Treat or Treat

Take time to stop and eat the chocolate

I don't fear replication, but I do fear locals overlooking the stuff because it is local. To me it's old news, to the other food writers it's old news, too: Yes, the McElraths make the most amazing, bedazzling, show-stopping chocolates in town, and the sky is blue and the earth is cold, and which of these facts deserves a headline? To you it might be old news, too. Or it might be impossible to imagine doing your holiday shopping at Lunds, because what then? Why not just give your secretary a box of Ritz crackers? They're in the same aisle, after all... Since the smallest box of two costs less than $4, the nine-piece assortment around $11, and the 18-piece around $23, they're inexpensive enough to factor into normal celebrations, so why do we forget about them?

We forget about Sonny's ice cream, too, and their spumoni. Ever had it? It's one of those things that I feel like I write about too much, sometimes, and too little when I find someone who hasn't had it. What their spumoni is, is four kinds of ice cream, tumbled together like dreams on a good night: The splendid vanilla (made, like all their ice cream, from local, fresh cream from a single organic farm, and some of the world's finest vanilla, which costs them hundreds of dollars a gallon), here doctored with rum; then, a ghostly and rich chocolate-cinnamon ice cream that tastes spicy and lively; green, full, nutty pistachio that tastes inexplicably like custard; and then a dark-cherry, dark-rum ice cream that's all resonant and sweet. It costs somewhere between $4 and $5 a pint, depending on the store, and it's fantastic, and in practically any other town we'd have parades to celebrate it and Sonny's Spumoni Days, and such. But do we even know it's there? I met another group of people recently who called themselves passionate about food and had spent hours on the Internet hunting for the best truffle oil, and they had never heard of it.

How tight are the circles we run in, from job to gym to home, how great the constraints on our time, that these treasures--even in our grocery stores--don't pierce our consciousness? We finally got the mobility, the taste, and the cash we needed to appreciate all this great chocolate. Let's not take it for granted because it's local, or because we're too adult and doing that adult thing of taking the myriad small treasures around us for granted, or transferring all the possibilities for pleasure to children, or any of that.

Life is sweet: The award-winning chocolate of B.T. McElrath
Kathy Easthagen
Life is sweet: The award-winning chocolate of B.T. McElrath

Location Info


BT McElrath Chocolatier

2010 E. Hennepin Ave.
Minneapolis, MN 55413

Category: Retail

Region: Northeast Minneapolis

Oh well. I guess I should apologize here: This has run out of steam as a Halloween column. Maybe it's just as well, because even if you don't end up getting yourself something grown-up and chocolaty for Halloween (like maybe the Chocolate Kiss martini at the Imperial Room-- two kinds of Godiva liqueur and vodka in a chocolate-rimmed glass?), sometime before Thanksgiving we will see the debut of B.T. McElrath's ginger toffee. So you can appreciate the miracles of adulthood anytime this holiday season. I got to try this stuff pre-release: it's a dark-chocolate-robed square of brittle, real-butter toffee made with ginger and spice in such a way that you really only notice the ginger in a bit of burn and fragrance on the finish. Sophisticated stuff.

I got the advance ginger toffee by stopping by McElrath's chocolate shop, which you get to through a Maxwell Smart-style path, starting with a door that looks like it leads to an air vent, snaking through a series of underground passages, and braving more forbidding doors. At the end of this trek I found Brian, looking about as exhausted as an adult can look, surrounded by his Fancy Food show statuettes, which look like Oscars who have been pressed into food service, and forced to carry platters and wear toques. Brian said that on winning again last summer, fancy-food big shots kept coming by their booth and advising, in mock-threatening jokes, that the McElraths take care, because the heads of their food Oscars are easily snapped off. And how have things been since they got back from the show? "It's mania, it's mayhem, it's madness," says Brian. "It's like trying to push the Mississippi through a drinking straw."

And that's how it is, I thought, when you're a success, and an adult: All our lives are more and more like reined-in, and thus more quickly rushing, rivers. When they could be meandering streams dotted with bucolic chocolate islands.

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