The Chocolate Factory in Seaside churns out sweet dreams.
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Among the joys of living in a new town are meeting new people, exploring new neighborhoods and finding new places to eat.
It did not take me long to discover The Chocolate Factory on Fremont Boulevard, just down the street from the Weekly office. What certified chocophile could resist the allure of a “chocolate buffet”?
Surveying the store’s offerings on my first visit, I zeroed in on the truffles, and went no farther than the Grand Marnier variety, named after the French orange-cognac liqueur. They were an instant favorite – I have raved about them to everyone I know. Creamy smooth, not too sweet and with a luscious, snappy-hard chocolate shell. They are totally evocative of the alcoholic drink, even though Cliff Wells, majority owner of the company, swears there is no liqueur in them. What they do contain is plenty of fresh cream and natural flavorings. For me, they now are a constant craving, and I have been disappointed more than once that the store has been sold out when I have walked from work just to buy some.
Other flavors of the ping-pong-ball-size orbs range from white Russian to Irish cream, from espresso to peppermint. The coconut truffles, coated in white chocolate and dusted with fine coconut, are particularly scrumptious. For the holiday season, the store added gingerbread, pecan pie and eggnog flavors.
(All sweets run $18.95/pound and $19.95/sugar-free pound; a 10-percent discount to senior citizens and members of the military for purchases of at least one pound.)
I also was drawn to the chocolate-covered orange peels. Not the familiar orange-jelly logs (though they sell those, too), but the real-deal peel – the labor-intensive stuff for which you have to boil carefully peeled peels in sugar water and then let them dry before coating them with chocolate. The company buys the peels, then enrobes them in chocolate. Delicious.
Sampling is encouraged, especially if you wonder what, say, a watermelon truffle tastes like.
And the chocolate buffet is enough to bring out the kid in anyone. Here is how it works: You take a flat wicker plate, line it with a plastic sheet of paper, don a plastic glove and proceed down the two-sided buffet, choosing what you want. There is everything from the aforementioned truffles and orange peel to giant peanut butter cups (they mix in white chocolate with the peanut butter to make it silky smooth, and there is a peanut butter-caramel version, too) to sinful nut-coated butter toffee, dark and milk chocolate.
The store has been in town a while, so I was surprised that when I mentioned my discovery to my colleagues, many never had checked it out. The same cannot be said for the rest of the county and the country. The company ships all over the United States and supplies various items to Safeway and Vons supermarkets in California and Hawaii, as well as to a large national department store chain that Wells declines to name.
The shop also is a popular stop on the senior citizens bus-tour circuit. In fact, my first visit was before Halloween, and the store advertised a caramel-apple special. It sounded great. But after a busload of seniors descended on the place for a tour, not one remained.
This is a great segueway into the caramel, though. Real cream is the secret, and you can taste it. The luscious goo is a foil for many treats, including the hefty turtles (try the macadamia nut) and my personal favorite, a “sand dollar” of almost-three-inch-diameter nonpareils, dark or milk chocolate, sandwiching a thick spread of caramel that oozes temptingly out the sides. Oreos, eat your heart out.
A little history: Verne Ricketts and several partners started the company in 1987, with headquarters in Sand City. It moved a few years later to its current Seaside location and became The Chocolate Factory (Monterey Bay Chocolates is the corporate name the company sells under). Though the company was sold four years ago, Ricketts still works there, handling retail sales and special projects.
The company uses chocolate imported from Germany – four tons in November alone – and California fruits and nuts whenever possible, and everything is made from scratch, according to Wells. Oils used in the goodies are organic and not hydrogenated, he says.
“Our goal is we don’t put anything unnatural in our product,” Wells says, noting particular pride in the company’s caramel.
“I will stack our caramel against anybody’s.”