Editor’s note: This gifting series features edibles from South Sound food businesses. Check back daily through Dec. 23 for something new.
I rely on a category of foolproof holiday gifts when I don’t know what to buy someone – I give the gift of gluttony. Because nothing is as universal during the holidays as the need to stuff our faces. (January is for ditching those extra five pounds.)
Caramel sauce, freshly roasted coffee beans, truffles made in a cafe and tied up with a ribbon in a pretty box, a meat log, a cheese basket – all universal food gifts. They’re handmade and easily purchased right here in our community, mostly economical and you might even earn bonus points from the recipient for shopping local – a worthy endeavor any time of year.
The next few weeks, I’ll write about a different food gift every day. Check back daily for something new.
Today’s featured gift – truffles made at two local cafes and one of Tacoma’s oldest candy companies. I’ll also tell you where to score discounted candy from Brown & Haley.
The French Hen Bistro
Where: 3810 Steilacoom Blvd. S.W., Lakewood; 253-983-1313, frenchhenbistro.com
The French Hen Bistro is a charming place that’s unexpectedly positioned in an eating district of mostly Korean restaurants. While neighboring businesses dish up steaming bowls of seolleong tang and all-you-can-stomach helpings of banchan, the bistro serves casual eats of pressed sandwiches, salads and quiche – the dining room is cute and smart. The little cafe specializes in truffles – you can pick and choose a few or assemble a gift box of whichever truffles you like best.
Truffles at French Hen are all house made and come adorned with pretty patterns painted right onto the chocolates. They’re on the big side for bite-size candies. Not that I’m complaining.
Varieties: More than 20, though daily stock is limited to a smaller selection. My favorite is the chai, a milk chocolate truffle painted with a pretty pink flower and a creamy center scented with coconut milk and a heady whiff of cardamom. If it’s in stock, get the port wine truffle. I also like the unexpected flavors: lemongrass, ginger, banana and salted dark. You’ll find traditional favorites, too: Kahlua, Grand Marnier, raspberry, cherry and mint.
By the box: Truffles are $1.40 each, with pre-set box sizes up to 16 pieces. A six-pack ($8) comes in a see-through box tied with a ribbon color of your choice.
Affairs Cafe and Chocolates
Where: 2811 Bridgeport Way W., University Place; 253-565-8604, affairs-chocolate.com (closed Mondays)
When you bite into an Affairs truffle, you have to be committed to spending the rest of your day walking off the caloric intake from a mound of chocolate that’s slightly larger than a golf ball. The truffles are among the biggest I’ve seen and easily are an eight-bite dessert. They also are the most expensive of the truffles sampled for this report at $4.50 each. But if you want to make an impression, this is the truffle to buy.
Varieties: More than 20. Many flavors are liqueur based, but also traditional favorites such as double chocolate, mocha and almond. Try the milk chocolate truffle flavored with buttery rum, a dark chocolate truffle flavored with orange liqueur or the Kahlua truffle.
By the box: Single, boxed truffles are $4.50. You can also purchase a box of four for $17.50. They’ll wrap it up for you with a ribbon.
Johnson Candy Co.
Where: 924 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Tacoma; 253-272-8504 (closed Sundays)
The Johnson Candy Co. is a neighborhood fixture in the Tacoma Hilltop. The Johnson family business began more than 80 years ago as a lunch counter until the family started selling chocolates at the cash register. Within a few years, the counter morphed into a candy company. It moved to its current location in 1949. Listen closely and you can hear the chocolate machines squeaking and squawking upstairs in the building with the vintage sign that looms overhead. Chocolate truffles at Johnson are bite-size squares, the smallest sampled for this report.
Varieties: Straightforward truffle flavors: chocolate, raspberry, almond, mint, rum, mocha, peanut butter and strawberry. You’ll find a large selection of hand-made chocolates, too. Don’t miss the peanut butter smidgens soldiers, an annual Christmas special.
By the box: Truffles are $14.95 a pound (with about 40 truffles per pound). You can select how much or little to give, from small boxes, up to a pound. They’ll gift wrap the box for you, too. Best part? Free samples at the counter. If you amuse the counter workers, you may be offered a sample from a box kept under the front counter – it’s full of the good stuff.
Tacoma is home to other candy companies, of course. Try these:
Brown & Haley retail stores
Where: 110 East 26th St., Tacoma; 253-620-3067
Where: 3500 20th St. E, Fife, 253-620-3030
At the factory retail stores, some of the candy may be technically considered rejects, but unless you’re a perfectionist, you can’t really tell. Shoppers will find tins of the regular Roca for which Brown & Haley is famous, Mountain Bars and baking mixes, too.
Great Northwest Popcorn
Where: 1948 Pacific Ave., Tacoma
Info: 253-779-5676 or greatnorthwestpopcorn.com
From straightforward to weird, Great Northwest has a popcorn flavor for every palate. More than 20 choices are packaged into small bags that start at a few bucks each. Sampling is encouraged, this is a great trip to make with kids. The popcorn company also sells hand-made chocolate turtles in a display case near the register. All popcorn and candy is made in house. Parking can be tricky.
Our pledge to readers: Sue Kidd dines anonymously and The News Tribune pays for all meals.