If you live in Chicago and you rarely venture out to Rosemont, Ill., I've found a reason for you to start. And for those of you traveling through O’Hare -- this still being winter -- well, it’s just short train ride away when you're stuck at the airport.
Fashion Outlets of Chicago is a giant mall located five minutes from O'Hare, accessible on the Blue “L” Line and sitting just off the I-90. It's got 130 outlet retailers and counting, ranging from the Gap to Gucci and everything in between. Open since August 2013, it's the newest mall in the Chicagoland area.
And better still, if you're unsure about plans for Valentine's Day, it's got you covered.
I visited the mall on behalf of Candy Industry Magazine to get the latest on Valentine's Day offerings from three confectionery stops: Lindt, Lolli and Pops, and Godiva.
Up first: Lindt.
The Swiss chocolatier is known for its truffles – round chocolate shells filled with a creamy ganache and available in a variety of flavors. It also offers bars and imported European chocolate for travelers looking for a taste of home.
Lindt is notable for not using any food grade wax in its products, making a better-tasting chocolate with less sugar. It's meltier, healthier and tastier, as they say.
For Valentine's Day, they have a bunch of options.
The Sweetheart Gift Box gives you 75 truffles in milk chocolate, white chocolate, dark chocolate, extra dark chocolate and caramel for $28. The Be My Valentine Heart Tin is fully customizable with 25 truffles for $18.
For some more romantic flavors, try the Strawberries and Creme truffles and bar or the Grand Plaisir bar – white chocolate with strawberries and almonds – for a delicious crunch.
Lindt is also upping its game this Valentine's season with dipped strawberries – six large organic strawberries for $36, offered in the Lindt Chocolate Cafe.
This, incidentally, is a great place for a date. It sells frozen blended drinks that include actual Lindt chocolate blended in. Everything about it screams "dessert shop," and you get the feeling that you're meant to indulge yourself.
If you're looking for something a little quirkier though, you've got the novelty shop Lolli and Pops.
Lolli and Pops is everything you'd expect a novelty shop to be. A rack of giant lollipops grace the entrance and the inside of the shop is an explosion of cheerful colors.
Dedicated rooms for Wonka, chocolates, gummies and more encircle the shop. The walls and tables have themes like "retro" and "Harry Potter." There's something for everyone here, whether it's gigantic jawbreakers or oddly flavored sodas like Bacon, Peanut Butter and Jelly, and Buffalo Wings.
Specifically for Valentine's Day, you can pick from the Valentine's Day wall, which is stocked with giant Hershey's Kisses, chocolate rose, and teddy bears. Up at the register, there's a case of exclusive truffles in the shapes of hearts, lips and "love bugs," as well as signature red velvet and strawberry champagne flavored chocolate bars.
If you want an assortment of sweets, Lolli and Pops also offers a wide range of fillable containers that range from $13 to about $60 based on weight. You get the pick of the store and can mix and match however you want.
I'd recommend the chocolate-covered gummy bears.
And finally, there's Godiva for those who prefer a Belgian touch.
The chocolate case is where you'll find all the beautifully crafted truffles. The Strawberry Mousse Meringue has a refreshing crunch that's both sweet and light, while the Marzipan Heart has a rich nutty taste and the Dark Chocolate Ganache Heart is wonderfully creamy.
There's also, I'm told, the Sparkling Strawberry Truffle, which is evidently so good that it's sold out. But don't worry, the white chocolate truffle with strawberry ganache and a hint of champagne flavor will be back in time for Valentine's Day.
This year's Valentine's collection features packaging by artist Charlotte Gastaut. The designs are adorable – very pink, with birds and bunnies and cats out and about in the wild. Gastaut's art is both intricate and delicate. Just right for Valentine's Day.
Inside, there are Godiva's Cups of Love – a chocolate shell with fillings like Creme Caramel Cafe. It's deliciously light with a rich caramel flavor.
You can get Valentine's Day truffles – six for $16. Gift boxes go for $30 for 19 pieces, and $15 for eight, and the store will gift wrap. There's also the Satin Heart Box, which sells for $55 for 18 pieces from the chocolate case.
Most exciting are Godiva's chocolate dipped strawberries, which can be preordered and possibly delivered to a nearby location (contact the store for details). There are also berry cups, strawberry and banana kebabs, and berry cones.
And since you're reading this, I may as well let you in on a secret. The dipped strawberries are usually $7 each, but on February 12, the price goes up to $8.
It's because Godiva is good at making dipped strawberries, and they know it.
So why wait? May as well get those orders in now.