Sample the Windy City’s rich candy history
Story by Rosalind Cummings-Yeates
Chicago might be noted as one of the Midwest U.S.’s meat and potatoes (and pizza) capitals, but during the last century it’s earned the title “Candy Capital of the World.”
Back in 1884, the national Confectionery Association was founded in Chicago. In those days, the Windy City boasted 69 candy factories, including the companies that introduced Snickers, Baby Ruth, Tootsie Rolls, M&Ms and even Cracker Jack.
Thanks to the close proximity of numerous candy factories and shops, I grew up with a rarefied sweet tooth—I can taste the difference between Swiss, Belgian and Mexican chocolate in a sweet second! There’s still a good amount of candy getting made in Chi-town and I still indulge in chocolatey excursions when a craving hits. If you share my love of chocolate, rest assured you can find a range of cafés, candy shops and restaurants to feed sweet cravings in my hometown. Here’s my must-go list of recommendations for chocolate fans.
Walking into this old school candy shop is like strolling into the candyland dreams of childhood. Stacks of chocolate treats, stuffed animals and ice cream fill this iconic place. Opened in 1921, Margie’s has served up hand-dipped chocolates and homemade sundaes and shakes to even The Beatles and Al Capone. Settle into a vinyl booth with a mini jukebox and Tiffany lamp overhead, and try Margie’s famous terrapins (clusters of chocolate, caramel and pecans) and if you have a huge appetite or are willing to share with your companions, the Fudge Royal Sundae slathered with thick, homemade fudge.
There’s never been a smoother combination of elegance, exploration and chocolate than the gourmet offerings of Vosges. Created by award-winning, globe-trotting chocolatier Katrina Markoff, Vosges uses infusions of spices, flowers, roots and herbs to help consumers “travel the world through chocolate.” Discover purple boxes of truffles, bars or wine and chocolate sets at the Vosges boutiques. My personal favorites are the Black Salt Caramel Exotic Chocolate Bar (a heavenly mix of 72 percent cacao dark chocolate swirled around caramel spiked with salt) and the Vanilla Rooibos Tea Chocolate Bar (which blends South African rooibos tea with Michigan cherries in 45 percent cacao dark milk chocolate).
For decadent sips, as well as of bites of chocolate, head to the appropriately named restaurant of James Beard Award-winning pastry chef Mindy Segal. This hip, Wicker Park eatery offers a seasonal menu of flavorful American fare but the star is, of course, the chocolate. Brick walls and polished wood tables make the perfect backdrop for an array of rich, drinking chocolate. There’s dark, with 72 percent French chocolate, old fashioned, with medium hot chocolate, milk chocolate and a cocoa nib whipped ganache and my personal addiction, Mexican, with two-thirds dark chocolate, one-third milk chocolate with fresh cinnamon and cayenne. All are topped with a house-made marshmallow that melts creamily into the chocolate. I recommend pairing it with the Jamoca Almond Fudge Brownie, a wicked offering of coffee and fudge frozen nougat, cappuccino froth, and dark chocolate toasted almond brittle.
All natural chocolates with unusual flavor profiles are the focus of the artisan chocolate shop My Chocolate Soul. Choose truffles filled with cilantro lime, chipotle caramel, lemon basil or try chocolate covered popcorn. Chocolatier Ramona Thomas was inspired to open the shop after taking a French pastry class and all of her chocolates display a classic French, less-is-more approach. The menu also features brownies, cookies and even custom made chocolate business cards for the ultimate chocoholic.
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Rosalind Cummings-Yeates is an award-winning travel writer, blogger and author of the book Exploring Chicago Blues: Inside the Scene, Past and Present (History Press).Follow her culturally-steeped travels at www.rosalindcummingsyeates.com