As I approached Chocolate Lovers’ Club at 11:55 a.m. on a windy February day, I knew that its owner, Joanne Reilly, would be showing up momentarily. What I was surprised to see was that I was not the only one waiting at the door for her to arrive. Apparently, the word is out, and people are waiting in line to get into this the chocolate lovers haven in Princeton! People make the pilgrimage from Philadelphia to the Jersey Shore and then some, to this palatable palace of all things cocoa.
I knew my conversation with Reilly would take more than just two minutes, so I sat myself at the counter while she helped with the party planning for one customer’s child. I honestly had no idea that they threw chocolate parties here, too! (Chocolate covered birthday celebration anyone?) What I did know is that Chocolate Lovers' Club is not your ordinary chocolate shop. It’s your one-stop shop for all things chocolate, including a gourmet cocoa-infused restaurant experience on Thursday and Friday nights that’s not just desserts! (Reservations suggested, BYOB.)
Chocolate Lovers’ Club also hosts chocolate tasting events, such as chocolate and wine tastings, chocolate and beer tastings, chocolate-cheese pairings, and even chocolate and cigar evenings. (You have to check their event schedule on their website to see what’s coming up next!) Then there’s the whole chocolate indulgent evenings with authors concept, and you can even take chocolate making classes.
“The thing I wanted to do was bring the chocolate experience to people in a unique way,” said Reilly.
Well, I think she’s achieved that. While I sat at the counter I couldn’t help but notice the chocolate dipped fruit slices on display, next to the sangria, strawberry, and coffee truffles. (She had me at sangria!) The chocolate covered strawberries were calling out to me. I then looked up and saw a sign in front of me boasting “Hot Chocolate 6 Ways!”. This sign on the wall spoke of floats, shakes, coffee, tea, choffee, sundaes, and hot chocolate. Wait! Choffee? Yes, choffee. That got my attention and woke me up from my chocolate dream.
What is choffee?
I had to find out. I had a page of prepared questions that I was going to ask Reilly, but now this one topped the list. Reilly told me that choffee was something that she couldn’t easily explain and informed me that I just had to try it to know what it was. She didn’t have to twist my arm! This decadent drink is chocolate-coffee infusion. It’s like a chocolate cappuccino with the barest of chocolate bubbly foam. I don’t know how she does it, but it’s so much richer than any hot chocolate I’ve ever had, and it’s not your ordinary mocha-coffee. If you love coffee and chocolate, this is the perfect marriage of both.
As I sipped my dark chocolate choffee, (say that 10 times fast!) and slipped into a chocolate haze, I surveyed the surroundings bedecked in an array of cocoa colors and chocolate tones. As the faint aroma of chocolate decadence wafted through the air, for a minute I fell into a chocolate coma and felt like I was dropped into a pot of blissful brown sweetness. I looked up and saw shelves lined chocolate goodness.
“People are addicted to my dipped in chocolate line … pretzels, potato chips, and popcorn,” commented Reilly as she watched my eyes fixate on the potato chip bark (more chocolate, less chip, than the potato chips dipped in chocolate).
She, herself, said that she likes “… different chocolates on different days. The two I can’t resist: one is peanut butter and milk chocolate. It’s irresistible. We make peanut butter and chocolate bark. Milk chocolate’s existence is to pair with peanut butter. The other is the orange and dark chocolate bark.”
“We feature chocolates from about 10 different countries, “ elaborated Joanne.
All of Chocolate Lovers’ Club’s chocolate contains no preservatives, emulsifiers, or oils, and is sugar, gluten, nut, and soy free–except, when of course, you specifically seek something with nuts in it. It just doesn’t get better than this. Reilly explained to me that most commercial chocolate sold in supermarkets contains preservatives and most of the natural cocoa butter is siphoned out of the original chocolate state. Manufacturers can sell the cocoa butter to cosmetic companies for a higher premium, so they replace the missing cocoa butter with lower quality fats. This is why pure chocolate tastes so much superior to many of its lower quality counterparts.
Besides being a confectionery shop, Chocolate Lovers’ Club is a gourmet restaurant serving up delectable edibles infused with cocoa on Thursday and Friday nights. You might find chocolate infused entrees like nachos, chilies, salads, and soups. Recently, they have focused on cooking with cocoa powder and you can find salads topped with cocoa infused dressings, and there’s a not-so-typical chocolate spiced sauce for dipping shrimp.
“We put cocoa powder in salsa!” boasts Reilly. I was wowed. I never thought about doing that before. Warning: do not put Hershey’s chocolate syrup in your chili tonight. If you’re going to attempt to cook with cocoa, you’ve got to get as close to pure cocoa powder or chocolate as possible. No sugar. We’re going for the savory type of food here. “If you use supermarket chocolate, you will not get the same results,” cautions Reilly.
“Chocolate is a fruit. The closest thing to pure is nibs, which are sold in health food stores,” explains Reilly.
This is why many of the common chocolate pairings have salt, heat, or citrus. It’s the way that chocolate completes the combination. If you start thinking of chocolate as a fruit and not just something for dessert, the culinary possibilities are endless.
Almost everyone has heard of chocolate covered pretzels–the sweet-salty blend many crave. But now cooking experts are pushing traditional boundaries with chocolate. There are jalapeño and hot pepper combinations in chocolate bars and teas which accentuate the flavor and fire, and you can also combine citrus with cocoa, going way beyond the ideas of chocolate covered oranges.
“You can put it in tomato soup. It makes carrot soup sing,” suggests Reilly.
Since chocolate pairs well with citrus based cuisine, this is one reason why chocolate and sangria or any fruity wine pairs well. Reilly explained that all of the Chocolate Lovers’ Club events are BYOB, so if you choose to dine at the restaurant, you want to bring a fruity wine that’s more on the sweet side. She explained that chocolate traditionally pairs well with red wines like merlots, cabernets, and port; but a nice smooth and fruity riesling would work well, too.
“You don’t want to pair chocolate with a dry wine. That’s not a party in your mouth,” shared Reilly of her expertise.
Don’t let the “Club” part of the name fool you. While there are advantages to becoming an official Chocolate Lovers’ Club member like receiving a newsletter or being treated to special events and coupons, Chocolate Lovers’ Club is totally open to the public.
“We wanted to let people know that we are more than just a place to buy chocolate off the shelf,” explained Reilly about why she chose Chocolate Lover’s Club for the name.
Plus, it gives the restaurant/shop/event venue a feeling of specialness and exclusivity. It’s not just a candy shop.
In the near future, Chocolate Lovers’ Club will be creating a VIP club.
“When you join you will get a gift basket all chocolate lovers should have,” said Reilly.
Included are a chocolate mug, chocolate apron, hat, pen with chocolate ink and hot chocolate. Sounds scrumptious to me! A VIP card will also entitle you to discounts on products and functions.
So if you want a total chocolate experience, give Chocolate Lovers' Club a try.