So, you’ve got the hotel room lined up, dinner reservations have been made, but there’s a sweet little something that is missing. Could it be CHOCOLATE? Any special occasion like Valentine’s Day has a chocolate quotient to attain and naturally, a special town like the City Different has some excellent spots for picking up sweet treats. And since studies prove that chocolate is good for your heart (lowers blood pressure and cholesterol), any day can be a Valentine’s Day excuse!
A downtown favorite of Santa Fe is Todos Santos Chocolates. The charming whimsy of this shop demands a visit, and when you walk in, the pungent, sweet and salty aromas make you salivate as soon as you cross the threshhold. Located in the beautiful and historic Sena Plaza on Palace Avenue, Todos is a perfect example of the originality that comes with one person’s passion and creativity. Heyward Simoneaux opened this sweet cubbyhole in 2000, after moving to Santa Fe from the Big Easy, better known as New Orleans. His signature product, edible gold- and silver-leaf milagro chocolates, are a thing to behold. A glass case encloses delicious truffles, with flavors ranging from simple to exotic, and a chile-chocolate creation is often on hand (after all, this is NM!). There are toffees and caramels and nutty confections, as well as imported products from outside the confines of New Mexico. If you stop in on the way to the Plaza, the only difficulty will be eating “just one,” so let Heyward choose for you. I did, dark chocolate ganache with cracked black pepper, mmmmm! And you have to admire a guy who ignores the obligatory website and email in the 21st century; fine chocolates take time to temper, and email might make one hurry.
Just off the Plaza on the Old Santa Fe Trail is one of Santa Fe’s original chocolate shops, Senor Murphy. Neil Murphy, a fourth-generation candymaker from Ireland, opened his first shop in Sena Plaza (a chocolate vortex?) in 1971. While not known for Godiva-style creations, to Santa Fesinos who have been here a while, this was always the place to stop and buy English toffee in a festive box. And the bolitas, oh, the bolitas! Even my nut-hating sister loves those almond-dusted chocolate balls that go down so easy. Pinon nuts show up in a various forms, and chile chocolates have been on the “menu” for years. Classic glass jars with licorice all-sorts and hard candies abound, and the caramel apples taste divine, even as you worry about keeping your fillings in your teeth. If you don’t make it in before you fly out, there’s a kiosk at the Albquerque Airport (Gate A4) at which to stock up with New Mexico treats to bring home.
C.G. Higgins (also known as Chuck’s Nuts) is the official chocolate maker for Santa Fe’s 400th anniversary. What that means for chocolate, I don’t know, what it means for us is that we can eat ’em with the pride of an ancient destination! Driving north on St. Francis Drive, just look for the glass-fronted tower of C.G. Higgins on the east side of the street. Hand-rolled truffles are the main event, but nut brittles and several varieties of caramel corn are there for those who don’t want chocolate (who are you?). There’s a 4-6pm happy hour, with daily specials on coffee and chocolate drinks, and the wi-fi is free while you sip.
Also a bit further from the city center, you’ll find the Chocolatesmith. With a stated mission to make “honest chocolate,” this small shop is on Cerrillos Road, just south of Whole Foods Market. Owned and operated by Jeff and Kari Keenan, this is another business that grew organically from an apprenticeship to an ownership. The spicy dark chocolate flavored with chile is cleverly molded into a chile-shaped pate and then covered in a colorful wax that makes it an easy gift to transport safely – that is, if you can keep yourself from peeling the wax off and slowly but inexorably slicing off bit after bit until, whoa – it’s gone! A large variety of tasty treats is on display, and popular items include salty caramels and hand-wrought nut barks. The Sierra Blanca, lime white chocolate over ancho chile pate dipped in dark chocolate, will change your mind about white chocolate forever. There’s even a Chocolate Travel Guide for sale. Lunch at Whole Foods should be followed by a stop at this Smith!
Speaking of Whole Foods, if you know your sweetie will only eat organics, you can certainly get them here. After all, what self-respecting grocery store does not have chocolates right by the register? That Theo brand organic dark chocolate with ginger and rose was awfully tempting.
And once you’ve shared your chocolate fix, there’s one more thing you can do for your heart: Hold hands! Studies show that it slows your heart rate by 5 beats a minute, allowing you to stick around on the planet with your best friend a whole lot longer. Que bueno!