On a weekend trip to my old high school stomping grounds, I popped inside one of my favorite shops in burgeoning “Uptown” Normal, Ill., which is undergoing a reconstruction that has the streets torn up, but businesses still in operation. Although old standbys such as Abe’s Candy Store (best-remembered for its chocolate chip cookie ice cream sandwiches) are gone, I was happy to find The Garlic Press still kickin’. It’s even expanded to include a café that looked pretty busy, despite the economic downturn.
Stepping inside, I was greeted by the familiar sights (and appetizing smells) of the eclectic gift shop/kitchen supply store. Comical notepads, sterling silver jewelry, stylish chef’s aprons, tasty cooking marinades, unique wall hangings, quotable magnets, irreverent greeting cards, collectible action figures … and candy. (Much like the store once run by retailer-turned-confectionery-historian Beth Kimmerle, as described in this issue, The Garlic Press is anything but boring.)
I first spotted a display featuring Brightspot Brand’s functional Gimme chocolate line: Gimme Probiotics, Gimme Calcium and Gimme Omega 3. More novel offerings included Bite the Bullet Bullet Shaped Mints and hotdog-shaped bubble gum.
The Garlic Press isn’t the only local specialty shop to offer confections. Nearby Bloomington, Ill., (the two towns run together) plays host to Chocolatier, Inc., which sells both chocolate and gourmet candies, some in bulk, as well as fillable gift baskets and tins. Bloomington-Normal also is home to Nestlé and Beer Nuts plants, so residents are no strangers to chocolate and snack production.
My summer stop in B-N brought back other Midwestern confectionery memories …
As a kid growing up in Muscatine, Iowa, I often enjoyed an afternoon treat at the Wilton Candy Kitchen in nearby Wilton, Iowa. The soda fountain, which sits on the National Register of Historical Places, recently celebrated its 150th anniversary and has been in the family since 1867. Today, 77-year-old Thelma Nopoulous continues to construct the sandwiches. Her husband, George, 89, still makes the ice cream from scratch. An array of nostalgic, old-time candies can be found in the display case opposite the lunch counter.
Then there’s Goumas Confections in Newark, Ohio, where my parents now reside. Run by brothers Socrates and Greg Goumas, the confectioner recently opened a second store in nearby Granville, Ohio. Last spring, I swung by the first location with my family to find frenzied shoppers scooping up last-minute Easter baskets. (It was there that my father hand-selected items for my own lamb-themed one.)
Where do I find confections in my now sweet home Evanston, Ill.? Until recently, I frequented Ethel’s Chocolate Lounge, where I celebrated my 30th birthday over strawberries, marshmallows, pretzels and sponge cake dipped in luscious chocolate fondue (and enjoyed an Earl Gray truffle, on occasion.) Now that it’s closed, I’ve been on the lookout for a new local favorite.
Last month, I got my first taste of Illinois Nut & Candy in nearby Skokie, Ill., whose chocolate peanut butter cups are to die for. Then there’s Belgian Chocolatier Piron (just three blocks east of me), where European chocolates are a tradition.
I’ll soon be checking out Windy City Sweets in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood, where my childhood friend Jessica works part-time (she recommends the s’mores, fudge and turtles). Another Lakeview confectioner, Candyality, is the place to go for all brands as well as gift-worthy merchandise. (Who wouldn’t want a Tootsie Roll lunch box?) Meanwhile, Vosges’ Lincoln Park and Michigan Avenue stores tackle both salty and sweet with their chocolate bacon bars.
Then there’s Chocolate Potpouri in Glenview, Ill., just north of Evanston and south of my office in Deerfield, Ill. After sampling the retailer’s cinnamon and ancho chili truffle, I may have found my match.
I’m not the only one with confectionery memories to savor. In this month’s Q&A, Kimmerle recalls her history with family favorite (and Chicago icon) Fannie May. Her memories of the famed confectioner run deep … as does my own candy-coated past.