On a recent trip to Florida for some much-needed R&R, I had a familiar experience. Not 24 hours after arriving in Venice - a popular destination for “snowbirds” (such as my hosts, the Trents, who hail from Iowa) on the West Coast of the Sunshine State - I found myself standing in a gift shop surrounded by shells, shark teeth and, you guessed it, candy.
Try as I might to avoid making mental notes on all the national confectionery brands (like Jelly Belly and Madelaine) and regional novelties (like gummy alligators and chocolate crocodiles), the usual occupational hazard set in. I knew what I had to do. But having just arrived, I decided to complete my assignment in historic downtown Venice after enjoying a little sun (it made a brief appearance before giving way to cloudy skies) and surf (it was too cold to set foot in the water).
I headed back to West Venice Ave. two days later. Not having planned (er, hoping not) to do any reporting during my weekend getaway, I was forced to take crude notes (better than mental ones) on the blank second page of my boarding pass for that evening’s flight back to Chicago and, eventually, on lined paper from my friend Jessica’s Harry Potter notebook. (Unlike yours truly, Jess is always prepared.)
At Sea Pleasures & Treasures, I encountered a number of clever candies. Among them: Manatee Smoochies, Pet Crocodile Gummy Candy, Sour Brite Crawlers, Gator Droppings, Chocolate-Covered Sunflower Seeds and Bubble Gum Oranges. I got a bag of Florida Gator Poop Deluxe Chocolate Candy Mix (featuring the following instructions: “To reduce your calories, store your chocolate on top of the refrigerator. Calories are afraid of heights and will jump out of the chocolate to save themselves.”) for a friend back home and a stick of Alligator Bob’s Alligator Jerky for my dad (Bob).
I didn’t go for the Island Treats Simply Yummy Taffy or Florida’s Finest Key Lime Flavored Coconut Patties. Admittedly, I’m not a fan of either confection, but from experience, I know that Jessica loves the former, and she tells me the latter is delicious. (To each their own.)
Over at Venice Stationers, I discovered a section of collectibles featuring the catchphrase “Behind every successful woman is a substantial amount of chocolate.” There, I picked up several gifts, including a graphic pack of pocket tissues featuring the quote “I don’t need you. I have chocolate.”
Nearby, Nifty NicNacs offered several of the retro confections mentioned in last month’s Sweet Talk, such as Razzles, Bit-O-Honey, Mallo Cups, Chuckles and candy cigarettes, in addition to NECCO Sky Bars, Cow Tails, Pop Rocks and edible wax fangs. Also of note was a line of irreverent breath fresheners from The Unemployed Philosophers Guild, including Atonemints and Empowermints.
I opted for a small box of gum featuring a woman’s black-and-white headshot and the words “Bite Me.” I then physically stopped myself from making room in my luggage for a Tootsie Roll lunchbox, one of several vintage tins on display. (As consolation, I purchased a pair of Tootsie Roll Pops pajamas from Walmart, where I stopped to search, fruitlessly, for a hot pink Venice Beach hoodie. Best $16 I’ve ever spent.)
Then there’s Kilwin’s, a local-looking shop that turns out to have franchise locations nationwide (in Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Maryland, Tennessee, Virginia, Colorado, Wisconsin and even Orland Park, Ill.). Through the front window, passersby can watch workers coat caramel apples and make fudge - a “bestseller,” according to the cashier, that’s available in 18 (I counted) varieties. Other candy case items: hand-dipped pretzel rods, truffles in varieties like vanilla buttercream and cherri Suisse, and chocolate-covered favorites such as Oreos, Rice Krispy Treats, Twinkies and Nutter Butters. Shoppers also can choose from 39 original recipe ice cream flavors (I counted). Almost everything in the store is private label, including its wrapped Kilwin’s brand candy bars.
Although I love finding, buying and writing about candy, the highlights of my vacation were unrelated. Among them: sleeping in on a Monday morning, watching daytime Food Network, and enjoying a Bait Bucket margarita and slice of key lime pie at Sharky’s on the Pier.
My most memorable activity: a day-trip to The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota. If you’ve never visited this unexpected ode to the American circus, I encourage you to do so.
Then, take a walk down West Venice Ave. Have some gelato. Buy one of those t-shirts from Caribongo that changes color in the sun. And check out the local confectionery delights.Thanks to the Trents for hosting me during my stay: to Jessica for inviting me, to Cathy for feeding me (constantly) and to Bill for footing every bill. Special thanks to Jess’s grandmother, Therese, (affectionately referred to as “Simon,” as in “Says”) for her good humor - that waitress was no competition for your well-honed wit. I hope to see you all again real soon.