!

Doc Burnstein's Ice Cream Lab
114 W. Branch Street
Arroyo Grande, CA
Doc Burnsteins Ice Cream Lab on Urbanspoon

Doc Burnstein's is an ice cream parlor for all ages.  Adults will love the nostalgic model trains running along the perimeter of the parlor and appreciate the old-fashioned glassware used for their signature fountain treats and desserts.  Kids will get a kick out of watching the creation of new ice creams during the weekly Lab Shows.  Everyone will enjoy the high-quality ingredients used to make such inventive flavors as Motor Oil, Merlot Raspberry Truffle and Vanilla Chai.

I prefer to stick to the basics, and ordered a Regular Sundae with hot fudge, whipped cream and a cherry. It was my birthday, so I was offered an additional treat, on the house!  Amazingly, their Frozen Chocolate Banana managed to stay intact all the way home...to Northern California!

One bite of their luscious ice cream and I was sold.  The Rocky Road was chock full of nuts and marshmallows, swimming in rich, chewy hot fudge which started melting the fresh whipped cream.  The atmosphere didn't hurt, either: bright colors, friendly staff, and smiles on every patron's face are nothing to complain about.

Doc's community involvement takes the form of reading labs, movie nights, blood drives, and even creating a 100-inch ice cream sandwich for your party.  35 gallons of ice cream never tasted so good.

Papa Bear's Chocolate Haus

One (seven), please!

Papa Bear's Chocolate Haus
45150 Main Street
Mendocino, CA
Papa Bear's Chocolate House on Urbanspoon

I arrived twenty minutes before business hours.  Argh!

Like a bad Mervyn's commercial actor, I paced and waited for the doors to open.  My mission?   Raspberry Bark.  It was all I could think about.  Through the front window, I could see a single gentleman inside, carefully spreading white chocolate to a precise thickness on a huge marble (?) counter. Nineteen more minutes.  Next, he uniformly sprinkled fresh raspberries atop the chocolate.  Eighteen more minutes.  I had to get out of there before I started salivating all over myself.

I found a kitchen store - the perfect place to kill seventeen minutes.

Finally, the doors opened.  What the hell?  I guess I spent more time browsing for aprons and cheese graters than I had thought, because I was tenth in line; no worries though, because the candy maker was just about to divide the slab into manageable slices.

One, please!

I was hooked after the first bite.  Where in the world did they find these raspberries?  Clearly, someone had sold his soul to the devil. One after the other, they burst inside my mouth.  They were juicy, amazingly tart, and perfectly complemented the smooth, white chocolate.  I almost forgot I had also purchased haystacks, fudge and chocolate nut clusters.


Romolo's Cannoli & Spumoni Factory

Love at first bite!

Romolo's Cannoli & Spumoni Factory
81 37th Avenue
San Mateo, CA
Romolo's Cannoli & Spumoni Factory on Urbanspoon

There's something about a family business that's been passed down through the generations that makes it special.  Romolo's is that kind of place.  Grandsons of original owners Romolo and Angela Cappello run the establishment now, and continue to produce high-quality cannoli and spumoni that patrons have grown to love.

The "factory" does not involve assembly lines or conveyor belts; each cannoli is made to order.  The hardest part is deciding between a classic or chocolate-lined shell, and whether you want the ends to be dipped in pistachios, chocolate chips or simply finished with cherry halves.  Not wanting to hold up the line (okay, there was no line today), I "settled" for one of each.

A large pastry bag was filled with the ricotta cheese mixture, and each chocolate-lined shell was filled to the brim.  After each was garnished, a careful, light dusting of confectioner's sugar finished off the masterpieces.

Everything's better when taken away in pink boxes, so I was thrilled to leave with three snacks' worth of Italian deliciousness.  When I finally got home and took the first bite of my cherry-garnished cannoli, I was in heaven.  The crisp, delicate shell gave way to a rich, cheesy filling.  It was light and decadent at the same time.   I tasted years of love and dedication.  If I could thank the Cappellos personally, I would.  I'll be back, and I'll be sure to try that spumoni next time.

Soda Jerks

This guy's a jerk!

Soda Jerks
200 Santa Monica Pier
Santa Monica, CA

As much as I appreciate having two (!) self-serve yogurt joints within a half mile of my home, sometimes I long for the ability to plop my butt on a stool and command the jerk behind the counter to whip me up something delicious.

I lived this dream after stumbling upon Soda Jerks at the Santa Monica Pier.  I declared, "I'll take a large Chocolate Egg Cream, my good man!"  By the way, this demand was made towards my boyfriend, who rolled his eyes as he got in line to pay.

It was everything I had hoped for - simple, yet rich and frothy with a nod to nostalgia. Other patrons were as varied as their orders: kids with chocolate malts, their parents with ice cream cones, and the older set with phosphates and freezes.

A 6 oz. glass of soda water still sells for two cents.  I challenge you to find any other LA-area menu item for that price.

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