Best Bites and Sips at Chicago Fine Chocolate & Dessert Show

If the collective sugar comas in Chicago are any indication, the Chicago Fine Chocolate & Dessert Show this weekend was a wild success. Patrons descended en masse upon Navy Pier over the weekend to partake in the second annual chocoholic shindig, bringing together gourmet chocolate purveyors from near and far to showcase their unique cocoa wares. From classics such as chocolate chip cookies to envelope-pushers like hot chocolate imbued with liquid nitrogen vanilla ice cream, chefs and business-owners were out to prove the versatility of everyone's favorite vice. With so many creations to sample, it's hard to pick favorites, especially considering the disparate nature of many chocolate items. I went two days in a row, eating enough free samples to constitute a very unhealthy meal, as well as filling my bag to the brim with everything from fudge to macarons to chocolate-covered jalapeños. Probably the weirdest thing I've ever had in my bag, including the arbitrary seashell I currently have in there for no reason. Here are some of my favorite bites and sips from the Chicago Fine Chocolate & Dessert Show. 

(Not your average cup of hot chocolate)

(Not your average cup of hot chocolate)

Hot Chocolate From Sixteen

When Sixteen's Patrick Fahy is at the helm, you can be damn sure the hot chocolate is not going to resemble your typical Swiss Miss. In fact, Fahy's heady brew is a gourmet middle finger to hot chocolate nostalgia, updating the liquid comfort food by infusing the viscous cocoa nectar with spices, pouring it into cups, and topping it with liquid nitrogen vanilla ice cream. The resulting mixture created a potion-like cloud reminiscent of something from Hogwarts. Once the cloud dissipated, the ice cream began to melt into the spiced hot cocoa, enriching it with all its creamy, vanilla goodness.


Chocolate Chip Cookies From ByMdesserts

When it comes to chocolate, the only thing more nostalgic than hot chocolate is the chocolate chip cookie, and when dealing with something so intensely nostalgic it can be difficult to execute something successfully. Everyone has their chocolate chip cookie tentpole, usually something their mom or grandma made when they were kids. It's tough for a lot of people to find a cookie that can live up to those memories/standards. Well Malika Ameen's chocolate chip cookies surpass them and make your memories taste like sawdust by comparison. The owner of ByMdesserts had some of the greatest tasting treats at the chocolate show, conveniently packaged in takeaway bags so that I could take them home and eat them all at once without judgement. The texture on the thin cookies was perfect, chewy with a thin crisp exterior along the edges. The chocolatey nooks and crannies were rich with fudgy flavor, while the rest of the cookie erupted with notes of salt, sugar, and butter.

OMG Bar From Amy's Candy Bar

I love candy bars. I'm in the midst of an ongoing affair with the candy bar aisle at the trashy Jewel down the street from my apartment. We hook up every so often late at night and it's sordid. The only thing that can pry me away from my beloved Snickers is a decent homemade candy bar. There were actually a few candy bars at the chocolate show, but few could touch the high bar set by Amy's Candy Bar. I adore the cute Ravenswood candy shop as is, so I was excited to see Amy had a new homemade candy bar to sling. The aptly named OMG Bar featured sea salt caramel, hazelnut praline, and chocolate ganache; simple and sublime. The bars had a lovely chew to them, with the crackly praline layer balanced by the gooey caramel, all enrobed in luscious chocolate. This is what candy bars are all about.


The Space Bar From Mayana Chocolate

Well wouldn't you know it that another homemade candy bar ranks among my favorites. Told you I loved candy bars. Wisconsin-based Mayana Chocolate featured some of the most aesthetically stunning products at the entire show, including their illustrious candy bars emblazoned with various patterns. My favorite of their candy bars was the Space Bar, one that obviously flew over my head at first because I am just now realizing it's a play on the keyboard button, one that I press a million times a day. Oh well. The Space Bar also sported sea salt caramel, but this bar rounded it out with toasted almond nougat, which is what really made it. The chewy, crunchy layer of nougat made for a delicious, toothsome base for the salty, sugary, chocolatey goodness strewn around it.

Chocolate-covered Jalapeños From Gourmet Goodies

Gourmet Goodies gets the crown for making me drool more than any other vendor at the chocolate show. Thanks to their array of fudge (dreamsicle!), chocolate-covered apples the size of my skull, and chocolate-covered gummy bear "kebabs," I kept making return trips to their stall to scope out my next move. Their most unique item, and one of the tastiest, was their chocolate-covered jalapeños. Dipped in Belgian chocolate, these puppies offered the perfect combo of smoky and savory juxtaposed with sweet and silky. It tasted almost like a campfire. If you dropped your chocolate in the fire and then ate it and found it to be curiously wonderful.