L.A. Burdick Handmade Chocolates has had a big year.
The Walpole, N.H.-based company, known for crafting European-inspired bonbons for a devoted following in New England, marked 30 years in operation. Its head chocolatier, Michael Klug, also celebrated 15 years with the confectioner.
But Klug, who started his career in Germany three decades ago, said he doesn’t think about it.
“Very quickly (L.A. Burdick) became my home, and I feel like I’ve been here forever,” he said. “It’s really a wonderful place, a wonderful product that we do.”
He and the rest of the L.A. Burdick team hope that sentiment will build in the Midwest with the opening of the company’s fifth location in Chicago’s River North neighborhood last month. Klug said the Windy City, with its strong dining, confectionery and food manufacturing traditions, was an obvious choice for its first store and full-service café outside of the Northeast.
“From all the cities in the United States, Chicago has a fantastic gastronomical vision, and we think that the food lovers of Chicago would embrace us strongly,” he said.
So far so good. When Candy Industry visited the 1,000-sq.-ft. store on North State Street in early September, curious customers perused the bonbons on display and sampled L.A. Burdick’s drinking chocolate, which will likely be in demand once another brutal Chicago winter arrives.
The store’s location is just as appealing as the bonbons themselves. L.A. Burdick is nestled between other high-end retailers in a two-story, Victorian-style building on North State Street that stands out among the sleek skyscrapers surrounding it.
And that’s exactly what Klug likes about it.
“Of all the locations that our retail stores occupy, I personally like the Chicago building the best,” he said. “It is very charming, and the facade is intriguing.”
On the inside, sage and gold wallpaper and warm wood accents invite customers to try one of L.A. Burdick’s desserts, such as the Burdick, which features layers of meringue and chocolate ganache, topped with crumbled white chocolate and pistachios. Customers can also sip drinking chocolate — available in White, Milk and Dark Chocolate — from the 25-seat café.
The real stars, however, are the European-inspired chocolates made at and transported from L.A. Burdick’s facility in New Hampshire. Free of preservatives and artificial colors and flavors, the bonbons are piped, cut, garnished and packed by hand.
Klug and his team pair chocolate created from Criollo and Trinitario cocoa beans with refined yet unexpected ingredients. For example, the Richelieu bonbon features a milk and dark chocolate exterior with cherry liqueur, cherries and cumin seeds, while the Orinoco bonbon includes dark and milk chocolate ganache, Caribbean spices, rum and cocoa nibs, enrobed with dark chocolate and sprinkled with nibs.
And don’t forget the mice — one of L.A. Burdick’s signature creations. These little, enrobed creatures have ganache at the center, two almond slices for ears and a silk ribbon tail. They’re available in White, Milk and Dark Chocolate varieties.
“People will really embrace it with joy and look at the creations, the variety of wonderful, small pieces of chocolate and combinations of flavor as a really special treat when visiting here,” Klug said. “I think it’s something that will be well-remembered.”
To celebrate L.A. Burdick’s anniversary, Klug also developed a special collection featuring past favorites and bonbons designed to represent the company’s future vision. Set to be in L.A. Burdick stores this month, the collection includes the Plum Truffle, plum dark chocolate ganache with Slivovitz-marinated dried plums, and the Grand Marnier Petite Chocolate Gateaux bonbon.
Representing the future, the Cascara Latte bonbon features a dark chocolate filling flavored with coffee cherry and a white chocolate filling with coffee flavor, all coated in dark chocolate and ornamented with white chocolate to resemble latte foam.
“That was a product you could not even get your hands on 15 years ago, and now it works wonderful with chocolate,” Klug said of the coffee cherry. “It’s very exciting, and I can’t wait for it to finally be in the stores.”
When asked if Klug would develop sweets specific to Chicago and the Midwest, he said he wouldn’t rule it out, noting he needed to become more familiar with the area — and the customers — first.
“I’m really looking forward to meeting our customer base here in Chicago that knows us already from our mail-order program,” he said. “And I’m really looking forward to making a lot people here in the area happy with excellent chocolate.”