Home-Town Favorites for Valentine’s Day

Posted: January 29th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Beverly, Danvers, Gloucester, Marblehead, Marketplace, Salem, Sweets and Treats, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | No Comments »


Looking to score extra points on Valentine’s Day? Skip that box of prewrapped chocolates from the drugstore and head to one of these North Shore favorites. You’ll get better quality, more interesting choices, and personalized service—all while supporting your local chocolatier.

Harbor Sweets
If your sweetie likes all things nautical, you cannot go wrong with Sweet Sloops, an addicting confection of toffee, pecans, and white and dark chocolate. There are many other sea-themed chocolates available from the tiny Harbor Sweets factory in Salem, and they can be purchased in almost every North Shore town, including Shubie’s in Marblehead, Henry’s in Beverly, The Partridge Tree Gift Shop in Danvers, Connolly’s Pharmacy in Hamilton, Bruni’s in Ipswich, LuLa’s Pantry in Rockport, and Valentine’s in Newburyport.

85 Leavitt St, Salem
(978) 745-7648

Pride’s Crossing Confections
This converted train station on Route 127 is the place to go if you need gifts for a variety of tastes. The shop is jam-packed with everything from bags of chocolate covered potato chips and pretzels to cases of fudge, truffles, soft-centers, and white chocolate-covered confections. Don’t miss the famous turtles (seven varieties) and buttercrunches, all hand-made on premises.

590 Hale St, Prides Crossing
(978) 927-2185

Stowaway Sweets
It doesn’t get much more charming than this tucked-away shop in a former mansion, where the chocolates are extremely high quality and you can select each piece that goes in the box. Do not, under any circumstances, skip the meltaways.

154 Atlantic Ave, Marblehead
(781) 631-0303

The Cocoa Belt
This elegant shop is a new favorite, both for its selection of delicious truffles in sophisticated flavors like black forest, cappuccino, and champagne and its ability to improve on perennial favorites like peanut butter cups and scotch kisses.

58 Maple St, Danvers
(978) 774-4332

Turtle Alley
Known for its luscious turtles, this local maker also stocks an impressive supply of fruit slices, caramels, and fudge. We are especially fond of the kicked-up versions, including spicy peanut butter cups and almond chipotle turtles.

91a Washington St, Gloucester
(978) 281-4000
Museum Place Mall, Salem
(781) 740-0660


Sweet Times in Danvers

Posted: November 10th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Cocoa Belt, Danvers, Goodies Ice Cream, Sweets and Treats | Tags: , , , , , , | No Comments »

Wandering around Danvers Square last weekend, we were surprised and delighted to discover two terrific places for after-lunch treats, one newly expanded and one new to us.

Goodies has been serving up ice cream for six years, but we’d never been inside and were delighted to find a 1950s-style décor with a wonderful selection of ice cream, soda-fountain drinks, and desserts. In addition to flavors like chocolate peanut butter chip, falcon crunch, and chocolate walnut, there is yogurt, sugar-free, soft service, and sherbet, plus fun candy toppings. We tried two seasonal flavors, including pumpkin (think pie) and apple crisp (with great caramel flavor). Prices range from $2.59 for an itty bitty to $4.61 for a large.

We’re planning a return trip to sample some of the shop’s other offerings like freshly filled cannoli, churros, chocolate-chip-cookie sandwiches, and, of course, the fried dough sundae.

Just down the street The Cocoa Belt is newly expanded, run by Theresa and Mark Whitman. Theresa was there with her adorable four-month-old the day we visited, and she couldn’t have been more welcoming. The shop features a line of fresh-made, hand-dipped chocolates ($21.95 per pound) that we found top quality and delicious, especially the coffee cream and the chocolate dipped fudge. The shop is known for delighting patrons with almost-lost traditional confections like scotch kisses as well as new traditions like black forest truffles and cranberry clusters.

Theresa, whose love for chocolate might have something to do with growing up in the Nichols family, makes the chocolates in the couple’s Essex home and packages them in a workspace adjacent to the shop. The workspace is also where she holds birthday parties and candy-making classes for children and adults.

In addition to Theresa’s confections, the shop features Lake Champlain bars in a variety of cocoa percentages and a line of letterpressed, hand-made cards. Both Whitmans are looking forward to their first holiday season in the new space, and we are looking forward to returning to support this talented entrepreneurial couple.

46 Maple St, Danvers
(978) 762-4663

The Cocoa Belt
58 Maple St, Danvers
(978) 774-4332


Harbor Sweets Chocolate Factory: No Golden Ticket Required

Posted: June 19th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Harbor Sweets, Salem, Sweets and Treats | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments »

We didn’t see any Oompa Loompas, but there is a working chocolate factory just a few blocks from Salem center, complete with vats of chocolate, copper kettles full of hot sugar, and a (small) waterfall of white chocolate.

Many North Shore residents are familiar with Harbor Sweets, makers of the famous sailboat-shaped Sweet Sloop: a triangle of almond buttercrunch covered in white chocolate and dipped in dark chocolate and crushed pecans. But few are aware that the company offers free tours of the factory on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11:00 to 12:00. The company is also happy to accommodate groups (like Girl Scout troops) almost any time with a reservation.

One of the great things about the tour is that despite having been in business for 36 years, Harbor Sweets is still a very small operation. So rather than viewing production from a catwalk above a factory floor, you get an up-close look at the cooking, tempering, molding, wrapping, and packaging of the company’s sweet treats, which is done mostly by hand.

Our tour started in the best way possible, with a platter of rich chocolates to sample. Sweet Sloops are in the middle, at the bottom are Sweet Shells (dark chocolate with an orange crunch), and around the edges are a sampling of Dark Horse molded chocolates. While munching, we watched a short film about the company, which Ben Strohecker began in his basement—he challenged himself to create the best piece of candy in the world, regardless of cost.


We progressed on to a room filled with vats of melting chocolate (dark, milk, and white) and saw where batches of caramel for Sand Dollars and almond buttercrunch for Sweet Sloops are mixed by hand in copper kettles as they cook. The caramel is dispensed in dollops on large table, and when the temperature is perfect, a ringing ship’s bell calls all nearby workers to quickly press on pecan halves before they’re completely cool.

Another room holds the production line for finishing their signature candy. Triangles of cooled almond buttercrunch receive a coating of white chocolate top and bottom, and the sail is created by hand with an iced tea spoon. Finally, the pieces are dipped in dark chocolate and crushed pecans to become Sweet Sloops.

Finished chocolates are fed into one of three antique foil wrapping machines and packaged into bags or boxes by hand. The tour ends at the factory’s small store where you can purchase boxes of chocolates as well as individual bars, ice cream toppings, and Sail Mix.

Not only are Harbor Sweets’ chocolates something special, the people behind the candy are as well—warm, welcoming, and very enthusiastic about creating a quality product. Everyone we met was happy to share the experience with us.

Production varies due to season (late fall through Easter is the busiest time), so if you go during the summer, we suggest calling ahead to find out what’s happening on that day— although the facility is fascinating to see any time and truly a New England original.

Harbor Sweets
85 Leavitt Street, Salem
(978) 745-7648


Sweet and Hot Hits the Spot

Posted: April 1st, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Gloucester, Salem, Sweets and Treats, Turtle Alley | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments »

A longtime listener of WFNX, my ears perked up a few weeks ago when DJ Julie Kramer and The Sandbox were on air waxing rhapsodic over chocolates from Turtle Alley, a chocolatier with locations in Gloucester and Salem. I looked up the company online, and one glance at their press, which includes kudos from the omnipresent Rachel Ray, made me realize that we at the Dish were apparently the last people on earth to find out about the infamous turtles.

Eager to rectify the situation, we headed over to the Salem store, located in the unfortunate Museum Place Mall, to try the tasty terrapins. The store’s owner, Hallie Baker, handcrafts the chocolates in small batches with the freshest ingredients available and offers an impressive variety of turtles, barks, peanut butter cups, and other confections. We appreciated the fact that the turtles are available made with almonds, cashews, pecans and even macadamia nuts. The chocolate was rich and even, and the caramel was soft and buttery.

Like many chocolate makers today, Baker isn’t afraid to experiment with interesting taste combinations, the results of which piqued our taste buds as well as our interest. While the basic turtles were enjoyable, the real stand-outs were the spicy peanut butter cups and the almond chipotle turtles.

The peanut butter cups start out subtly, and then the mix of smoked paprika, cayenne pepper, chipotle, and a secret blend of spices create a warm, almost autumnal infusion of taste. The heat in the turtles is more straightforward, provided by a layer of chipotles and adobo tucked in between the chocolate and the caramel. When you bite into that, you’ll know it. Nowhere is the spice overwhelming, though—we found the savory combination of sweet and hot balanced and quite pleasing.

If spicy chocolate isn’t your thing, Turtle Alley’s other offerings range from solidly respectable to wonderfully delectable, the fleur de sel caramel and the chocolate-covered coconut being the most memorable. The company’s line of candy fruit slices blow away the supermarket variety—we tasted the new pomegranate flavor, which was juicy and flavorful.  Turtle Alley’s motto is “Life is short. Sin a little” but after tasting some of these confections, a little might not be enough.

Turtle Alley
91a Washington St., Gloucester
(978) 281-4000
Museum Place Mall, Suite 110, Salem
(978) 740-0660


’Tis the Season

Posted: December 3rd, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Marblehead, Stowaway Sweets, Sweets and Treats | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment »

“As with most fine things, chocolate has its season. There is a simple memory aid that you can use to determine whether it is the correct time to order chocolate dishes: any month whose name contains the letter A, E, or U is the proper time for chocolate.”   -Sandra Boynton

With the holidays upon us, we have an excuse to talk about one of our favorite things—chocolate. And while they may not be an avant garde artisan shop, there is something about the experience of walking into Stowaway Sweets in Marblehead that remains incomparable.

A trip to Stowaway Sweets is literally like walking into the past; the store has been in operation since 1929, and little has changed since then. You push open the garden gate under the old wooden sign, walk down the winding path past the goldfish pond, and enter through the heavy wooden door into a feast for the senses.

The aroma of freshly made chocolate is intoxicating, pretty wrought-iron and glass cases hold a mouthwatering selection of treats, and vintage light fixtures and framed letters adorn the walls. The letters are proof of pedigree: these chocolates were favorites of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, and even Queen Mary. (Being film fans, our favorite story is that Katharine Hepburn used to order them as gifts for friends every Christmas)

The candies themselves are still hand-dipped on premises using high quality rich, smooth chocolate and fresh nuts, and the variety is stunning. The crisp chocolate bark, the excellent caramels and the gorgeous truffles all vie for our attention, but the star of the show is the famous meltaway. Some argue over whether the milk or dark variety is favored, but biting into that firm chocolate with a light dusting of sugar into the creamy, melt-in-your mouth center makes trying both on a regular basis essential, if only to keep the debate alive. The chocolate dipped nuts are also exceptional, and the flowered mints make very pretty hostess gifts or special occasion favors.

For chocolates of this caliber, Stowaway’s treats are reasonably priced at $22 per pound. Best of all, you can hand select each chocolate going into the box (several sizes available). Imagine a box with just your favorites, whether it’s dark chocolate or creamy centers. Gift wrapping is available at no extra cost. (Be aware that pre-boxed candies are all that’s available between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, due to high volume.)

Shopping at Stowaway feeds not only your inner chocolate demon but also your craving for long-gone days of quality goods proudly sold by those who created them.

Stowaway Sweets
151 Atlantic Avenue, Marblehead