Allow me to state the obvious: Candy ain’t just for kids.
As a matter of fact, I’d argue that the majority of candy — and the plethora of candy stores that have cropped up in the past decade — aims squarely at the over-21 crowd. Sophisticated tastes (think buttery toffee flavored with curry and coconut, or chipotle and walnuts), rosé gummy bears, boozy truffles, M&Ms (and Kit Kat!) diversification, and the current explosion of dark chocolate-dipped everything are all ample evidence to back up my claim.
But it’s not just newfangled flavors that we crave; nostalgia also plays a part. Who among us doesn’t have the occasional yearning for a Bit o’ Honey or a Twizzler? I ate a few packs of Smarties a few months ago and I’m only slightly ashamed. Many candy stores carry both, the new sophisticates and the old reliable candies, enrobed in the colors of the rainbow and stacked in shimmering piles of metallic wrappers. Are you feeling the love? Leave the Halloween candy to the kids and check into one of these stores that cater to the kid within — and the full-grown adult with a raging sweet tooth.
509A Main St., Evanston
It’s a family affair at this longtime Evanston stalwart, where Bob Piron, wife Patti, and brother Fred have held down the fort for more than 30 years. They’re still tempering, molding, and filling the exquisite chocolates in the back of the store, and you can taste the difference in quality and freshness. Their insanely tasty English Toffee is a guilty pleasure; we buy bags of crushed toffee to add into homemade ice cream (or to sprinkle over store bought). Chocolate barks studded with nuts, crisp rice, and dried cherries are piled in neat rows, and they even make sugar-free varieties. If you’re feeling particularly flush, purchasing the Chocolate Tower (one pound of assorted chocolates and truffles, one pound of toffee, and a half-pound of chocolate-dipped glazed fruit) will make you everyone’s best friend.
3737 N. Southport Ave., Chicago; Water Tower Place Level 7, 835 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago; 5225 N. Clark St., Chicago
This local mini-chain has three stores (Mag Mile, Southport Corridor, and Andersonville), each of them a playground of sugar in its many seductive forms. Their particular shtick? Everyone has a “candyality,” or specific candy personality — competitive (sugary), negotiator (crunchy), creative (colorful), etc. — and they will help you discover which one you are, and of course guide you toward all the candy that fits you specifically. You’ll find 30 flavors of Jelly Bellys, 21 different colors of M&Ms, an international licorice bar (a polarizing flavor profile in the U.S., but beloved in many other countries), retro candies, movie-size boxes, celebrity truffles, and other candy novelties. “Chicago is the candy manufacturing capital of the world,” shares owner Terese McDonald.
1651 N. Wells St., Chicago
The Food Network has deemed it “the best spot for hot chocolate” in the country, and I can’t disagree. But we’re here for the candy: artisan chocolates carefully sourced world-wide, each more luscious than the next. Take, for instance, the (literal) wall of chocolate bars, where you’ll find Rococo from London (I’m crazy for the Basil & Persian Lime), Hungary’s Rozsavolgyi (try the Hot Paprika 77 percent bar), Marou from Vietnam (the Arabica Coffee Single Origin Bar is an eye-opener), as well as some closer to home (Dick Taylor, California; Ethereal Confections, Woodstock, Illinois; Brasstown, North Carolina; and more). In the case, chocolate bonbons from San Francisco’s Ricchiuti, Hanukkah gelt from Chicago’s own Veruca, chocolate barks, buttery toffees, peppermint bars, chocolate-covered nuts, and much, much more. Owner Kim Hack has a knack for finding the most special varieties of each item.
3855 W. Fullerton Ave., Chicago; 3253 W. 26th St., Chicago
A family-owned and operated concern, Dulcelandia specializes in Mexican candies at their three locations (Little Village, Logan Square, and Brighton Park). It’s become the go-to resource for the large local Mexican population with a taste for their homeland, as well as anyone with a sweet tooth and a healthy sense of curiosity. The flavors of coconut, chamoy, guava, chile, tamarind, and mango supplement American standard flavors of cherry, orange, lime, and lemon. Spicy lollipops, tamarind-flavored sweet shots, coconut rolls, mango powders, and more piñatas than you can possibly imagine make this a must-visit store off the beaten path.
663 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago
Life’s pretty sweet when you’re Ralph Lauren’s daughter, Dylan. So much so that she opened her first mega-candy emporium on New York City’s Upper East Side in 2001. A virtual explosion of rainbows and lollipops, it was an instant hit, spawning additional stores in New York, Chicago, Miami, and L.A. Currently, their Chicago store is in a temporary location on Michigan Avenue, but it’s still filled with all of the fantasy and wonder of the original. Candy Bar parties, tours, and events are a big part of the experience, with both personal shoppers and party planners on staff. Really crazy about candy? You’ll also find candy-themed clothing (socks, PJs, slippers, tees, bathing suits, and onesies), pet gifts, pillows, toys, and more.
2745 W. Armitage, Chicago
Logan Square has become the destination for delicious in Chicago, and this adorable storefront is at its epicenter. Confectioner/proprietor Katherine Anne Duncan makes gorgeous seasonal truffles (Cranberry Blood Orange and Brown Buttered Rum are two of this holiday season’s offerings, but there are new ones every month), soft caramels (the warmly spiced Mulled Wine + Ginger is a particular favorite), and pillowy marshmallows that pair beautifully with her hot chocolate mixes and make a delightful gift at any time of year. Everything is made in the open kitchen at the store. You can taste the love.
609 N. State St., Chicago
This Cambridge, Massachusetts, import came to River North a year ago, and we cannot get enough of their delicate Pâtes de Fruits (gasp … even a chocolate-covered version available), marzipan, chocolate-dipped fruit and nuts, and the breathtakingly adorable chocolate mice and penguins — which take 12 steps and three days to make. Their slow-cooked caramels are dipped in white, milk, or dark chocolate and flavored with cardamom, raspberry, vanilla, mocha, and other delectables. This artisanal brand has been around for more than 30 years, and the care they put into their products is evident in every bite.
175 N. Franklin St., Lower Level, Chicago
Tucked away in the basement of a Loop office building is a sweet secret that is well worth finding. Founder and candymaker Chris Kadow-Dougherty trained at the nearby French Pastry School, but has been obsessed with sweets forever. Her original Whimsical Candy, the La-Dee-Dah, is an addicting dark chocolate-dipped swirl of caramel and nougat, hand-crafted in small batches and now available in a dozen different flavors including peanut butter, raspberry, and espresso. You’ll also find charmingly displayed candy bars, caramels, marshmallows, chocolate barks, all made in-house, as well as vintage candy jars filled with gummy bears, sour candies, and the like.
3308 N. Broadway, Chicago
Life is “just a little bit sweeter” at Lakeview’s favorite candy store. John “Candy Man” Chester, co-owner of Windy City Sweets, was on site working behind the candy counter during a recent visit, and he’s every bit as friendly as you would expect a man whose life revolves around candy to be. Happy customers are the norm here amid the reams of decadent house-made fudge, mounds of chocolate-dipped S’Mores and Bacon Crunches, sour gummies, fruit laces, and stacks of golden truffle boxes. They’re known for their over-the-top gift baskets, an embarrassment of riches.
Julie Chernoff, Make It Better’s dining editor since its inception in 2007, graduated from Yale University with a degree in English — which she speaks fluently — and added a professional chef’s degree from the California Culinary Academy. She has worked for Boz Scaggs, Rick Bayless, and Wolfgang Puck (not all at the same time); and sits on the boards of Les Dames d’Escoffier International and Northlight Theatre.