Cacaopod & I were in New Orleans (NOLA) at Lent this year. It was just a coincidence timing-wise, but lest you think New Orleans quiets down after Mardi Gras, during our 5 days there, we experienced 3 parades: St. Patrick’s Day, during which it seemed every other tourist was wearing a green T-shirt; St. Joseph’s Day, in which guys in suits kiss women on the street and give them carnations; and the Super Sunday Mardi Gras Indian parade, in which the African-American Mardi Gras krewes parade around in their amazing feathers-and-beads get-ups, talking up their leaders while talking trash about each other and posing for pictures.
As always when we travel now, we checked out the local chocolate scene. After eliminating all the praline and other traditional candy makers, the artisan chocolate scene in NOLA was surprising small for a place with strong French connections. Nothing that approaches the SFBA chocolate scene, let alone Paris: we found two chocolatiers, but one is amazing and worth seeking out. The other is fun and funky.
I’m going to guess that one reason the artisan chocolate scene is so small is the weather. Summers in NOLA are hot and humid enough to melt people; bonbons don’t stand a chance. But in mid-March, it was sunny and beautiful with highs around 80 every day. Perfect chocolate shopping weather.
Uniquely NOLA souvenirs & holiday gifts
(UPDATE August 2017: Blue Frogs Chocolates has closed.) Ann & Rick Strieffer opened Blue Frog Chocolates, a gourmet confectionery, in 2000. At Blue Frog (5707 Magazine St., near the New Orleans zoo), we met Ann, who runs the store and kitchen, and Jeanine, their chocolate artist, as she was decorating chocolate bunnies for Easter.
Traditional chocolate holidays (Valentine’s Day, Easter, Christmas) aren’t the only crunch time for Blue Frog. According to Ann, Mardi Gras is becoming big: “At Mardi Gras balls, people get called out to dance. It’s becoming customary to give a little something to the person called out, so now we do lots of favors that get handed out at the balls.”
Blue Frog seems a natural choice for Mardi Gras favors due to their wide range of uniquely Louisiana-themed molded and dipped chocolates. They also seem ideal if you want to bring back chocolate souvenirs from NOLA. What puts them head-and-shoulders above typical French Quarter candy shops is the high quality of the chocolate they use, sheer variety and several unique options.
Their unique treats include:
- Chocolate-dipped Zapp’s Cajun Crawtator Chips (a local potato chip).
- Red Beans and Rice, which is a mix of red Milkies (their version of M&Ms) and chocolate-covered sun flower seeds in white candy shells.
- Molded chocolate in shapes like fleur de lis, Mardi Gras doubloons, crawfish, crabs, and alligators.
Their big sellers are a mix of traditional Southern, artisan and sugar-free chocolates, which use a sweetener that doesn’t leave an aftertaste, according to Ann. Popular sellers include chocolate-dipped apricots, lemon bark (which uses white chocolate), peanut butter cups, pecan caramel patties (AKA tortues, French for turtles), coconut clusters, rum raisin (which is a typical New Orleans flavor), and macadamia patties (which they only do in sugar-free, but Ann said they are very popular even with people who don’t usually eat sugar-free candy.)
We took home an assortment to sample. Our favs were the tortues and Figaro truffles. The tortues were a good balance of chocolate, caramel and pecan. We could taste all the elements, and they were all tasty. The Figaro melded hazelnut paste and dark chocolate into a smooth tasty piece of fudge.
Other samples didn’t work so well for us. While the chocolate used in everything was delicious, the combinations weren’t subtle enough for us. I think it might be a case of personal preferences, but for us, the sea salt caramels were too salty. Other chocolates like the Champagne truffle and mango puree truffle were too sweet. And we didn’t care for the seed-y rum raisin.
However, with their comprehensive offerings, I know everyone can find something they love at Blue Frog. The store is jam-packed with chocolate. It’s impossible for me to list everything they have, even their website doesn’t include everything in their store, but in addition to their dipped and molded chocolates, bonbons and truffles; they also have their own range of chocolate bars, hot chocolate, and chocolate sauces; plus imported chocolates, pralines and marzipan.
And if you’re looking for NOLA-themed chocolates, check out Blue Frog. Even the nonpareils are speckled Mardi Gras gold, green & purple.
Ice-cold chocolate interlude
While it wasn’t blazing hot while we were in NOLA, it was hot enough after a day of walking and gawking to require some cold refreshment, which we found at Creole Creamery (4924 Prytania St., 2nd loc: 6260 Vicksburg St.). No chocolates, but Creole Creamery is a local ice cream parlor that prides itself on unusual and seasonal flavors, such as fig & goat cheese, green apple & celery, chicory with Oreo bits, sweet potato sassafras praline, and on and on. That would be cool enough, but they won me over with an entire cold case of chocolate flavors.
We got the 4-scoop samplers to try as many as we could. The day we were there, the assortment available was: Chocwork Orange, Chocolate Malt Chip, I Scream Fudge!, Peanut Butter Fudge Pie, German Chocolate Cake, Mexican Hot Chocolate, Chocolate Amaretto Cheesecake, and Dark Chocolate. They were all delicious, but I especially liked Chocwork Orange (dark chocolate with strong orange flavor), Mexican Hot Chocolate (which had a nice warm “burn” in the aftertaste), and Peanut Butter Fudge Pie (a creamy peanut butter/dark chocolate combo).
If you’re in NOLA, and the weather says “ice cream” (which is most of the time), make the trek to Creole Creamery.
If jazz were chocolate
UPDATE: Sucré closed June 2019. It has reopened under new management as a café/dessert shop in 2020.
If you only have time for one chocolate stop in NOLA, head to Magazine St. in the Garden District and visit Sucré, (3025 Magazine St., 2nd loc: 3301 Veterans Boulevard, near the airport). In business 4-1/2 years, Sucré covers the seasons with gelato up front, pastries and coffee drinks in the middle, and artisan chocolates in the back of the shop.
A lot of attention to detail has gone into everything at Sucré from the fixtures to the packaging to the decoration on their chocolates. It’s an enjoyable experience.
With the help of a very knowledgeable sales person, we bought an assortment of bonbons and one of their beautiful chocolate bars in their pretty die-cut packaging. She threw in one of their barks too.
When everything looks so pretty, I worry if the taste has been sacrificed for looks. At first, my fears seemed justified. The dark chocolate bark is packed with pistachios, pecans, almonds, cashews, dark cherries and cranberries. There was so much in it that we didn’t taste the chocolate (horrors!). Then we tried the pretty pistachio & candied rose petals in milk chocolate bar, and found the tastes too subtle, leaving us eating milk chocolate (boring).
I feared the worst was yet to come because Sucré’s bonbons looked like the perfect gift chocolates: interesting-sounding chocolates in pretty decorated shapes in a pretty box. Would these be the feared coffee-table chocolates: To be admired, not eaten, lest you risk breaking a tooth?
We enlisted our fellow CBTB chocolateers, Martha & Michele, to help us sample the box. Splitting each bonbon 4 ways made it possible for us to eat an entire box of chocolates in one sitting(!), although it might have altered our experience of the chocolates.
But we didn’t care because the experience was very good. We had picked chocolates based on 2 things: they had to have dark chocolate shells (personal bias) and be unique/signature tastes. There were more than enough choices in the store to fill our 15-piece box.
Every chocolate is a trip
We started with the white & yellowed swirled Kalamansi (Indonesian lime). It’s a bright, balanced chocolate with a very smooth, consistency. The aftertaste was very chocolate-y, not bitter.
We next tried the Absinthe, which looks like a green marble. It had a liquor smell, but the taste is hard to describe and closer to the taste of chocolate than alcohol. The most interesting thing about it is that you can feel the flavor on your tongue more than taste it. An unusual sensation, but not unpleasant.
The chicory bonbon is sprinkled with gold and smelled like cheese, but tasted fruity/woody/chocolate-y with milk at the end. Kind of like a Café du Mond coffee.
The wedge-shaped Gianduja crunch (Italian hazelnut paste, crispy wafer and caramelized cocoa nibs) is a chewier, crunchy chocolate. It had an interesting texture with a slightly perfume-y ending.
The pretty purple port chocolate is one of their best sellers, and a nice example of Sucré’s subtly complex tastes. It’s not overpowering, and it moves you through its different tastes: you taste the chocolate first, then port, then chocolate again. A balanced, beautiful pairing.
The green-topped Sicilian pistachio is another one of their taste journeys: you taste cinnamon first, then pistachio, then a mint aftertaste. Made with a white chocolate ganache, it reminded us of pistachio ice cream.
Their signature chocolate, Sucré dark, is a single-origin chocolate from Maracaibo region of Venezuela. It has a distinctive taste, smooth and sweeter than the other chocolates, with a floral hint like Jasmine and a buttery aftertaste.
The tastes of the pyramid-shaped rum raisin are balanced with a back ‘n forth between the raisin and rum flavors. The raisins give the ganache a texture, but they are so finely chopped that it’s a fine-grain texture, not seed-y. Kudos to the Sucré kitchen for their ability to pulverize raisin seeds.
It struck us as funny that of all the bonbons in the box, the peanut butter & jelly bonbon is not a square. Inside the lozenge, there’s a layer of strawberry jelly over the peanut butter ganache. It really tasted like a PBJ sandwich, we even detected a bread taste. One of us declared it, “The best peanut butter thing I’ve ever had.” We like Sucré’s sense of humor.
The fleur-de-lis shaped Meuniére is a simple and creamy chocolate with a browned butter-flavored ganache.
The square Madagascar 64 with the trail of caramelized cocoa nibs across the top is a 64% chocolate ganache flavored with vanilla covered in dark chocolate. It took longer to dissolve than the other bonbons, and had a grainy texture with strong vanilla overtones. “Vanilla heaven,” according to a CBTB chocolateer.
The lilac bunny was part of their Spring collection. It’s a dark chocolate soft caramel, not too sweet, but we thought it could use a stronger chocolate to offset the caramel.
The Magnolia (pecan ganache in dark chocolate sprinkled with candied pecans) was understated and smooth. The pecan taste came last and lingered with hints of praline or pecan pie.
The Avery salted caramel looks like chocolate dim sum. The salt used comes from Avery Island in Louisiana, best known as the home of Tabasco sauce. This was a soft-spoken chocolate with a consistent taste all the way through. The caramel tasted different than the bunny caramel. It was salted caramel done right – subtle and not too salty.
The only chocolate in the pack that didn’t win us over was the last one we tried. The pop-art peppermint patty was chewy and chalky, not special. I would skip these next time. Luckily there are plenty of other options like the malted milk palet d’or and the grand coeur that await discovery.
Our wholehearted recommendation
If you’ve read this far, then you probably know, we love Sucré. If you’re ever in NOLA, seek them out. Their chocolates are beautiful and delicious. We liked the subtle surprises they held. We would expect one thing before we tasted the chocolates, and they would go in another direction. There were definite beginning, middle and end notes; and they were never too sweet or too salty.
If they were based in SFBA, they would be on our Recommended list. As it is, we recommend you visit them in NOLA or on their website.