Hot Chocolate at Kilwins, Sarasota, Florida, USA

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What better way to experience Florida then than with some relatively recent native Floridians and two of the most fantastic people Claire and Richard. Their love of Sarasota quickly rubbed off on me and I can see why this area has such a strong pull on families of all ages.  There are award winning restaurants everywhere and so many impressive museums and theatres. I spent some time in the Florida Studio Theatre and it felt like I had been transported to a magical place, and I didn’t even see a show!

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Between the beaches and all of the above there are some great little neighourhoods filled with cafes and stores where you can take a wonder. St. Armands Circle is one. Right next to Lido Key with its beautiful perfect white sand, St. Armands is a large circle lined with stores, restaurants, cafes and quite a few sweet shops including Kilwins.

This is my second Kilwins (last time was in Baltimore) and even though they have the same name, this was a very different place. Instead of several hot chocolate options (Kilwins Baltimore had a great sea salt caramel hot chocolate) they had just two, a classic hot chocolate and a drinking chocolate. The young man who took my order raved about their hot chocolate. He told me to wait a few minutes because he needed to prepare it from scratch. I stood waiting on the side, watching another man making not one but 4 different flavoured fudges on large tables at the front of the store while a handful of customers licking their icecreams (Kilwins has incredible icecream) looked on while drooling. Any samples of fudge disappeared before the plate had even been placed on the table. If you like anything with sugar as the main ingredient you will be more than satisfied here. Chocolates, caramels, hard candies, you name it, they had it.

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My hot chocolate was presented in a small paper espresso cup, 3/4 filled with liquid dark chocolate, topped with a tiny dollop of whipped cream and shavings of dark chocolate. The whole drink lasted only about 3 sips, which at 10.30pm after a delicious dinner at Crab and Fin just down the road was really all I needed or wanted. If it had been earlier in the day three sips would have been too little. But it was delicious, not too sweet, not too rich or bitter, just right.

After a long weekend in Sarasota I can see what draws people of all ages here (not everyone has silver hair!). On a 10 minute walk with Claire and her puppy Shannon, we walked passed an alligator sunning itself next to the path and walked under a branch where a large and absolutely stunning bald eagle had perched, staring at us as we stared back at him in awe. I think if I had seen a manatee (quite common) and/or a dolphin (also very common) this might have even pushed me to start trying to convince my parents to retire in Florida. Maybe next year.

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Verdict: Kilwin’s miniature hot chocolate is a treat. Once again, Kilwins does not disappoint. Kilwins, 312 John Ringling Blv at St Armands Circle, Sarasota, Florida, USA

Kilwins on Urbanspoon

 

 

 

 

 

May 18th, 2015|Sarasota|0 Comments

Hot Chocolate at Café Intermezzo, Atlanta Airport Concourse B, Atlanta

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Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in Atlanta is, apparently, the world’s busiest airport and has been since 1998 in terms of the number of passengers and the number of flights. In January 2015 7,288,267 passengers came through this airport which seems almost impossible to me. When I stepped off my flight on a Sunday night the place was packed, absolutely packed. I can think of so many busy airports around the world, but I would have never guessed this one was the busiest.

I have never been to Atlanta and I still haven’t been to Atlanta. But I have been to Atlanta airport and surprisingly I found a hot chocolate there. I say surprisingly because, in my opinion, US airports don’t usually have very good food, and usually even worse, if any, hot chocolates. I usually make a point to stay far away from any establishment claiming to sell food, unless it is a cinnamon raisin bagels toasted with cream cheese. Those bagels get me through US flights time and time again, and I often go hungry if an airport has no bagel shop.

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On this particular trip, I had 3 hours to spare here and thanks to free wifi offered by the airport I thought, just for the fun of it,I would search for ‘hot chocolate Atlanta airport”. Low and behold google did not disappoint. Review after review mentioned that Café Intermezzo, located right next to the gate I arrived at, had the most incredible hot chocolate. Some even stated it was the best hot chocolate they had had in their life. Could this be possible? Could the ultimate hoc chocolate be at Atlanta International Airport?

Café Intermezzo looks like the cafes in Vienna. Dark wooden furniture with gold and copper accents. Dramatic chandeliers hanging  above create a soft and romantic atmosphere, a completely different world than the incredibly busy hallways outside. A mixture of opera and smooth jazz was playing on the speakers, while along the whole café is a wall covered in books for sale, everything from business to fiction to self-help. At the end of that wall is a window offering a view of the runway, while the bar area houses an impressive looking coffee machine and an area where you can admire and drool over the different treats they offer. The ketchup bottles on the table combined with the strong smell of burgers and the sheer size of the desserts quickly takes you away from Vienna however, and brings you firmly back to Atlanta. The cake menu alone covers 4 pages, with each piece being big enough for 4 people but usually ordered by only one. I followed the pieces as the waiters walked with them across the floor to different tables, watching the expressions of pure joy wash across the faces of each customer as they received their piece.

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The ‘Beverage Book’ as they called it had not one, but seven different hot chocolates! There was the Hot Chocolate Berlin made with Nutella and steamed cream and milk, the Hot Chocolate Delux Peppermint with peppermint syrup, another one with caramel syrup and a last option with steamed cream and milk with Dutch white chocolate and vanilla. If you need/want an extra kick before your flight they also have two alcoholic options – The North Face has Peppermint Schnapps while the Calda Firenze is a hot chocolate with tuaca vanilla and herb liqueur (whatever that is). I decided to try the option that seemed the least sweet and most decadent; the Hot Chocolate Delux.

My hot chocolate was no quiet wallflower. It arrived in a fantastic large white mug, the kind I wish I had at home to drink all my hot chocolates from. Chocolate syrup was dripping down the sides of the cup. The steamed cream and milk with dutch chocolate was topped with a large dollop of whipped cream, and generously dusted with cocoa powder and a hint of shaved dark chocolate. As soon as I took my first sip I recognized it as Ghirardelli dark chocolate syrup that was dripping on the sides and part of the main drink. I am a big fan of Ghiardelli as an incredible chocolate company, but their syrup is incredibly sweet (for my taste) and almost undrinkable for me but adored by many in the US who seem to have a preference for sweeter hot chocolates. If that is you, and you are in Atlanta, this will become your heaven.

Airports are fascinating places. They connect cities and countries and often bring me to my next delicious hot chocolate destination. If I am ever back in Atalanta (which considering how busy this airport is I’m assuming it will), I will come back here and order one of their alcoholic hot chocolates. I think that will balance the sweetness…and make it a bit easier toignore the thousands of people running around me to get to their gates on time.

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Verdict: A statement hot chocolate with big visual presence and a really sweet kick (too sweet for me). I can see how this would be a popular option here. Café Intermezzo, Atlanta International Airport Concourse B, Atlanta, USA (with two other locations in Atlanta).

Cafe Intermezzo on Urbanspoon

 

 

 

May 13th, 2015|Atlanta, Georgia|0 Comments

Hot Chocolate Embajador, San Juan de la Maguana, Dominican Republic

 

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When I was young, I would regularly spend summers with my grandparents in the San Juan de la Maguana, and on Sundays we would get all dressed up and walk along the main street to my Aunt’s house. She lived right next to a large park where a band would play in the evening. They would start with the national anthem (the Dominican national anthem is impossibly long) before playing popular merengue songs. All generations would be present too, from grandparents sitting on park benches to kids running between the trees. While on the surface San Juan has changed since then, in many ways it hasn’t changed at all. For one, my grandmother’s house is pretty much always exactly as it was. Today we were sitting outside on the covered terrace, enjoying an incredible lunch of rice and beans, fried plantains and fresh avocados drizzled with lemon juice and garlic.  The mayor of San Juan, who is up for reelection, organized a big party a few blocks away. Someone in her electoral campaign team created a theme song for her by taking a popular merengue song and replacing all the words with “We love you” “Our life is so much better with you” and “What would we do with out you”. This song played repeatedly all day long, so loud we could hardly think. Amongst this backdrop, a neighbor dropped off a bag of mangos from his mango tree. While the tree in our yard was covered in them,they weren’t ripe yet, which is a kind of culinary torture. The neighbour’s mangos on the other hand were perfect and the dozen he dropped off were devoured within hours. A bird of paradise flower has just emerged  in the garden as well, and the orchids all have flowers at the moment. The backyard was looking so vibrant with every kind of green you can imagine, leaves catching the light and dancing in the breeze.

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San Juan is a beautiful little city. It is the 10th largest city in the Dominican Republic, far away from any beach but surrounded by gorgeous mountains. The road from Santo Domingo to San Juan continues on from San Juan to the Haitian border where it ends, so there are very few, if any tourists here.  The city is full of colour and music, lots of very noisy motorcycles and friendly people.  The celebrations were building up for Independence Day while I was there, so there were daily parades along the main street with school children dressed in traditional costumes, accompanied by different local and regional politicians and, of course, a band playing music.

In the DR the choice for hot chocolate is Cortes chocolate, which I have previously reviewed. In San Juan you mostly see the Cortes Embajador brand which is sold in little, individually wrapped tablets.  I find it is best not to look at the ingredients list when you are emotionally attached to a particular hot chocolate, because I suspect I will be disappointed. I am pretty sure that they do use Dominican chocolate as the company supports a lot of Dominican cacao cultivaton projects. I hope they do because Dominican chocolate has such a beautiful rich flavor, with hints of tobacco and different spices. Whatever they have in it, it works for me, at least here in San Juan.

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Once lunch was finished we prepared our hot chocolate. Carmen put a little bit of chocolate and water in a pot on the stove,and added a generous portion of fresh ginger. This sat for ages, probably a good hour, just simmering ever so slightly and then resting. I’ve said it before, in one of my very first posts, and I’ll say it again. Something magical happens when the women in my family make hot chocolate in the Dominican Republic. The secret may or may not be the chocolate. The secret is most likely in part the fresh ginger which in the DR is nice and spicy. Maybe it is magical mix of the ingredients, the pots used, the vessel it is presented in and perhaps a family hot chocolate superpower. That must be it.

When we were ready we added the rest of the chocolate and whole milk. This was poured into my grandmother’s china, perfect for tea, but perhaps even more perfect for hot chocolate. Ginger and chocolate were just meant to be together, they are both better versions of themselves when combined, this is one of my certainties of life.

I took my hot chocolate and drank it while walking around the garden. The song “Ojalla que lleva café nel café” (I wish it would rain coffee in the fields) by Dominican musical god Juan Luis Guerra popped into my head.  Replace café with cacao and this is a pretty perfect soundtrack to a pretty perfect hot chocolate.

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Verdict: Anything the women in my family make makes it onto the list of ultimate hot chocolates. That’s just how it goes. But try adding a bit of fresh ginger to your hot chocolate to recreate this at home. Embajador Chocolate

 

 

 

May 5th, 2015|San Juan de la Maguana|0 Comments

Hot Chocolate at Jo’s (South Congress), Austin, Texas, USA

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Whoever thought that turning frito chips into a meal was a good idea must be crazy. I have no idea. Here at Jo’s they cover the fitos with pulled pork or wheat roast, shredded cheddar and diced onions. You can have all that with an iced turbo drink which contains coffee, espresso, hazelnut, chocolate and cream. Maybe forget about the fritos altogether, and the coffee and have one of their breakfast tacos. Or maybe forget all of that and just have a hot chocolate.

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Actually forget about the hot chocolate, it sadly wasn’t any good…. go back to the iced turbo with a breakfast taco, that’s what everyone else was ordering (and enjoying). Jo’s is many things. It is cool (because it is on South Congress and everything on South Congress is cool). The dozens of people lined up waiting mostly for iced turbos and breakfast tacos think it is cool and we felt cool just standing in line. All those people taking pictures next to their wall that says ‘I love you so much’, they were cool too. What Jo’s is not is your place to get a hot chocolate (they use Ghirardelli chocolate syrup in a way that produced a very artificially sweet warm chocolate concoction type drink). But you should definitely pass by Jo’s and you will pass by it if you are in Austin because if you go to Austin you have to take a little stroll along South Congress.

And that is what we did this morning and what I’m likely to do every time I visit Austin despite what seems like South Congress’ lack of a good hot chocolate (I’m still searching, any ideas?).

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This relatively short stretch of South Congress Road is just over the river from the downtown area and the Capital building. In 1999, when this area was in a state of neglect and disrepair, some local business men purchased one of the buildings and started renovations. They named the area SoCo because they were trying to create a new identify for the area but primarily because those letters were available from an old sign they recycled. Today this area is lined with funky stores, galleries, music venues, food trucks and craft markets. You can buy some really useful things as well as all sorts of things you never knew you needed and still don’t need but will buy regardless, like an Elvis costume or a skeleton smoking a cigar. If you are lucky you can base yourself out of the historic Austin Motel or Hotel San Jose and be a local for a bit, shopping at the Farm to Market Grocery and if you in need of a hair cut, visit one of the many barbershops (there are a surprising number of barber shops in Austin, why is that?). You can buy yourself some new cowboy boots (a must in Texas) and then a hat to go with it.

Jo’s coffee, which has been there since it all started in 1999, is pretty much at the start of the street. Jo’s is a hub of community activity and hosts a range of popular annual events including South By San Jose (a music festival), a Chili Cook-off, Pet Parade where pets dress up in fancy costumes and their Sinner’s Brunch on Sundays (including more live music, we are in Austin after all).

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Verdict: Jo’s Coffee, meet Delysia, a fantastic Austin based chocolate company that makes hot chocolate that is just as cool as you are. Perhaps a match made in heaven? Jo’s Coffee, 1300 South Congress Avenue, Austin, Texas, USA

Jo's on Urbanspoon

April 27th, 2015|Austin, NORTH AMERICA, Texas, USA|0 Comments