Having some chocolate is always better than having no chocolate, especially in stressful times like these.
If America has a chocolate belt, it’s probably in Pennsylvania — with the buckle somewhere around Hershey. This state can crank out chocolate with the best of them. And luckily, Western PA is blessed with a bounty of local chocolatiers and unique, charming candy shops. You can actually be that kid in a candy store!
Here are some of our favorite places to do just that:
Mon Aimee Chocolat, Strip District
I know a guy dating a woman from Venezuela, who went here and found her some chocolate not only from her home country — but from her actual hometown. That’s the kind of magic you can pull off at Mon Aimee Chocolat in the Strip. They’ve got chocolates from all over the world, from the mass market British candy bars that are weirdly superior to what we get here (Flake, Aero, Yorkie), to artisanal handmade items from the chocolate capitals of the world (Belgium). Or, stock up on chocolate-covered dried strawberries, or dark chocolate-coated pistachios, or a ridiculous array of real deal licorice. The only thing you won’t find in this charming store is the cheap stuff.
Chocolate Fusion Candy, Lawrenceville
This was The Chocolate Moonshine Company until fairly recently — maybe people were reading too much into the booze thing. Either way, their elegant chocolates and experimental approach to flavors are a good fit for Lawrenceville. And hey, you’re an adult, you can probably handle flavors like Smoked Whiskey, Irish Cream, Black Cherry Bourbon and Orange Bourbon. They’ve started making vegan chocolates too, built around the flavors of hazelnut, macadamia nut and smoked almonds. Once you start, you might as well get enough flavors to fill a gift box, so think of who needs a present (it’s okay if it’s yourself).
Grandpa Joe’s Candy Shop, Strip District
Every kind of ridiculous novelty candy imaginable, from Jelly Bellys to gummy everything — and some previously unknown to science — seems to be available in the towering, narrow aisles of Grandpa Joe’s. If you push on past their amazing soda selection, there’s suddenly a classier, more open space with beautiful chocolates under glass: Grandpa Joe’s Malt Shop, they call it, with milkshakes, ice cream and an old-timey soda fountain. (Or, if you need, say, 10 pounds of gummy worms, they can handle that, too — upstairs is the bulk candy).
The Milk Shake Factory, various locations
Okay, so the main attraction here is obviously the milkshakes. I still feel the sticky pull of the Jake Shake (hot fudge, cookies & cream, brownies), which were half-off whenever Pens winger Jake Guentzel scored. But to order a milkshake, you must first pass the Chocolate Bar, with rows of hand-dipped chocolate turtles, barks, chocolate-dipped strawberries, chocolate-covered pretzels, truffles and more. Because when you’re dealing with this much milk, you might as well make milk chocolate. The new McCandless Crossing location is open now, as is the original South Side spot, and one in Murrysville. The Moon location reopens June 19, and Cranberry June 26. Other locations, including East Liberty, Downtown and Oakland will reopen sometime later this summer, but no dates are set yet.
Sinful Sweets Chocolate Company, Downtown
Looks like we might need to stock up on forgiveness in bulk if these kinds of sweets are sinful. From Peanut Butter and Nutella Meltaways to Key Lime Creams, to Bulleit Bourbon Truffles, there’s a glorious array of indulgences and guilty pleasures here. They’re also known for selling jars of cookie dough, so there’s no turning back once you’ve gone down that road. Plus, they’ve got ice cream — which is just smart diversification.
Pollak’s Candies, Etna
This great big store has been crafting handmade chocolates in pretty much the same way since 1948, and gives Etna’s small, but walkable business district a distinct sweetness. They’ve got a pretty amazing array of truffles as well, from sea salt caramel, to toasted coconut, to dark raspberry. And in season, Easter bunnies. So many chocolate Easter bunnies.
Esther’s Homemade Candy, Carrick
Every neighborhood needs a place like this. We’re talking family heirloom recipes, giant copper kettles, hand-drizzled old-school chocolates — nothing strange or experimental. And that’s okay. Sometimes chocolate should bring you back to your Easter basket at age six, or whatever your best milk chocolate-dipped memory happens to be. This place opened in 1973, proving that every so often you just get things right the first time.