Chocolate made my mom perspire. But she kept eating — and making it — anyway. She even let me (what was she thinking?) eat her chocolate sauce on pound cake for breakfast. So, eating chocolate morning, noon and night is not a stretch for me — or, it turns out, for my fellow Ashevilleans. We have our cacao fortresses — the French Broad Chocolate Lounge, the Chocolate Fetish and Chocolate Gems — but our sweet town also harbors countless hidden chocolate sanctuaries.
For the kind of morning fix my mom provided, head to Laurey’s on Biltmore for baker Martin Kaz’s chocolate bear claw (usually available on Thursdays), a flaky puff pastry with a chocolate filling. Ask for it heated and then relish a chocolate-lipstick mouth and searing happiness.
“The filling is like a slightly liquid brownie with chocolate chips,” says Kaz, a proud, self-declared chocoholic.
On Fridays, Kaz sets out chocolate chip pumpkin muffins. “All the chocolate chip pumpkin muffins in town are directly or indirectly my bastard children,” says Kaz, who brought his recipe to Western North Carolina in 1988.
If your sweet tooth resumes aching at midday, the fried chocolate-bacon beignets at King James Public House may be just the thing. Served all day every day, these beignets illustrate a basic food truth: Everything, even chocolate, is better with bacon.
“The beignets are like fritters with a molten soft center, candied bacon on top and a garnish of blackberries and blueberries macerated in Old English Malt Liquor,” says executive chef and co-owner Steven Goff. And the beignets’ crown: dulce de leche, a mix of caramelized milk and sugar cooked into a toffee-like sauce.
Another option: the chocolate budino (Italian for a puddinglike dessert) with whipped cream at Table on College Street.
“It’s melted chocolate, sugar, butter and lots of eggs,” says co-owner Jacob Sessoms. “The egg binds the other ingredients so that the budino becomes cakelike. It’s our most popular dessert. People want chocolate — super-rich, dense, 100-percent chocolate.”
For an on-the-run lift, try an almond butter brownie, a bestseller at Green Sage (on College Street, Hendersonville Road and Westgate Shopping Center). A blond streak of almond butter runs through the fudgy texture, its sweetness nestled within the dark chocolate.
“It’s vegan and gluten-free, made with French Broad Chocolate Lounge organic Dutch-processed cocoa, tapioca and sorghum, which adds a nice sweetness and good texture,” says baker Rich Przybylowicz, the general manager at the Westgate store.
If you are brownie-ed out, Green Sage also offers a chocolate-carrot cupcake, a blend of house-made chocolate sauce and carrot cake batter, capped with confectioners sugar icing.
Good night swoon
My food-science friends claim that the caffeine in chocolate interferes with sleep. But frankly, who can face sleep, with all its nightmare drama, without a bite or two of chocolate before lights out? If you share my habit, make a late stop at any number of Asheville groceries — West Village Market, Greenlife Grocery or Katuah Market, to name just a few — to pick up a Bake Hampton brownie. Intensely chocolate, dense and sweet, these come in seven flavors, including my favorite, salted caramel. And they fit neatly in your bedside table.
“I got addicted to the French Broad salted caramel-dipped candies,” says Susan Woermann, owner of Bake Hampton, which she founded 21 years ago in East Hampton, N.Y., and later moved to Alexander. “I took that idea, read recipes and, through a lot of trial and error, came up with a salted caramel brownie — a wonderful seller.”
If, on top of chocolate yearnings, you crave heat, try Woermann’s Mexican hot chocolate brownie (with a glass of water nearby). One day, Woermann ran out of ancho chili powder, the brownie’s original heat. She added chipotle pepper instead. “It brings out a smoky dimension,” says Woermann. “You do get a kick, but I love the depth of it.”
If it’s chocolate candy you’re after, swing by the Chop Shop on Charlotte Street or the Appalachian Vintner on Biltmore Avenue for a box of Truffle Nature chocolates, creamy candies that range from intensely dark to milky. The business, only months old, was founded by Marc Huot, a chocolatier and pastry chef for 25 years who arrived in Asheville from Miami.
“I decided to focus on chocolate because it is my great passion. I get pleasure out of watching people’s faces when they bite into what I do.”
Huot also likes to work with chocolate from different places. “Right now, I love the one from Madagascar, which tastes like fruit and berries.” (It does.) His flavors range from hazelnut crunch — my favorite — to salted caramel. And the other pleasure of Huot’s chocolates is their artfulness — a gold leaf streak on one, sprinkled salt on another.
The Aztecs thought that chocolate was the food of the gods, and their ruler Montezuma suspected that chocolate was an aphrodisiac. Believing this is easy: Asheville offers all the cacao needed for a crazy kind of love.