Hot Chocolate at Kilwins, Baltimore, USA

photo 5

Baltimore is known as the Charm City and after having spent a couple of days there I can definitely see why. Charming is the perfect word for it. Walking along the waterfront past a range of ships and boats, an old power plant has been turned into one of the most beautiful book stores I have seen (if you go inside you can still see the structure of the old power plant). If you keep walking along the harbour, past Little Italy, through Harbor East and into historic Fells Point, that is where you will find Kilwins.

photo 2 copy 2

photo 2

I had a hard time finding Kilwins, or rather a hot chocolate along the waterfront, as charming little pubs with busy terraces are what is popular here rather than coffee/chocolate shops. I was actually on my way back to the hotel to take a taxi to the airport when I stumbled upon Kilwins. I was a bit hesitant at first, because Kilwins is your typical looking sweet shop. They have an icecream counter (which was very popular today), with the display case filled with fudge, toffee and caramel and lots of salt water taffy chews. There were chocolates of every shape and size in flavours such as blue cheese toffee, bacon maple and stout beer. Near the window a young man was making candy apples and crunchy brittle fresh.

photo 5 copy

photo 3

I, again hesitantly, ordered a hot chocolate. With all of the sugar surrounding me I was worried it would be too sweet. But I was very pleasantly surprised. I ordered their sea salt caramel hot chocolate and loved it. The sea salt caramel rather than making it taste sweeter actually seemed to round it out and just make it so easy to drinks. I drank every last sip of it while sitting on the docks, watching the Baltimore waterfront and a steady stream of locals dressed in orange Orioles t-shirts walk by (there was a big baseball game today apparently …).

photo 1

photo 3 copy

photo 4

Verdict: Surprisingly nice treat…choose the sea salt caramel and take it over to the waterfront to enjoy.   Kilwanis, 1625 Thames Street, Baltimore, USA

Hot Chocolate at Francois Payard Bakery, New York City, USA

Resize of IMG_4568

There is no shortage of good hot chocolates in New York City. There is no shortage of anything really in New York City. This city attracts some of the best from around the world and luckily for the locals, some of the best pastry chefs. Francois Payard is one of those pastry chefs. His CV says it all, pastry chef in Paris at La Tour d’Argent, at Lucas Carton, at Le Bernardin, all set him up to be named Pastry Chef of the Year by the James Beard Foundation in 1995. And this is just the tip of the iceberg really.

Resize of IMG_4559Resize of IMG_4565

IMG_8053

So as we walked towards his West Houston St. location between Soho and Greenwich Villiage, expectations were high. It was 8 am but there was already a steady trickle of locals coming in for their morning bread/coffee/pastry fix before starting their day. The space was much smaller and cosier than I expected. Around the entrance there were shelves covered in little boxes of multi-coloured macaroons, beautiful chocolates coated with colourful designs, copies of Francois Payard’s multiple cookbooks. On one side of the door there was an old waffle machine and Kitchenaid Mixer, neither I suspect have worked for a long time, but were a lot of fun in that environment. The counter was, as you would expect, jam packed with all sorts of deliciousness; éclairs, tarte au citron, crème caramel, mousse au chocolate, whatever you had a craving for, sugar wise, it was here and looked perfect. Along the walls there were large towers of macaroons, examples of the kinds of fancy cakes you could order for a special occasion.

IMG_8047Resize of IMG_4558

Screen Shot 2014-07-10 at 11.13.07

There were, however, a couple of things I didn’t like about this little spot, things that would be so easy to fix. The staff this early Sunday morning had chosen rap and hip hop with a lot of swearing as background music for the day and it was really far too loud, so loud in fact it felt more like a night club than a Sunday morning. On top of that, and this is a big thing for me, all the drinks were presented in paper cups, regardless of whether you stayed in or took out. Hot Chocolates in paper cups to me taste like paper cups rather than like hot chocolate, and for a business that is all about quality chocolate, it was a tough one to swallow.

The hot chocolate, even with of these things fighting against it, was beautiful. It was rich and creamy yet still light and airy. It was not a thick hot chocolate as I had expected, but rather a perfectly light option to start any day with. It has a slight malty taste, not too sweet, not too chocolaty, very subtle and satisfying. Mine was made with water but the woman at the counter did mention that if I preferred it could be made with milk. I ordered a small (which in a large paper cup was enough to satisfy probably 3 people).

IMG_8051

Verdict: A very nice hot chocolate but bring your earplugs…and your favourite mug to make it perfect.  Francois Payard Bakery, 116 West Houston St., New York City, USA

Hot Chocolate at Bouchon Bakery, New York City, USA

IMG_8086

As I have mentioned in blogs before, NYC is the playground of world famous chefs and pastry chefs, many of whom open little bakeries that tempt us and make us crave delicious French pastries all the time. If you are in the vicinity of the Rockefeller Center, start at Bouchon Bakery first before mixing and mingling with the tourists.

Bouchon Bakery was created by superstar chef Thomas Keller and executive pastry chef Sebastien Rouxel, both with impressive CVs. They have a handful of these bakeries around the country in the cities where Chef Keller’s restaurants are.

IMG_8076

IMG_8079

Since our hotel was conveniently close by, over the course of 4 visits we tasted many of their stunning desserts. All tasted just like the best versions of the real deal straight from Paris (but with a slightly more NYC price tag). The lemon tart with meringue was to die for, the éclairs were perfect to grab and eat on the go. They also made these little brownies in the shapes of corks and called them, as you can guess, bouchons (French for corks). Each was individually packaged and I lost count of how many of those I ate. I also tried the almond chocolate croissant which was so good I ate the whole thing before I even took a sip of my hot chocolate. They even have treats for dogs including a dog bone/pastry made with foie gras. Ah those pampered New York City dogs…

Screen Shot 2014-06-22 at 20.45.57

IMG_8087

This morning was Mother’s Day, and from our seats inside of the bakery we had a view of an outside studio that had been set up for the Today show. They were filming about 10 mothers getting pedicures and massages live to air. The public were waving signs wishing their mom’s happy birthday and hoping that the cameras would see them and transmit their message across the US.

My hot chocolate came in a paper cup….this seems to be a theme in bakeries in NYC, even with famous owners. I think it might be because of how everyone seemed be consuming their drinks here; on the go. I found this hot chocolate was very nice, light and easy to drink. Although I will note that each time I had it it tasted a little different, sometimes a bit too watered down, so the quality was inconsistent. But it was a nice hot chocolate and I will be back again…

Screen Shot 2014-06-22 at 20.45.36

IMG_8091

Verdict: They have a beautiful terrace outside surrounded by bushes that block the view of the traffic but still give you a view and feel for the area. Definitely grab a chocolate brouwnie bouchon (or 2…or 4) and a hot chocolate. Bouchon Bakery, One Rockefeller Plaza, New York City, USA

Bouchon Bakery on Urbanspoon

Hot Chocolate at the Rodeo, Houston, USA

IMG_6901

When March comes around, all everyone seems to be talking about in Houston is Rodeo. This makes sense of course because the rodeo in Houston is big, big like Texas, seriously big. When I first arrived in Houston I was disappointed that there weren’t any cowboy hats and cowboy boots to be seen on the streets, it just isn’t that kind of place despite its location. But one month a year everyone dusts off those boots and hats, puts them on and heads over to the Rodeo. In fact this year 2.48 million people attended the rodeo! Yup, they don’t do things small here.

IMG_6882

IMG_6903

IMG_6905

There is so much to the Houston Rodeo that it would just be impossible to fully describe it here. In one area you have the livestock shows happening during the day. Cows, pigs, goats all being brushed and prettied up and showed off. Sheep dogs compete to see who can round up 3 little sheep the fastest. In another corner several sheep, horses, cows and pigs are just about to or have just given birth surrounded by an audience of fascinated adults and children. There is a large area with stores to buy yourself a cowboy hat, boots, jackets. Outside are a selection of large tents are filled with food, in particular BBQ including giant turkey legs that look like they have come straight out of the Flintstones. Beyond that there is a large area with an amusement park that has almost every ride you can imagine. There is another arena with horse shows and races, and smaller one with little pigs racing around a track. Then of course there is the main attraction that starts every night at 6 pm and goes until late in the stadium, the rodeo itself. To start, there’s the nightly competition, which is a couple of hours of bareback riding, team roping, saddle bronc riding, steer wrestling, barrel racing and mutton bustin’ and then a concert to finish off the night. To top all of that off there are all the side events, a wine festival, a chili cook-off, trail rides, parades and the list goes on and on and on. There is really no shortage of things happening during rodeo time.

Screen Shot 2014-05-12 at 11.15.42

 

 

IMG_6888

So as this is a hot chocolate blog, I just had to find a hot chocolate so I could share the rodeo with you. Unfortunately, the one thing rodeo is not about is hot chocolate, and the one I found and bought was so absolutely disgusting that we didn’t even drink it, and the stall didn’t even have a name on it. To be honest I have no idea what was in the cup. But really people don’t go to the Rodeo to drink hot chocolate…unless they had some special Rodeo hot chocolates. BBQ hot chocolate, hot chocolate flavoured with BBQ ribs, or maybe even come with a little juicy rib to stir through it. Fried hot chocolate, Twinkie hot chocolate, the options are endless…very possibly all incredibly disgusting…but endless.

IMG_6910 IMG_6911  Screen Shot 2014-05-12 at 11.16.56

Verdict: A million reasons to visit Houston Rodeo. Hot Chocolate isn’t one of them…but that’s ok. Houston Rodeo is a crazy thing. Houston Rodeo

 

Hot Chocolate at Southside Espresso, Houston, USA

IMG_3923

Houston has fallen in love for coffee and fallen hard. Not for watery, non descript coffee, for real coffee. I am indifferent, completely, but this has made my other half, who will (strangely) choose coffee over hot chocolate any day, very very happy. There have been several new and very good coffee shops open in Houston which we have been trying out one by one. The latest on our list has been Southside Espresso.

Southside is like a secret, but not a very well kept one…the steady stream of foot traffic going in and out of this tiny little coffee shop is proof that as much as we would like to keep this place a secret it is perhaps much too late. It is also perfectly located between Uchi (very good contemporary Japanese) and Little Bigs (incredible pulled pork sliders) to make it an important stop before or after lunch, dinner or anything really.

IMG_3927

IMG_2878

Owner Sean Marshall opened this spot up late 2012 where he does his own roasting under the Fusion Beans brand. He also serves a wide selection of bottomless pots of loose leaf teas, a sommelier has chosen a selection of red, white and rose wines served by the glass and of course there’s some good ales on tap.

Inside it is tiny. Tiny, but full of good things. The beams in the ceiling have been painted with all sorts of colorful intricate designs. There is a cute terrace outside with a few tables and chairs. As with lots of good spots in Houston the tables are usually occupied by one or two students who seem to move in and stay for the whole day surfing the internet. Somehow though, our favorite table, the one just out front near the door, is always free when we visit.

Screen Shot 2014-03-08 at 14.41.44

The other day we asked them how they make their hot chocolate, “ We make it in house, chocolate, a bit of vanilla and milk”. As we walked away he laughed and finishes up “ and plenty of sugar!”. He wasn’t joking. The hot chocolate at Southside is sweet, too sweet for me. But if you like your hot chocolate sweet, you will quickly become a fan of this little spot.

But I will never forget this hot chocolate, not for its flavor but because it is truly a work of art. The baristas always turn the milk and chocolate syrup into incredibly elaborate designs. I basically pay the price of the hot chocolate just to see what they will draw on it and am, understandably, disappointed the few times I just get plain froth. To see just some of their creations check out the pictures on their Facebook page.

IMG_2882

IMG_2880

Verdict: I’m still in the search for some really good hot chocolates in Houston and am hoping some of the coffee shops that put so much time and effort into offering incredible coffee, tea, wine, beer will take up the challenge. Southside is close…maybe a bit less sugar? Southside, 904-C Westheimer, Houston, TX, USA

Hot Chocolate at Maxine’s, Bastrop, United States

IMG_6703

Bastrop is a small town right on the banks of the Colorado River near Austin. It was named a Distinctive Destination in 2010 by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, in recognition of the City’s work to preserve its historic character, promote heritage tourism and extend its welcome. We visited recently, and found that it does all that so well.

Bastop is really cute. Not only does the city have more than 100 historic homes, most of them beautifully restored, but the main street is straight off a movie set. In fact several movies were filmed here including the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Hope Floats, The Tree of Life, Bernie, A Perfect World to name but a few. This is what I imagined all towns looked like in Texas, but better.

IMG_6711

IMG_6699

Maxine’s Cafe is at the centre of it all. It has been named as one of the 40 best places for breakfast in Texas by Texas Monthly magazine and one of the 40 best small town cafes in Texas. Their menu had all the Texas classics. Home baked buttermilk biscuit topped with a scrambled egg and bacon with gravy, or a bowl of stone ground grits with your choose cheese, cinnamon, brown sugar, raisins, blueberries or pecans on top. If you want something a bit bigger you can have chicken fried steak or a stack of twelve pecan praline griddlecakes served with a quarter pound pile of bacon. I was tempted by Milgas which is blend of jalapenos, onion, tomato and corn tortilla strips, eggs, bacon topped with cheddar cheese and serviced with flour or corn tortillas and a nice cup of hot chocolate.

My hot chocolate arrived at the same time as my meal and a water served in a large jar with a straw in it. The hot chocolate was too sweet for my taste but I can see how it would be a popular staple around here.

Screen Shot 2014-03-07 at 13.36.35

IMG_6697

Screen Shot 2014-03-07 at 13.36.04

After all that food it was easy to spend the rest of the day wondering around the town. The tourism office had some really good guides for walking tours you can do yourself. Down the street was an old drug store that still serves homemade sodas. My favourite thing about Bastrop though were the wild chickens.  A few blocks away from the main street is a small street that recently became a Historic Chicken Sanctuary to protect the flock of wild chickens that have long called this area home for many, many years. Signs have been put up all along the road to let drivers know not only that they have entered the Farm Street Sanctuary but that they need to slow down to avoid running over one of these special chickens. Random I know, but I loved it.

Screen Shot 2014-03-07 at 13.37.13

IMG_6723

Verdict: Good food, welcoming atmosphere and really friendly staff.  They are known for their breakfast, not their hot chocolate and I hope I will have the chance to come back for more. The people of Bastrop are lucky. Maxine’s Café, 905 Main St. Bastrop, Texas.

Hot Chocolate at Mercantile, Houston, USA

IMG_2837

Houston needs more areas like Rice Village, areas where you can park your car and walk around and have access to stores, bars, restaurants and cafes. I’ve always liked Rice Village but lately we have been visiting every Saturday morning early, and that reason is to visit Mercantile.

Mercantile Rice Village

We have been going to Mercantile since day one, since it was shiny and new. From the outside it didn’t look like much, in fact they still had the sign above the shop from the store that used to be in that space. Since then they have added some new signs and several spots to sit outside surrounded by some large potted plants. Very nice by Houston’s terrace standards.

The inside is one large room with an ordering counter and cash register right in the center. On the right side there’s a series of glass display plates covered with freshly baked goods from local Angie’s Bakery; the pain au chocolate and almond croissant are both surprisingly good and a necessary part of our weekend. On the left side of the counter sits a beautiful coffee machine. It is stunning and worth visiting Mercantile just to admire it from all angles.

IMG_2830 IMG_2831

The rest of the space was and still is a little bit sparse, but we have been assured that this is just the start, that the space will soon be packed full with delicious goodies. All the food items they currently carry are from either fantastic companies or even better, fantastic local companies. They have cheeses from Houston Dairymaids (ohhh so good) and chocolate from Voges (see here for a review of their hot chocolate in New York). Apparently a wine and beer license is also on the way too, which will make this our definite go to spot.

IMG_2833 IMG_2834

The hot chocolate here at Mercantile is pretty similar, if not exactly the same as the one from Catalina Coffee (same owners) I reviewed last year, but somehow I enjoy it more here, and that despite the fact that it is served in…oh the horror…a paper cup. Because they are operating under a grocery license at the moment, they’re only allowed to sell dairy products for take away, and that unfortunately includes my hot chocolate. But I don’t mind. It is beautifully creamy, the creamiest hot chocolate I think I have ever had. “It’s the milk” the barista told me the first day we went. The milk comes from Mill King, a family run farm in Waco Texas that produces low temperature pasturized non-homogenized milk from a range of happy, grass fed Holsteins, Brown Swiss and Jersey cows.

We have now been to Mercantile for a hot chocolate and almond croissant easily dozens of times. Every time they have different staff working. At this rate it will take over 100 visits before any of them notice we are regulars! Each one prepares my hot chocolate slightly differently too. Some will give it a quick squeeze of a magical homemade vanilla syrup they have, not a lot, but just enough to make a difference. Sometimes it has a bit more chocolate, other times a little less. The hot chocolate tastes best on a cool (by Houston standards) morning,  sitting outside on one of the chairs early before the Rice Village shoppers arrive.

IMG_2839 IMG_2842

Verdict: Mercantile is a great little spot and I think once it is filled up a bit more and possibly maybe also has a few tables and chairs inside to enjoy drinks it will be full, all the time. My only request, maybe a second hot chocolate on the menu? A rich and chocolately one? Houston (and I) need that. Mercantile, 54-7 Morningside Dr, Houston, TX, USA

Hot Chocolate at Mozarts, Austin, USA

IMG_5962

Austin is a fabulous city. I wish I could spend more time there. If I could, I would become a regular at Mozart’s Coffee Roasters and Bakery. Not so much for the Coffee Roasters part however….or for the bakery (although they do have some delicious looking goodies and a good pumpkin pie).

IMG_3163

IMG_3164

First I would become a regular because Mozart’s has the best terrace I have seen in a long time. They have several huge wooden decks, surrounded by giant oak trees, allowing you to sit right along the bank of Lake Austin. Despite a large number of tables being taken over by university students studying on their computers, there were still plenty of tables for the rest of us and the weather was perfect, not just to sit outside, but to enjoy a warm drink…a hot chocolate perhaps?

“Do they have a hot chocolate?” is always my first question. To answer this, Rich went inside to check and came back a few minutes later. They don’t have one hot chocolate…they have a whole menu of hot chocolates! What is this? Could it be true that we have, just by chance, stumbled on a spot with a beautiful terrace and a menu of hot chocolates?!

IMG_5960

Here are the options; the standard hot chocolate is made from steamed milk and Monin dark chocolate sauce, and along with a White chocolate, a Mexican Hot Chocolate and a Hazelnut Hot Chocolate, are offered everyday on their fall menu. As if that wasn’t enough, they had another menu, a hot chocolate menu, which offered 6 other Here are the options; the standard hot chocolate is made from steamed milk and Monin dark chocolate sauce, and along with a White chocolate, a Mexican Hot Chocolate and a Hazelnut Hot Chocolate, are offered everyday on their fall menu. As if that special hot chocolates. There was the Pecan Pie White Hot chocolate which combines pecan pie flavour with white chocolate and caramel sauce. Peppermint Hot Chocolate was a combination of peppermint syrup, steamed milk and dark chocolate sauce. After Dinner Mint Hot Chocolate was minty green and chocolately goodness. There was a seasonal eggnog hot chocolate with eggnog flavour, steamed milk and white chocolate sauce, and last but not least you have the one I ordered, Pumpkin Spice hot chocolate with pumpkin spice, dark chocolate and steamed milk.

I loved my Pumpkin Spice hot chocolate. It had a warm pumpkin flavour, like fresh pie, with that little kick from the pumpkin spices like nutmeg and cinnamon. If that wasn’t enough to give me my pumpkin fix, I paired it with a piece of warm pumpkin pie with vanilla icecream on top.

IMG_5961 IMG_5965 IMG_5966 IMG_5967

IMG_5968

Verdict: I loved Mozart. Any place that has a hot chocolate menu deserves 5 stars…even more so when they have such interesting seasonal flavours. Mozart’s 3825 Lake Austin Blvd, Austin, United States.