I'm perpetually broke, largely due to the fact that I'm a college student. I enjoy spending my money on food and other supplies intrinsic to my survival, and I long for the day when I'll be able to enjoy the finer things in life.
Like, for example, Savor Seattle's Food Tours' "Chocolate Indulgence Tour." At $49 (well out of my range), it takes participants on a two-hour walking journey throughout Seattle's finest chocolate establishments. It draws people in with offers of tasting "over 17 chocolate creations," including a chocolate cocktail - scientific studies show cocktails improve in direct proportion to the amount of chocolate added to them - and gourmet popcorn.
Not one to be held back by my lack of discretionary funds, I embarked on my own chocolate tour throughout Seattle - the "Poor Woman's Chocolate Indulgence Tour", if you will. Along with a photographer sidekick, Victoria Holt, I blazed a trail through the collection of chocolate shops surrounding the Pike Place Market.
First Tour Stop: Fran's Chocolates
Location: 1325 1st Avenue (206-682-0168)
Sample Offered: Dark chocolate orange truffle
Most Popular Item: Smoked Salt Caramel
In hindsight, Fran's Chocolates was not the keenest place to begin a "Poor Man's" anything. At $1.60 a pop, its most popular chocolate - the smoked salt caramel - is one for Seattle's more expensive. The smoked salt caramel also measures in at about an inch in length, making it one of the city's smaller chocolates, too.
With its spaciously-arranged shop space and its "avant garde" girl-made-from-chocolates artwork, I held my breath when I entered Fran's, convinced its salespeople would quickly send me on my way. I was proved almost immediately wrong; a chicly uniformed Fran's employee quickly offered me my first sample of the tour: a dark chocolate orange truffle a little bigger than my thumbnail.
Now, I'm not a fan of dark chocolate, orange flavored food or truffles. But I have to admit, this truffle confection was quite delicious. The semi-bitterness of the dark chocolate was nicely offset by the tartness of the orange.
The women working the glass counter at Fran's were also happy to answer my questions. As it turns out, one of their most famous fans is Barack Obama. He digs Fran's smoked salt caramels enough to serve them to guests at the White House. Oprah's also a Fran's lover, giving the locally based chocolatier some of the best free advertising possible.
Fran's only drawbacks are the ones mentioned in the beginning - namely, the cost and size of their offerings. A box of 20 smoked salt caramels costs $25, and their double chocolate figs cost $46/pound, which means you have to be willing to drop a fair amount of money if you want more than a handful of chocolates. Having experience the smoked salt caramel for myself, I can attest that Fran's favored delicacy is worth the price, but only if you're a dedicated food connoisseur.
Victoria Holt Not even being made of chocolate can stop this girl from looking a little creepy. Victoria Holt A box of the renowned smoked salt caramels
Second Tour Stop: Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory
Location: 1419 1st Avenue (206-262-9581)
Sample Offered: My choice of fudge or caramel apple slice with M&Ms
Most Popular Item: Caramel/chocolate covered apples
The Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory might not have the local draw of Fran's or other stops along my tour, but its caramel covered apples and numerous other chocolate confections are made in house, behind the counter, where interested customers can watch.
Strolling around the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory's roomy shop, I gained a fine appreciation for how many different things can be dipped in chocolate: apples, marshmallows, twinkies, champagne bottles, shoes. I also learned there's a science to preserving one's caramel covered apple: keep it away from heat and sunlight and you should be able to keep it for five days or so.
"Apples our always our main seller," a chocolatier said after offering me a choice of fudge or a slice of a chocolate covered apple sprinkled with mini M&Ms. (I chose the fudge.) To prove to me that the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory is the Michael Jordan of caramel covered apple artistry, she pointed me towards the candied apple display case, packed with such creations as the Triple Caramel Chocolate Apple (a Granny Smith apple "dipped in thick caramel and coated with thick stripes of milk, dark and white chocolate", which retails for $7.75).
Although the treats offered by the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory were much more in my price range and its array of chocolate covered marshmallows did look delicious, I refrained from purchasing anything. After all, this escapade was about proving that even a broke person can enjoy the free samples and information offered by your average chocolate tour.
Victoria Holt There is nothing you can't dip a marshmallow in.
Third Tour Stop: The Chocolate Box
Location: 108 Pine Street (206-443-3900)
Sample Offered: European Sipping Hot Chocolate
Most Popular Item: Probably European Sipping Hot Chocolate
I lost my heart at the Chocolate Box.
Unlike my previous stops on the poor man's chocolate tour, the Chocolate Box sold chocolates from other local chocolate shops, such as Theo's and Oh! Chocolate. As such, it was difficult for the employees of the Chocolate Box to agree on what their most popular confection was.
There were vague mentions of their hot chocolate, which I dismissed because, at $3.95 for a 12-ounce cup of European Sipping Hot Chocolate, it seemed like another item out of my price range. I knew that Starbucks sold a less expensive, if blander, hot chocolate for considerably less.
Then someone offered me a sample of the European Sipping Hot Chocolate, and my life changed. (Add making hot chocolate to the list of things the Europeans do better than Americans.) The beverage is one part milk, one part chocolate, and proves that chocolate bars are meant to be liquidated. It was thick, creamy, richly flavored - just the sort of pick-me-up I'd have appreciated last week, when the frigid temperatures made my hands and nose throb when I stepped outside. I would easily rank it as one of the top-five chocolate related beverages I've ever tasted, and I have tasted enough chocolate-based beverages to make a slot on that list the envy of the chocolate beverage world.
European Sipping Hot Chocolate is, as mentioned above, incredibly rich. So to avoid becoming overwhelmed by too much of a good thing, I'd suggest sticking to the eight-ounce cup, which costs $3.45.
Victoria Holt Victoria Holt Victoria Holt Carter's Chocolate's answer to the Obama salted caramel craze: a salted caramel with the president's grinning likeness. Democracy has never looked so delicious.
Fourth Tour Stop: Chocolate Market
Location: 1906 Post Alley (206-443-0505)
Sample Offered: Hawaiian salted caramel
Most Popular Item: Hawaiian salted caramel and the Pike Place Stout Truffle
Seattle's love affair with salted caramels continued at Chocolate Market, one of the city's newest chocolate shops. Currently, Hawaiian-salted caramels are the most popular treat, although the woman behind the counter was quick to add that Pike Place Stout Truffles, whose ingredients include beer, are a close runner-up.
Located in Post Alley, Chocolate Market offered the most charming exterior and interior of any of my stops along the tour. As I walked in the door I felt as though I were stepping into a store populated by princesses, woodland creatures and tiny bearded men.
I also got to taste my first salted caramel chocolate of the tour, which was a major score. You can't actually taste the salt in these salted caramels--its flavor blends beautifully with the sweetness of the caramel and chocolate, giving the confection an almost smokey aftertaste.
Like the Chocolate Box, Chocolate Market doesn't make its own chocolates. but instead imports them from local shops around Seattle and as far south as Portland. We like to keep it as close as possible," the woman behind the counter said.
Victoria Holt Victoria Holt The lovely Hawaiian salted caramel Victoria Holt I was also offered the Pike Place stout truffle. While truffle lovers might appreciate the morsel - one of its ingredients is beer - I basically think truffles are the devil's work and did not care for it. My less biased companion did, though. Victoria Holt This sign hung on the top of a giant chair, I guess because if you eat too many chocolates, you'll become a giant?
Fifth Tour Stop: Chocolate & Ice Cream Delight
Location: 1918 Pike Place (206-441-8877)
Sample Offered: None
Most Popular Item: Fudge
By the time I reached Chocolate & Ice Cream Delight, located on Pike Place's main drag, I had reached my chocolate quotient for the day. So although it was the only place on my tour not to offer me a sample chocolate, even if it had, I would have declined.
That said, Chocolate & Ice Cream Delight was a peaceful place to end my poor woman's food tour. The girl behind the counter let Victoria and I inspect the place's wares without rushing us or demanding that we order. She did tell us that the factory's most popular item was its fudge, which it makes in-house.
I left the Chocolate & Ice Cream Delight and melded into Pike Place Market's eclectic crowd of Sunday morning shoppers well pleased with the results of my tour. For no money I got to eat my fill of chocolates and learned a little about Seattle's chocolate culture. It seemed to me that I got far and beyond my money's worth.
Victoria Holt Victoria Holt Victoria Holt
Stay tuned for my version of Savor Seattle's Food Tours' "Gourmet Seattle Food & Culture Tour", in which I'll go "freegan" on the gourmet dumpsters of Seattle.