‘Tis the time of year when gifting becomes a sport– finding the perfect something, whether it’s bits and bobs to fit all the holidays peppering the December calendar, New Year’s host (or designated driver) gifts, or Valentine’s Day sweet somethings– present buying can be a tiring test of endurance. To make things easier, we’ve highlighted a duo of new drop in, point, and go sweet shops. People love little bites of sweets and the best part is, treats disappear. There’s nothing to dust, nothing to dig out and put on the mantle the next time you visit.
Beauty and the Treat: Elegant indulgence at new sweet spot Mmelo
My mother ruined my taste for “natural” sweets. A patron of natural food co-ops before Whole Foods was even a blip on the landscape, my mom would take me into these little hole-in-the-wall joints filled with bulk food, sprouts, and macramé plant holders. She promised me a treat and would hand me a bag of chocolate chunks to munch on while driving through the back roads of Vermont. Psych! It wasn’t chocolate, it was carob and it was gross and musty and tasted like dirt, and it destroyed my pre-teen self’s trust in natural sweets.
Mmelo changed all that the minute I walked into the airy, light shop. Owner Michelle Allen smiled behind a white counter topped with little seducing sculptures promising bites of delight. After pop-ups at Easton and the North Market, as well as selling her wares at the Columbus Museum of Art, Mmelo has found a permanent home. With gorgeous tea cakes with spin-art chocolate coatings, to bars filled with deep tones of cranberry and orange pops of papaya, to the signature marshmallows swirled with colors of raspberry, chocolate, and tangerine.
Branded as “clean candy,” every bite is made with non-gmo, whole food, natural ingredients that can be pronounced by the average patron. Make sure to try the White Chocolate Splendor bar with candied almonds, dried cranberries, curry, cocoa nibs, and the mystery of black salt. “I am on a mission to redeem white chocolate,” laughed Allen. She celebrates full cocoa butter white chocolate and scoffs at the waxy, tasteless imitations that litter the landscape.
Allen, a Columbus native, spent 12 years living in Barcelona and lovingly remembers the corner shops that trafficked in deep-flavored coffees, precious cakes and sweet bites, and moments of repose. With its blush walls and wood slat accents, fresh flowers and little pots of greenery anchoring the tables, the numerous white two-tops are perfect for a mid-afternoon téte-a-téte or a solo reading date.
Mmelo offerings and their painstaking beauty are the result of Allen wanting to eradicate the connotation of natural sweets = ugly, the same image I floated in my mind’s eye since my early years of carob wrangling. Anyone who receives a bundle of tasty beauty from this impeccable shop will fall in love… with the flavors, the looks, and you.
Mmelo can be found on the corner of Vine and Wall streets, in the Carlyle Building at 445 N. High St. —Kim Leddy
The Reckless Abandon of Chocolate: Fudgin’ Around With North Market’s Newest Chocolatier, Cococat
Melissa Camp makes chocolate. That is the four-word end result of years of struggling through strange jobs, raising her son, and existing as an entrepreneurial vagrant. There was even a point where she struggled with the central concept of “fudge” as if existentially there’s something deeper to be found in the act of deciphering fudge’s meaning.
“People would come up to my stall and see that I was selling fudge and turn away, ‘Oh, I don’t like fudge,’ and I’m like, well, don’t be afraid, we’ll try some together. After awhile though, we just decided to call it chocolate. People aren’t afraid of chocolate.”
Cococat embodies Melissa’s twin passions of teaching and experimentation. She has taken something many consider a hack novelty and elevated it to art. Fudge– for many people– is this gooey, undercooked bar of amusement park decadence, something you feel guilty buying and eating, knowing deep down it’s mass produced and mediocre. Melissa’s chocolate is the exact opposite; a fiercely unique, hand-crafted experience on what chocolate is and can be. With preposterously strange sounding flavors like French Tarragon, Red Fall (a meat rub spice blend), Moroccan, Chai Latte, Thai Basil Coconut, Pilpelchuma (North African Spiced with Garlic) and Jamaican Curry– these spices are pushing our concept forward of what chocolate demands of us and that fudge doesn’t have to be something you only eat at a Flea Market.
“Pilpelchuma took months to perfect– we worked with Ben at North Market Spices to create this perfect blend. We really worked tirelessly to create something… new.”
And “new” is an under statement, the Pilpelchuma has such an intense and unique flavor that is immediate. Sweet and savory spices give the chocolate a deep aroma and the first bite leads you to the star, the bold flavor of garlic. To bite into a piece of fudge, and to come out of the experience with garlic on your palette is altogether incredible, bizarre and eye-opening. It simply works, it shouldn’t, and it barely makes sense as to why it does, but garlic and chocolate work.
Melissa’s favorite of her chocolates is her French Tarragon, a play on a steak béarnaise sauce.
“We originally started with safe flavors and I just…” Melissa paused for a moment, “I get very bored. So you look for the thing that makes you different. I bought the Jamaican curry one night for a chicken dish I was making for my husband and I…I just decided to dump the spice mixture into a batch of fudge. This is my reckless abandon.”
Cococat has a temporary stall for the entire holiday season in the North Market, with the possibility of securing its own Market spot in the future. She’s selling her fudge with a variety of other products like Moroccan baking chocolate, truffle fudge, and drinkable hot coco. Visit her stall and don’t be afraid to try something new, she’s ready and willing to help and happy to try some with you.
Cococat occupies a pop-up at the North Market through the holiday season. Keep up with the Cococat experience by following the confectioner on Facebook. — Matthew Erman
Fancy Chocolates: Le Chocoholique
Growing up, my stocking was stuffed with Hershey bars (dark chocolate, thank-you-very-much) and Kit Kats (those layers though!). Then came the Toblerone years—it’s Swiss, it’s subtle and yummy, and projected a certain sort of sophistication that young people writing poetry in coffee shops try to embody. Eventually, everyone grows up and starts getting real about their vices. For cocoa-heads, this means finding a serious chocolatier and worshipping at the display case of its confections. Le Chocoholique in the Short North has been the gateway to prestige chocolates for Columbusites since 2010. Featuring tasty barks, wee chocolate candies in shapes ranging from fleur de lis to hearts to tiny chocolate coffee cups filled with ganache and flavored with Tessora Limoncello, to bonbons filled with tiny shots of liquor, a collection of these treats shows your chocolate bonafides.
Visit the 601 N. High St. shop to peruse the delicacies, or order online at lechocoholique.net.
Classic Chocolates: Anthony Thomas Chocolates
For many who grew up here in Columbus, the name Anthony-Thomas is synonymous with sweet treats. Around in some form or another since the 1930s, Anthony-Thomas gets all the love for its unforgettable take on the quintessential local treat: the peanut butter and chocolate bite of team pride, the Buckeye. This place caters to all needs- from the basic tin, to a truffle-filled chocolate Christmas tree, to actual towers of treats. Additionally, the shops also offer sugar-free chocolate collections. Truly make chocolate the cornerstone of a gift-giving experience by taking a tour of the 152,000 square foot facility– an amazing walk about that gives visitors a close-up look at the nine production lines that make up to 30,000 pounds of treats per shift.
Find an Anthony Thomas in all corners of the area, from Westerville to Powell, by logging onto anthony-thomas.com. The candy factory tours take place at 1777 Arlingate Lane on Tuesdays and Thursdays, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. If you decide to bring the whole family, groups over 10 need to call first: (877) 226-3921.