Ever tried a grapefruit-balsamic truffle? How about a chocolate-covered, caramelized onion? Believe it or not, these exotic treats do exist. In fact, you can find them right here in the Finger Lakes.
Whether you’re spending the day in Ithaca’s gorges, roaming around Rochester’s museums, or strolling through Syracuse’s Armory Square, a chocolate-filled pit stop is just around the corner waiting for you to take a breather. From old-fashioned candies to modern, European-style confections, the delights at these local sweet shops are sure to quench your sugar rush.
Life’s so nostalgic at Life’s So Sweet Chocolates in Ithaca
The nostalgic and colorful Life’s So Sweet Chocolates in Ithaca (the original store location still exists in Trumansburg) is filled with chocolates, candies and fun details meant to evoke memories in adults and create new ones in kids. Take, for example, three tables that lure customers over to play Candy Land on game boards from three different decades – 1955, 1984 and 2010.
A vintage, 1949 Bastion and Blessing soda fountain transforms employees into old-fashioned “soda jerks” – mixing syrup, water and carbonation. “It’s a real skill,” explains owner Darlynne Overbaugh. “My staff and I like to joke that we’re earning our bubbles.”
Overbaugh, a self-taught chocolatier, was creating confections as gifts for friends and family when she was just 8 years old. She learned to craft the truffles, caramels, barks, creams, chocolate-covered nuts, dipped dried fruits and novelties stocked in the store’s display cases. Also offered are 10 nostalgic candies, homemade waffle cones with Purity ice cream and, seasonally, caramel apples and chocolate-dipped strawberries.
In hopes to root her store as much as possible to the region, Overbaugh uses many local ingredients that include fruit and honey. Most recently, she released the first installments of the Finger Lakes bark collection. Cayuga Lake bark, for example, consists of milk chocolate with butter toffee bits and Ithaca Coffee Company beans. All 11 lakes and several waterfalls will be honored in special bark combinations over the next year.
Special events like demonstrations, “Chocolate After Hours” and chocolate tours keep visitors coming back.
Signature Selection: Waterfalls chocolate bark collection
Exotic Flavor: Coconut-curry truffle
Location: 116 W. Green Street, Ithaca; 27 W. Main St., Trumansburg
Phone: 607-882-9842 (Ithaca), 607-387-4477 (Trumansburg)
Explore the exotic at Whisper Chocolate in Geneva
“You know the expression ‘whisper sweet nothings in my ear?’ Well, we want to whisper chocolate,” says Jasmine Mead. True to her credo, Whisper’s head chocolatier takes a French approach to her craft. “Compared to an American style, our flavors are more subtle,” she explains. “My philosophy is that the chocolate should be the center of what you taste.”
French Noel dark and white, and Belgian Callebaut milk chocolate are in the spotlight of Mead’s creations, such as the dozens of variations of bark that line the bright aqua walls of the store she runs with her mother and younger sister. Whether plain or studded with ingredients like sesame, goji berries, or cherries and cacao nibs, it can be found here.
Changing varieties of truffles rest in a brown display case. Every square is a work of art thanks to cocoa butter transfers that top each piece with colorful graphic patterns to identify different flavors. Among the choices are grapefruit-balsamic, pineapple-habanero, espresso and hibiscus-ginger.
Mead learned how to create such recipes during a one-year internship with Hedonist Artisan Chocolates in Rochester. For continued inspiration, she turns to a nearby natural foods store. “I go up and down the aisles, look at all their spices, fruits and nuts, and come up with things I think would taste good in chocolate,” she reveals. “I also let myself be inspired by savory foods. For example, I came up with our cardamon-lime truffle after I went to an Indian restaurant.”
Though many of the ingredients are exotic, Mead uses local products such as Seneca salt, fair-trade coffee beans roasted by Dalai Java, Once Again nut butters and seasonal jellies from Nordic Farms.
In the future, she hopes to expand Whisper’s lineup further by opening a chocolate café for serving both drinks and desserts.
Signature Selection: Milk chocolate bark with Seneca salt
Exotic Flavor: Mexican mole bark with pasilla chili, almonds, raisins and cacao nibs
Location: 444 Exchange St., Geneva
Eat your fruits and vegetables at Lune Chocolat in Manlius
Chocolate wasn’t really the plan for Mike Woloszyn and his wife Emily. Mike was working on his MBA thesis at Syracuse University when he researched big chocolate companies and went to watch an artisan chocolate maker in Albany to learn about the production process on a small scale. He was immediately hooked. “I loved the flow and the smell, and it was just beautiful to watch,” he says. The Woloszyns decided to take the plunge and launch their own chocolate store.
Lune Chocolat’s warm pink walls and brown wainscoting evoke European flair, and the open kitchen lets visitors peer in and watch the chocolates being made – a craft that Emily studied briefly at the Culinary Institute of America in Poughkeepsie. “I am an artist by trade,” she admits, “so creating things like these chocolates is a little easier for me.”
Their seasonal approach certainly is imaginative, as the couple takes the use of local ingredients to a new dimension by rotating through over 500 (yes, 500!) different chocolates, based on what fruits – and vegetables – are available at the neighborhood farmers market. In the summer, you might find tomato-cilantro truffles in Lune’s case, while at other times delicata squash with toasted seed brittle or pear and wasabi in dark chocolate. All are based exclusively on South American chocolate from small, cooperative farms that eschew child labor.
Cake is the “other food group” for sale, like the Blue Moon cake with orange frosting. “We also have standards like caramels and butter creams,” Mike adds, “but we really try to focus on the unique and different.”
Signature Selection: Lavender and honey truffle
Exotic Flavor: Flavors of Thanksgiving pack (sweet potato casserole, apple pie, cranberry, pumpkin pie, mashed potato with kahlua gravy)
Location: 315 Fayette St., Suite 5, Manlius
Obscure shapes add flavor to Sweet Expressions in Canandaigua
Denise Chaapel likes to have fun with her candy. In her old-fashioned country store, the shelves – some of which used to hold books in the Rochester library – are stocked with big and small jars of jaw breakers, candy necklaces and penny candies. A dozen varieties of fudge, from plain to sea salt-caramel, beckon in a display case. But the mainstay of the shop, which Chaapel runs with her husband Tim and up to nine employees, is chocolate.
An entire corner is dedicated to playful molds. “We probably have thousands,” says Chaapel, pointing to chocolate pigs, flip flops and basketballs. “You think of it, we make it.” A particular favorite is a white chocolate deviled egg filled with lemon crunch and topped with orange sugar “caviar.” “Some people put one of those on a platter of regular deviled eggs, stand back and let things just take their course,” she laughs.
For her flavor experiments she will dip just about anything – from Swedish fish to bacon – in her American-sourced blends of milk, dark, white and orange-flavored chocolate. “Coming up with new and unusual pieces is the most fun for us,” says Chaapel, who, with her husband, also owns a full-line music store a few doors down. The two only got into candy when they took over a closing chocolate business.
Most recently, Chaapel turned her attention to Finger Lakes-themed products for her many tourist customers, such as a Rochester chocolate bar and a molded chocolate grape cluster filled with Arbor Hill chocolate Cabernet sauce.
Chocolate bark, marzipan fruits, chocolate candies, truffles sourced from Vermont and Texas, and gift baskets round out Sweet Expression’s offerings.
Signature Selection: Dark chocolate almond bark
Exotic Flavor: Chocolate-dipped jalapeño
Location: 169 South Main St., Canandaigua
Phone: 585-394 5250
Walk the sweet and savory line at Rue Claire in Lodi
Tucked away from the busy road, rising up beyond a small field of lavender, Rue Claire’s tiny white cottage invites visitors to make their way through the fragrant herbs toward this petite patch of French countryside.
“My husband built the shop for me as a first Mother’s Day gift,” says owner Claire Benjamin. “It’s my special getaway.” Here, among the antique wood furniture – the main display case used to sit in the much-missed Artisan Café in Trumansburg – she retreats from her nearby house to let her travels and general love for food inspire new variations of truffles.
While Benjamin’s grandfather owned a bakery in her native Philippines, she set her sights on chocolate-making, which she studied with master chocolatier Laurent Pages at the Chocolate Academy in St. Hyacinthe, Québec.
Now, in an off-site kitchen, Benjamin turns her ideas into some 20 rotating varieties of French-style chocolates, including her “classics,” such as mint-fennel-licorice or chili, as well as “classics with a spin,” such as caramel-sea-salt-chipotle, bacon-sea-salt, or mango-tarragon. Based on a blend of single-origin Valrhona chocolate and, whenever possible, local butter, cream, and other ingredients, none of the truffles are very sugary – most walk the line between sweet and savory, rich and herbal.
Of course, lavender from the plot outside – another gift from her husband – also makes its way into dark chocolate lavender truffles, as well as sachets, artisan tea blends and a variety of other lavender products on display in a corner.
“This is me, from gardening to chocolate to sales,” says Benjamin, surveying her sweet sanctuary. And she is happy to share, teaching chocolate classes and opening up her space for weddings, bridal showers and other events.
Signature Selection: Hazelnut-bay leaf truffle
Exotic Flavor: Caramelized local onion in dark chocolate with Seneca vanilla sea salt, red chili flakes and Finger Lakes grape seed oil
Location: 9403 State Route 414, Lodi
A sweet history decorates Stever’s Candies in Rochester
For the first two years of Stever’s existence, chocolate was not on its menu. Rationing was still in effect when Douglas and Hilda Stever opened their candy store in 1946, just after the war. So instead, they focused on hard candies, caramels and brittles until the chocolate supply began to flow again.
Today, the family business – now led by the founders’ grandson Kevin and his wife Leslie – offers a wide range of traditional candies. “Kevin still makes all our caramels, brittles, nougats, fudge, creams and jellies,” Leslie explains. “And we do a full line of chocolate work, as well, with molding, truffles and enrobing the pieces that he makes. It’s the full spectrum, so we consider ourselves retail confectioners rather than chocolatiers.”
Their creations are packaged in white boxes, piled high around the shop, which is housed in a former telephone exchange building erected in 1911. Gigantic, colorful spiral and butterfly lollipops adorn the case filled with loose chocolates. “I’d say our look reflects us,” says Leslie, who calls her dozen staff members one of the shop’s best assets. “We like it vintage, retro and our customers have come to expect the traditional.”
For Rochesterians, this includes dark chocolate. Consequently, Stever’s uses a darker blend for its milk chocolate confections than one might find in other cities, such as Buffalo, Leslie notes.
For his dark chocolate, Douglas Stever worked with the Van Leer company (later acquired by Callebaut) in the 1950s to create his own blend. “Van Leer liked it,” says Leslie, “and added it to their line. It’s actually named ‘Van Stever’ after Douglas. It’s been our blend for nearly 68 years.”
Signature Selection: Melt-A-Ways (milk, dark, orange, coffee, mint)
Exotic Flavor: Chocolate with cayenne
Location: 623 Park Ave., Rochester
More Chocolate to Cure the Cravings
Small-batch chocolates by French master pastry chef (and glassblower) Christian Thirion, available in several shops around the region.
Sweet on Chocolate
Handmade truffles, chocolates and novelties in Armory Square.
Location: 208 Walton St., Syracuse
NunBetter Chocolates & Custom Gift Baskets
Chocolates and gift baskets made by the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities.
Location: 2500 Grant Blvd., Syracuse
French-style chocolates and pastries by Tammy Travis, who trained with Jacques Torres at the French Culinary Institute in New York.
Location: 200 Pleasant Grove Rd.; 130 E. Seneca St., Ithaca
Phone: 607-257-4257 (Pleasant Grove), 607-319-0272 (Seneca)
Artisan chocolate bars made from the bean up.
Location: 1889 State Route 96, Jacksonville
Hedonist Artisan Chocolates
Truffles and chocolate treats handmade in small batches with French chocolate.
Location: 674 South Ave., Rochester
by Olivia Hall