Hornet’s Nest Deli – Branford, CT

Personally, I had a pretty damn good time in high school. I bullied the nerds on the chess club by stuffing them into lockers and occasionally running in and flipping over a chess table or two. Really, it was some pretty good times and if given the chance to go back and relive high school with the knowledge I have now, I would do it in a heartbeat. Thinking about the days of shoving nerds in lockers and duct taping kids to poles brings back some really good memories.

The Hornet’s Nest Deli in town really does a nice job of capturing the Branford High School atmosphere with a plethora of Branford high sports memorabilia from lacrosse sticks to jerseys and even including the football helmet of the legendary football star Jim Balzano. The owner Dino really does a good job capturing the BHS atmosphere with the decorations and in the few moments of conversation with him, he definitely has some great future plans for this little deli by displaying artwork from aspiring artist can be bought form the artist if customers of the deli develop enough interest in them.

Like almost every other deli on earth, this one offers regular sandwiches to extreme specialty sandwiches. If you can think of a sandwich, wrap, or a combination of both, they’ll probably make it. On my visit there, I got the “widowmaker” sandwich which consists of: roast beef, bacon, cheese, lettuce, tomato, red onion, cheese, and their own horseradish mustard. This sandwich was very well divided and offered the complete spectrum of all the ingredients in every bite. Their special horseradish mustard offered a very nice sweet counterpoint to the red onion but offered a very nice kick also. This sandwich was a perfect blend of the ingredients in every bite and was quite a large sandwich for the very modest price.

The Hornet’s Nest offers at least seven more specialty sandwiches that are all equally as creative as the “widowmaker” and equally as delicious. For me this place will be a consistent go to for a great sandwich and a hearty dose of nerd beating nostalgia of the good old days. This place is affordable and simple. If you’re not expecting haute cuisine, and want a place to grab a reasonably priced and delicious sandwich while getting a great look at what Branford High School is like if not just to gaze upon the wonder of Jim Balzano’s football helmet, The Hornet’s Nest is the place to go.

Teo’s Hot Dogs, Pittsfield, MA

I cannot stress how much I wanted to love Teo’s. With the 28 glowing Yelp reviews, the praise from Roadfood, and the promises reeking of nostalgia and meat sauce, I figured that spending $15 on gas for a three hour trip wasn’t the worst I could do. And with photos like this, how could I not check it out? The frosted glass and wood-grained paper plates only added to my building gusto.
On the surface, it looked like a greasy, offbeat dive bar with wonderful local hot dogs. Teo’s is located in a neighborhood in the middle of the Berkshires similar to the one my mother grew up in, a blue-collar industrial town largely dominated by factories and farms. Drawn to such places and their respective eateries, I was immediately entranced by the comfortable, dank atmosphere of Teo’s with its grimy stained glass windows, lingering decades-old cigarette stench, and lottery machines in the corners of each dining room. This is a restaurant with obvious regulars. They sit at the bar and watch TV while eating their hot dogs, presumably on break from the local factory.
I ordered a classic combination per the recommendations of the internet- two hot dogs with everything, everything being meat sauce, mustard, and onions, and a root beer. I paid my $4.50 and sat down at a table. Waitresses brought steaming plates of hot dogs over to other patrons, and I waited. Ten minutes later, I noticed the waitress beckoning me from the corner of my eye, shouting, “Two everything. Two everything.” I came over and received a sad, greasy paper bag with two hot dogs crammed in wax paper and thrown in. When I told her that I wanted to eat in, she merely shoved the bag at me and raised her eyebrows. She was done helping, that much was true.
The hot dogs are around four inches long, hence my ordering two, and are gently nestled in New England-style hot dog buns about an inch longer than their contents. All the better to hold you with, my dear. The buns weren’t so much steamed as they were saturated and rendered mushy and pasty with the seepage from the sauce and mustard, and the outsides were smeared with a lethal combination of the two. Now, I understand that the whole experience of a dive is swift and unglamorous service, but this was unacceptable. Raising the little sausage to my lips, I felt as though I was embarking on some terrible, 2 girls 1 cup inspired version of Fear Factor. And to be honest, I might not have been able to tell the difference had these just been given to me on a plate.
The fully erect hot dog, positively referred to as “snappy,” seemed to be more in the realm of rubbery and turgid when I got it. The texture was purely Bubblicious, if Bubblicious came in a salty hot dog flavor. The casing was tough to rip through, so chewy that in the grip of my last bite, the hot dog gave up, squirted out the bun, and landed on the floor, leaving a dirty trail of condiments in its wake. Inside the casing is a chunky, beefy meat that tastes mainly of salt and fat. This hot dog is the epitome of the choking warning that every childhood and chain letter inevitably came with.
When ordering, I noticed a wide discrepancy of cooking levels on the hot dogs, ranging from pink and fleshy to burnt and crispy. I requested well-done and received undercooked. The insides were cool and tough, reminding me of my elementary school’s reviled boiled hot dogs as a child, though even those were preferable to these little suckers. I was not only tired and hungry from the car ride, but baffled as well. The teaspoon of meat sauce slopped onto my hot dogs was also salty, and with the one-noted flavors of the entire thing, the dominant taste was the mustard, and a weak, watery one at that. I’ve had better service and quality from a Bronx-based White Castle in the middle of the night. Although my portion was small, I was glad I had not ordered more as the resulting two left a slimy feeling in my mouth and an ache in my stomach later on.

Going to Teo’s, I felt pretty burnt, as I’d spent a good chunk of my day making the trip out and had been stiffed in the process. It was unfortunate to find that my money clearly wasn’t as good as that of the regulars. In an establishment such as this, I know I’m not the top dog, but the real charm in going to a restaurant is knowing that and still being treated as though you go there every day. Unless you can receive that, why bother going? At least it beats The Suburban.
Note to Eastern CT readers: Last week, a significant part of my grandmother’s property was broken into and trashed. I spent a good part of my childhood there and am greatly distressed. While I’d rather not reveal too much here, I’d love it if any locals could email me and give me any possible information they have on it to turn over to the police. Our family is quite upset and would appreciate any help.Teos Hotdogs Restaurant on Urbanspoon

“Hadley Grass” Asparagus and Almond Ice Cream, Flayvors of Cook Farm, Hadley, MA

And ye, once again, a young writer’s thoughts turn to green again in this damning time of heat and vegetalia. Eagerly seeking a new way to eat the omnipresent blasted vegetables my doctor tells me are “good for me,” I set aside my conspiracy theories and turn to the wonders of modern day technology, whose edibles perform a brilliant show of Batesian mimicry by presenting themselves in the form of ice cream, namely, the Hadley Grass ice cream, flavored with asparagus and almonds at Flayvor’s, an ice cream shop run out of Cook Farm in Hadley, MA.
Cook Farm has the added geniality of seeming as though it’s off the beaten path but existing no more than a mile from the center of Hadley and Route 9. Unlike most off convivial roadside pleasures, though, this is more entertaining than the world’s largest ball of yarn and less depressing than a year-round Santa’s Village.
Those of you who know me well will no doubt find it amusing to conjure up the image of me cruising blindly down the road, each turn getting more bucolic, whizzing past a slowly moving tractor on the road, epithets and curses gnarled up in my head, stopped at the eleventh hour from leaving my lips as I remember that this was an intentional diversion off my regular beaten path to work. My anxiety mounting as I wonder if I’m actually getting to where I want to go or whether I’m going to wind up on the ground, my knees broken by pitchfork wielding youth in overalls with freckled smirks, the waning drawls of Dierks Bentley my last sentient thoughts. The realization that I am, of course, overreacting and that, if only for a moment, I am privy to beauty in such an unlikely place, minutes from the shopping malls and campus. And ice cream. Delicious, delicious ice cream.
It is not often that I have a moment to myself to savor and meander as I please, so when I came across this, I was more than happy to sit in the sun and eat my ice cream, watching the cows who provided the milk for it low and whisk flies off their tails. Cook’s Farm is a sylvan oasis in a bustling, busy town, a fraction of what the world may have been like some 100 years back, had they been abundant with ice cream, though, and just as modest. You’ll see no neon signs or advertisements here, their only self-endorsement the amenities of their indoor air conditioning.
The Hadley Grass is aptly named. Swirls of shredded asparagus gently dot the surface of each bite and render the entire confection green. It is generously crammed with sliced raw almonds whose flavor has gradually seeped through the ice cream, making it taste of almond milk and the everpresent asparagus. The flavor is not as uric as I expected it to be, rather, it is summery and verdant and mixes well with the nutty base flavor. Like last night’s wasabi Kit Kat, it takes an ordinarily uncommon ingredient in dessert and combines it so that it retains a modicum of its first form yet becomes something entirely unique in a different setting.
This is a popular ice cream, one I would get again as well as recommend to others. Apparently my advice is not necessary, as I was informed by the server that the cup I received was one of the last in that day’s batch. Flayvors, despite being burdened with a somewhat awkward name, is a lovely place with ice creams and settings as pastoral as the world around it. Stop by if you need a break from the world and the half-assed suckage of Jenji Kohan’s attempt to keep Weeds edgy. Man, season 7 is up to no good. No good can come of chinstraps and ten second’s worth of lighthearted lesbian prison motifs.

Kit Kat Wasabi

In the world of thrill seeking, I am a tired old man. Preferably, one who resembles an old Allan Quatermain or, for you illiterate bastards, Colonel Mustard. Same damned thing, different build. Pith helmets make people look alike, anyhow. In the heyday of my youth I’d be brash enough to protest at the very thought of venturing less than an hour to find the world’s greatest hot dog; now, I can barely muster the enthusiasm of jetting down the street to try Taco Bell’s newest monstrosity of spices and dog food. As my enthusiasm for the mundane wanes to a tepid aloofness, the offerings of the world go up. And now, dissatisfied with the Americas, I turn to the Orientals to keep me amused.
Sometimes, the world can be a cruel, cold place.
And other times the fates shine upon us. This is true in the case of the wasabi-flavored Kit Kat, a condiment I am often known to eschew. Only in the humid days of summer, in the sweating, balmy walls of a sushi house quietly playing Maggie May, will I consume a blob with my delicious Philadelphia roll. However ambivalent I may be toward wasabi, Keepitcoming’s enthusiasm for the stuff is tenfold. We ordered this treat on a lark from napaJapan.
The consistency of this snack is the quintessential ‘Kat you all know and love, but the taste hints of exoticism with a smile. Truly, this is a snack with its feet in both worlds, but a home in neither. The wasabi flavor is gentle, much like my persistent, sweetly drunken caresses in the shadows of local watering holes, paired with a natural, powerful vanilla bean cream in and outside the bar. While the wasabi is not as powerful or as nose-clearingly intense as that of the restaurant paste, it establishes its presence as a grassy heat and makes a pungent and unique dessert. This candy is not of the ilk of shock foods, whose intense ingredients merely serve the purpose of boasting rather than bolstering the quality of the overall confection. It is far more accessible than chipotle in most desserts and should replace it as the go-to spice for sweets. I found that the flavors melded together extremely well while maintaining the integrity of each component and created a unique sensation in the mouth. Candies like this rejuvenate my élan for the absurd. With wasabi flavored Kit Kats, anything can happen.

The Modern Cocktail Modern Margarita Mixers

I’m a broke, pretentious college student, so I really don’t have the capital to whisk myself away to exotic locales. The best I can do is find a high resolution stock image of a beach and palm trees, purchase the rights to use said image, go to Staples, have them print out a weather resistant, 7 by 12 foot banner of that image for the low, low price of $200 and plaster it on my wall, throw out my entire wardrobe and replace it with madras shorts and summery clothes and oversized floppy sun hats by Eileen Fisher and pose in front of it like I’m having a great time. I might even hire one or two tanned models to pose with me, alone in my house, in front of a gigantic wall print tacked on my wall as I manically grin in clothing entirely inappropriate for a New England summer.
Alternatively, I could just purchase these “modern” margarita mixers by The Modern Cocktail. They’d give me the ball-breaking satisfaction of feeling like I paid $15 for a cocktail with all of the mediocre flavor and disappointingly low level of alcohol and the bright, tropical neon colors that would provide a potable Bat signal to natives of whatever island I’m inhabiting- “Scam me! I’m a giant tourist with money!” Now that I can do this in my home, I’m away from all those fears. At $7.99 a pack, you get your choice of five different cocktails. You, however, must provide the alcohol and ice. The pack also comes with the ever-hilarious “rimming crystals,” which sounds like it might be a fetish involving cat litter as well as body parts that are able to be rimmed much like a margarita glass. The rimming crystals look like tasty powdered sugar but are in fact, salt, and are overwhelming within the composition of the beverage.
However depressing it is that I’m doing this by myself, I can only imagine the sheer level of despair should this product hit a couple whose marriage is on the rocks (HA HAAAAA). Each flavor will make you feel as though the maker of this beverage wants to personally hunt you down and kill your family, or at least try to sell them store-brand soda syrup. The process of making these is fun but also lulls you into a false sense of complacency. You’re making drinks! You’re wild and spontaneous! Your marriage will be okay and your teenage son will stop killing the neighbor’s pets!
And then you take a sip of the classic margarita, the exotic blood orange or mango margarita, or the ever-friendly watermelon or strawberry margarita, and you realize that all of these flavors are terrible and your wife is cheating on you with the disturbingly homosexual-looking man next door named Rafaelo, who regales you with tales of Bermuda in his days of youth, picking fresh pineapples and using them to make margaritas, or whatever the hell actually goes in margaritas, as you frantically sweat and blink and nervously thrust these food coloring ridden bastardizations on him as though you are bringing a gift from civilization and technology. He delicately disposes of them at night and makes sweet, sweet love to your wife.
Rafaelo aside, these are not worth your $8, which in fact, may be better off allocated to that $15 cocktail. At least the bartenders know what they’re doing. Unless you’re poorer than I and even more pretentious and somehow equate faux mixology and the lingering taste of Tums and cough syrup in your mouth with wealth, polo, and the elite class, these will not satisfy the collegiate cocktail connoisseurs of the country. Cunt. Cabbage. Can’t commence creating cocktails. Crap.

Fiber One 90 Calorie Chocolate Brownie Nut Sundaes

Lately I’ve been trying to exercise more and lower my caloric intake. While it’s especially difficult in such a food-heavy area, it’s not as hard as I thought. One of the things I have the most fun with is taking my favorite treats and translating them into lower calorie foods. I guess it’s a little late for bikini season, but it’s better now than never.
Ice cream is a classic summer treat, but in true gluttonous form, I generally don’t like it unless it’s smooshed or surrounded by a baked good of some sort. While I can’t boast that my version of the classic brownie sundae is healthier than Hungry Girl’s, it is pretty darned good. MyBlogSpark provided the brownies, the chocolate equivalent of the Fiber One 90 Calorie ones I reviewed a few weeks back, and my mom had the rest of the ingredients on hand.
Foodette’s Yo Dawg Brownie Nut Sundae
1/2 of 1 Skinny Cow Chocolate Fudge Brownie cup (75 calories, 1 gram of fat)
1 Fiber One 90 Calorie Chocolate Chip Brownie (90 calories, 3 grams of fat)
1 tablespoon of hot fudge sauce or chocolate syrup (50 calories, 0 grams of fat)
2 tablespoons of light whipped cream (15 calories, 1 gram of fat)
5 Emerald Cocoa Roast Almonds, chopped (30 calories, 2 grams of fat)
Assemble as though you would any sundae and garnish with a cherry on top. The sundae clocks in at a mere 260 calories and is big enough to share.

Euforia Thousand Layer Spice Cakes

It’s no secret that I’m addicted to strange products. Weird flavors of chocolate or the latest frozen pizza flavor of the month has me salivating and panting at the freezer door. But sometimes a product comes along and is so striking in its simplicity and minimal presentation that I am forced to revisit my perspective on foods and whether there is a time and a place for exoticism or whether it is to be generously doled out.
While I’d love to say that the thousand layer cakes by Euforia could be more appetizing with a light dusting of cocoa-chipotle powder, a bacon and salsa verde infusion, or a slather of cream cheese and red wine frosting, the unadulterated truth is that they are phenomenal and perfect just the way they are. These are cakes that are beautiful on the inside. But unlike the fallacies your mother told you as a child, you zaftig beast, this is one hundred percent true and accurate.
The layers of the cakes meld into one smooth, textured bite, each mouthful buttery yet light, tasting of a pound cake with nicer ingredients. There’s a subtle nutmeg, cinnamon, and brown sugar flavor, but no one spice came out ahead of the others and blended together wonderfully. The cakes are extremely moist, and the flavor is the most familiar taste you’ve never had. I say this because each bite is never alien in form, but somehow better than the snack cakes and commercial baked goods I certainly grew up with as a child. There’s a delicacy to these that is clearly carefully crafted.
God, flavors like this just drive me bananas. Every time I think something I have is good enough, something better comes along. Knowing that these exist in the world, with their six ingredients and petite, soft forms, will forever drive me from the lands of snack cakes and zanily frosted cookies. With cakes like these, less is more, ingredient wise. The only time that doesn’t apply will be when you’re eating them by the boxful.

The Suburban, Branford, CT

Never before have I visited such a grossly overestimated restaurant. How odd to find a place that is resting on its laurels one week after being reviewed in the New York Times. In their fawning October 2010 praise-fest of Arturo Franco-Camacho’s third lackluster attempt at an eatery, The Suburban in Branford, CT, Connecticut Magazine bills it as “extraordinary,” where the “genius” is in the details. Unfortunately, I’m going to take a note from the misquoted Mies van der Rohe and say that the devil, and not the genius, is in the details instead. A recent visit to The Suburban proved this to be correct when my dining companion and I encountered an abundance of smarminess and a dearth of creativity.

The Suburban starts with deception, serves up deception, and ends with a big, fat load of deception on your plate. The sample daily menu is what friends of the franchise in obviously high places and deluded Roomba diehards call unique and inspired, but it is unfortunately a come-hither concealing a rather dull actual daily menu. The sample menu on the site looked fantastic and varied with small plates like Moroccan shrimp with feta, fennel, and orange segments, and blueberry ginger duck breast with brioche corn pudding serving as large plates. My only original trepidation was that with a large array of food spanning multiple continents, plus two other restaurant ventures on the way, the Franco-Camachos would be spreading themselves too thinly.
It turns out that the “daily” menu is simply a matter of cutting corners by pairing dull, typical proteins with dull, typical sauces. After being seated away from the strangely bisected bar area, which looks reminiscent of an old-timey candy store, and in the wood-paneled hipster hall, we were seated near a creepy Duggar family-esque “communal” table, the room’s focal point. We were given menus and a clothespin reminiscent of Thomas Keller’s French Laundry keepsake. This is no Thomas Keller establishment. It is a common experience to go to a restaurant and be satisfied, though not wowed by the dishes. It is regrettable to go to a restaurant that prides itself on its innovation and find the small plates and large plates so damningly boring that you have no inclination to order them and prefer to vapidly nosh on side dishes. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what we did. The $26 charcuterie and cheese plate was out of the question, as we had no desire to pay that kind of money and risk receiving skimpy portions of meat and cheese, none of which were prepared in-house. We shared an order of three “snacks” for $16: Deviled eggs with olive and fig tapenade, Catalan gazpacho with lobster croutons, and chicken liver mousse with a raspberry and parsley gastrique, plus a side of pommes frites, just for the hell of it. We also ordered two of their specialty cocktails of the evening, a pineapple mint mojito and a strawberry chile margarita.
The wine list is unreasonably off the charts. For starters, their glass prices are incredibly high, with $9 for a glass of 2009 Gazela vinho verde, a wine that can be bought in stores for $11 per bottle. Here, it is $30. Even in trendy New York establishments, I can’t think of a time when I was charged a restaurant markup of over 45% for wine, and good wine at that. So $10 for cocktails seemed like the better route, though not ideal. My cocktail was visually appealing, and touted as containing strawberry puree, Cointreau, silver tequila, and fresh jalapenos. I opted against a salt rim as I did not want the savory flavors to be too overwhelming. However, there was no trace of jalapenos in either a physical or flavorful form, and the strawberry puree was a mere afterthought on the back of my palate. All I tasted was my least favorite part of a cocktail- alcohol. Yogurty, thick, burning tequila and not much else. The drink was bitter and needed sugar, agave nectar, anything to save it from pure boredom. I stopped drinking halfway through because I was buzzed and tired of its one-noted flavor.
My companion’s drink was far tastier, with little nibbler-sized chunks of fresh pineapple suspended in the clear drink. It was palatable and fruity, with distinct ginger and mint flavors thanks to the quality of Foxon Park’s damned good ginger ale, and the flavors were cohesive and well-paired. The only problem was that this seemed to be a completely virgin drink. She experienced no alcohol buzz compared to my loud, brutish one, and found it a little strange that the flavors completely concealed the rum, leading us to wonder if there was more than a thimble full of alcohol in it at all.
Our server came by multiple times to repeatedly ask us, like an automated phone operator, if we wanted more than just snacks. She begrudgingly brought us delicious steaming popovers in a basket after we asked, but did not set the basket down and instead served us two and walked away. I felt as though if I’d asked for more, I’d have been reproached like a child. Instead, I savored mine, a fluffy, crispy delight resembling an edible balloon. Served with butter conservatively dusted with crunchy crystals of Hawaiian pink salt, I’d have been happy to eat this all night. These are complimentary, but handed out more conservatively than food in the Great Depression breadlines.
Our first two snacks came to the table in a beautiful presentation that delicately danced the line between rustic and fancy. The chicken liver mousse, served in a miniature mason jar, with a clear stripe of raspberry parsley gastrique on top, was the best of our selections. The raspberry compote provided a fresh and jammy contrast to the rich flavor of the mousse below. The mousse was plentiful, leaving about half the container’s worth after the bread was consumed. We had to ask for more bread to finish it.

However, the deviled eggs were pretty disappointing. In the aforementioned Connecticut Magazine article, I was looking forward to the “twinning” of flavors in deviled eggs served two ways, but I found that these eggs were both prepared the same way, with the filling dominated by a spicy mustard flavor and dotted with tiny kalamata olive specks. They were good deviled eggs, but this preparation was significantly dumbed-down from what was lauded in that and several other reviews. With this in mind, the eggs came across as sassless, neutered bites. A mere hint of olive was left at the end of the egg, and the fig had since fled the restaurant to seek greener pastures at Le Petit Cafe down the street.

After the mousse and eggs were brought out, the gazpacho was presented in a container resembling the top half of a martini glass set in a dish of ice. The presentation looked more appropriate for caviar, and came across a little twee for gazpacho. The soup was topped with microgreens and small chunks of lobster. No idea where the croutons came in. The soup was made well with a smooth flavor but was wholly unremarkable in any aspect other than its splashy presentation.
Our server came back bearing French fries and again asked us if we were interested in rethinking our position on small and large plates. Jesus, it was more complicated than buying a timeshare. No, we were not interested. She put down our fries in a huff and scooted out. Pommes frites were made to counteract the fatty richness of a steak or protein with a pillowy, starchy carbohydrate. Five dollars gets you a small bucket of conventional, thin French fries and two housemade condiments. The fries were stacked precariously high, like edible Jenga blocks, and inevitably fell on the table when I tried to release them from their greasy prison. I was unimpressed, as these fries looked like the smaller clone of those at Local Burger, which are tastier and come in three times the quantity for half the price. The condiments were piquant and unique, with a ketchup similar to Sir Kensington’s and a tasty, herbed malt vinegar mayonnaise. These were tasty, but served up in shot glasses with the ounces marked clearly. The condiments did not go above the one ounce mark, which looked rationed and cheap.
At this point, I should mention that our server had completely given up on us. This forfeit, coming from someone who forgot the word for plantains while dutifully intoning the nightly special, was pretty ballsy. The remainder of the dinner was spent trying to usher us out as quickly as possible, asking two more times if we wanted entrees despite our obvious irritation and refusal, and going as far as to give us our check while we were still eating after we had mentioned wanting dessert. This was unacceptable and rude, and if she was trained to rush dissatisfied customers out to make room for those who care to go whole hog, clearly The Suburban is relying on the good graces of those who are susceptible to pretension.
There are plenty of restaurants where I am happy to spend upwards of $200 with a generous tip, because their food is sublime and their service impeccable. I had hoped that The Suburban would become part of that list, but no such luck. I feel that, with the unprofessional service, poor attention to detail, tense environment, and lackluster menu here, it would be akin to going back to an abusive partner again and again and being continually disappointed and upset with what they had to offer. In spite of their high ratings from multiple reputable news agencies, I observed that the staff at The Suburban were rude and unaccommodating to other customers and didn’t seem to be able to fill many seats. If I were to go here again and drop my hard-earned money, it would be only my own fault for succumbing to their smoke and mirrors again.

UPDATE 9/16: The Suburban is CLOSED! Long live G-Zen!

The Suburban on Urbanspoon

Vosges Blood Orange Caramel Bar

We are Vosges groupies. Team Vosges, if you will. If they had a campaign trail or a tasting tour or twelve city, all exclusive tongue signing tour, we’d be following them the entire way. If they had a scandal that involved Oprah or accidentally sending out photos of themselves wrestling in chocolate and denying it or an underage chocolate bean, we’d defend them. We love their flavors and epicurean delights, be it a sundried tomato and paprika caramel or a lemon peppercorn chocolate bar. They are delicious. This particular bar debuted last year at the Summer Fancy Food Show, though for the life of me I cannot remember tasting it. Clearly we’d had too many milk-based Mexican cocktails and wine-flavored ice creams. It’s a bar that highlights flavors more commonly found in cocktails than in chocolate- blood orange, Campari, and hibiscus, melded together with a caramel base.
This is the ideal bar to give to someone who claims that they don’t like exotic flavors. Not because it isn’t exotic, but because I find that it’s approachable, yet less daring or scary than a chocolate bar with mushrooms or ramen noodles in it. And unlike the original Campari, this bar doesn’t include any cochineal insects- as far as I know.The bittersweet chocolate and blood orange caramel pair exquisitely together. There’s a fantastic burnt, bitter note from the intensity of the orange, almost like an orange oil flavor, along with the floral and herb flavors from the Campari. The only flavor I really don’t taste at all is the hibiscus, which is unfortunate as it would then be Keepitcoming’s new favorite chocolate bar. If it’s there, it’s very delicate and light at the end, after all the bitter and rich flavors have been sucked away.
While I applaud the usage of an ingredient like hibiscus in a chocolate bar, I find that when mixed with such intense flavors that deviate toward the heavy end of the spectrum, a floral taste gets washed away. I am also somewhat mixed on the blending of all the olfactory-heavy ingredients into a caramel. The Vosges caramel is one of the finest I’ve been privy to sampling, however, I feel that the textural integrity (LOL @ Hipsterette) is somewhat diluted by the lack of candied, chewy blood orange rinds and crunchy sugared hibiscus pieces, both of which could easily be added and mixed in a caramel with little finagling. No doubt about it, though, it’s a quality bar, just one that needs some tweaking for my personal palate if I’m going to fork over another $7 to eat it again.

Sucré Salted Caramel Gift Box

With its adorable boxes in colors reminiscent of Tiffany blue, lined in a chocolate brown clearly meant as a wink to its contents, Sucré New Orleans is the gastronomical definition of Southern genteel. Its offerings range from the tame, like chicory ganache truffles, to the thrilling, with confections like the sicilian pistachio and absinthe truffle, but always seem to be appropriate and fitting for any range of occasions.
Sucré recently sent us a few offerings, one of which happened to be their Salted Caramel gift box, chock full of goodies that eloquently displayed their range of expertise in chocolate making, baking, and gorgeous presentation. This box included a fifteen piece box of their Avery truffles, which features dark chocolate covering a chocolate caramel ganache with sea salt sprinkled on top, three of Sucré’s famous dark chocolate caramel cookies, and two flavored chocolate bars, salted pretzel and nibs ‘n’ brittle.
The cookies illustrated on their website looked large, but nothing could compare to the actual size of these behemoths. Seriously, they looked like edible Rai stones, but instead of a hole in the middle, there was an Avery truffle. I’ve long since attempted to get my cookies thick, chewy, and tall, and these were either baked in miniature springform pans or clearly beamed down from space. They are unworldly. The flavor is redolent with brown butter and the cookies are not shy about using salt as an accentuating component in their overall development. The dark chocolate drizzles on top of the cookie and the central truffle add a distinguishing textural difference to the cookie’s body. With the nutty, salty scent wafting up from the bag and the crumbly, cakey chew, these are not so much an assault to the senses so much as a duet with them.
After those cookies, which tasted freshly baked, the ensuing confections would have to be solid gold or rolled up dollar bills to compete. Luckily, their simplicity and quality ingredients were all it took. Sucré’s offerings rarely offend. While they aren’t necessarily as strange or unusual as other chocolatey offerings I’ve been privy to, they are always consistent in their usage of fine, locally sourced ingredients and generously proportioned quantities for your money. The chocolate bars are probably the best example of this general credo. I’ve previously reviewed the Sicilian pistachio and rose petal bar and with that in mind, tried these bars. The pretzel bar is a classic. In the past, I’ve seen it done with pretzel twists. I liked the pretzel stick idea, as it made the bar visually appealing in a classic geometric fashion, but there were far too few pretzels and far too much blank space in between them. One out of three bites had pretzel in it. When it was there, it was delicious. Crispy, slightly metallic, salty, and balanced perfectly with the chocolate. But other bites were just chocolate. Delicious chocolate, but not what was advertised and somewhat deadened by the lack of toppings.
The other bar didn’t suffer from this as much. It had a few different toppings, including a beautiful, glassy pecan brittle. In this bar, the salted element was much bolder. Then again, it was also lightly dusted with fleur de sel. This provided a sweet, non-astringent note to the creamy chocolate. I think this was my favorite bar of the two as it had a buttery, nutty flavor throughout and reminded me of a high-end Skor bar. I really loved the translucent amber-colored brittle.
The Avery truffles were delicate, bite-sized jewels sprinkled with a conservative, yet perfect amount of salt. Oddly enough, this was the least salted-caramel tasting confection of all the candies, yet was delicious in a unique fashion. Because the Avery isn’t so much a chocolate covered caramel so much as it is a chocolate covered chocolate caramel ganache, it had a dulled caramel flavor overall. However, mixed with the dark chocolate, it took on a flavor and consistency very similar to molasses mixed with the tang of salt, which we loved. It was a different take on a popular treat, and offered up some pleasant irregularity in the mix.