The French Broad Chocolate Lounge is known for (you guessed it) its chocolate! Yes, their delicious truffles have been making news for years, and it’s no wonder given the amazing care and ingredients that go into these chocolates from seed to table. While the line may often wind out the door and down the street, it’s worth the wait for the patient chocolate lover. Not only do they have a vast array of delightful and creative truffles (just a few of which are pictured in this post, and a healthy ratio of which are seasonal treats), but they also have a surprising variety of drinking chocolates. Two of my favorites: the cold sipping chocolate, which is served in a wine glass and is elegantly refreshing (see photo below); and the Indian Kulfi hot chocolate, which is amazing (and too incredible to actually put into words). If you’re visiting Asheville, you really should stop in and treat yourself to some world-class chocolates.
This lovely little treat was specially made just for me at Heirloom Cafe in the Wexner Center at Ohio State University. It’s a peppermint hot chocolate, and even though I’ve posted about Heirloom before I wanted to show this to you on Christmas Eve.
I think my favorite restaurant in Chicago is Hot Chocolate. It’s this great little place in Bucktown where they serve the best damn cup of hot chocolate I have EVER had. I started with the Medium hot chocolate, which their menu describes as “milk chocolate with a touch of dark chocolate and a hint of caramel.” It tasted like heaven. Pure heaven. Warm, with a home-made marshmallow on the side.
I also got the Napolean au Chocolate & Pear (above), which I can only describe as the best invention in the history of food. The menu describes it as “bittersweet chocolate sabayon mousse, port wine pear sorbet, almond feuillantine, 2hr dehydrated port wine poached pears, local honey cream”…also known as delicious. When we finished the dessert, we weren’t ready to leave so we got the Assortment of Artisan Cheeses. Our wonderful waiter selected the cheeses for us at our request (all we told him was that we had a preference for hard cheeses and mild but interesting flavors) and he totally delivered! In addition to the cheeses, there was a smear of fresh apple butter, a selection of breads, and some fresh fruits and veggies. This was the best, most delightful surprise. I wish I could go to Hot Chocolate every single day! (I’m not kidding….)
I love the Blue Angel Cafe in South Lake Tahoe, California, and I was really excited to get to eat there again this winter. It’s been a couple of years, and I missed their innovative and veg-friendly menu. This time, I ordered their Butternut Squash and Walnut Ravioli (pictured above). It was really good, with just a light butter sauce and some walnuts and parmesan flakes on top. The ravioli were filled with the butternut squash, and the whole dish was very flavorful and mild. To drink, I got the hot cocoa (pictured below), which (like their coffees) comes from the Alpen Sierra Coffee Roasting Company — just one example of Blue Angel’s dedication to local, natural, and organic foods. The food and service were so good that I went back the next day and got…
…the buffalo mozzarella, tomato, and avocado sandwich (pictured below) with a side of the quinoa, served cold. It was just as delicious as it sounded, and I really enjoyed the quinoa salad. If you’re ever in South Lake Tahoe, you really should try to get in to Blue Angel. They won’t disappoint you, and they have the friendliest staff around. Plus, there’s a stone fireplace and some couches where you can get some work done if you find yourself needing a place to hole up and hop online.
I recently found myself in Winan’s Fine Chocolates and Coffees in the German Village in Columbus, Ohio. It was a cold, gloomy day, and I was delighted to discover that not only did Winan’s have beautiful holiday decorations up, lending the already-cute shop a cheerful ambiance, but they also had a nice assortment of special holiday drinks. I ordered a hot chocolate drink that had milk- and white-chocolate in it, and it was the perfect way to warm up on a cold Columbus winter day. I also got some of their handmade peppermint bark, and it was both beautiful and tasty: the perfect balance of peppermint-crunchiness and chocolatey-richness. Next time you’re in the German Village, stop by Winan’s and treat yourself to something special. You’ll find plenty of things to eat and drink for less than $5, and you’ll leave feeling happy and satisfied.
The Global Gallery Coffee Shop in Clintonville is a fair-trade, ethical coffee house and gift shop. They have the best hot chocolate in at least a 5-mile radius — it’s light and airy, and has a delicious milk-chocolate base. Their food is also healthy and lite, and a step up from the usual coffee shop fare. I tend to order the house-made granola with vanilla yogurt (plain if they have it in stock, but this is something they do to accommodate my specific preferences — they’re very willing to do what they can to please their customers) — it’s a hearty treat that sits lightly and keeps me going for hours.
Travonna Coffee House is one of my favorite places to study (especially in the winter, when the dark interior provides a comfortable shelter from the bitter cold outside. Their hot chocolate is made with milk chocolate, and has that perfect sweetness that I love so much. They top it off with whipped cream and a light dusting of chocolate powder, and serve it up in a tall, thin glass that makes it feel as elegant as it is delicious.
They also offer food, and since I was in for breakfast, I had an asiago cheese bagel with a dollop of cream cheese. It was nothing out of the ordinary, but was tasty and filling nonetheless. Not to mention it was brought out to me quickly by the friendly waiter who took my order at the counter. Travonna is a nice little haven for anyone looking to study or relax for a little while. They have free wi-fi for their customers, and their staff is friendly and kind.
I’ve been hearing about Cafe Brioso for a couple of years now, and I finally made it to this downtown coffee shop for an early morning treat. The staff was friendly and upbeat, and upon the recommendation of one of the guys behind the counter, I tried the blueberry muffin (pictured below). It was amazing — the blueberries were fresh and juicy, the crust was thick and near-crispy (just how I like it) while the inside was fluffy and light. Couple that with the yummy hot cocoa (pictured above) — complete with its heart and leaf — and this was a delicious and light breakfast. The prices were fantastic, and the atmosphere was low-key and great for types like me who visit coffee shops and stick around to work for a few hours. The high ceilings give Brioso a roomy feel, and the cycling art adorning the walls betrays the interests of many of the staff.
The first time I drove by the Pancake Pantry in Nashville, there was a line out the door and nearly around the block. When I returned the next morning (at the bright and early time of 8:00am to ensure a short wait time), I was lucky to only have to wait a few minutes for a table…but then I had to choose which pancakes I wanted — not an easy task, with over 20 different kinds of pancakes on the menu! I settled on the Apricot-Lemon Delights. These pancakes had dried apricots, pecans, and lemon in them and were a light and refreshing way to start the day. While I was there, I couldn’t help but get a cup of hot chocolate. It was nothing special, but it was better than typical diner hot chocolate and was topped off with mini-marshmallows. I understand why the Pancake Pantry has been in business for 50 years now — it has great food for affordable prices, and the staff was friendly and warm despite the crazy-long line already forming outside the door.
Diana’s Sweet Shoppe is a beautiful old restaurant that Gibson Guitars has actually had dismantled and brought from its original home in Michigan to its new location in the heart of downtown Nashville. Their specialty is sweets, as exemplified by the unbelievably large cup (bowl?) of hot chocolate pictured above. Made from melted Hershey’s bars, this was a wonderful cup of hot cocoa. Of course, they also serve food.
While the soup was a bit on the thick-and-salty side, the grilled cheese with tomato was delicious and heated to perfection. The bread was nice and crispy, and the cheese was wonderfully melty. I think the best thing about Diana’s was the atmosphere — it’s a beautiful place to enjoy a meal away from the hustle and bustle of Broadway’s crowds and honky tonks.