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Sweet Indulgence in Florida
by Elliot Essman
Newcomers to the United States often question why sweet treats like chocolate and ice cream are so often matched with adjectives like "sinful," "indulgent," and "decadent." Are we supposed to feel good about eating, say, a thick slice of key lime pie, or guilty? In either case, across Florida, dedicated confectioners and pastry cooks work hard for your indulgence dollar. It's strictly up to you whether you want to justify your purchase by prior sacrifice (dieting comes to mind) or future penance (again dieting). Of course, there's the third option: pure unmitigated bliss.

I recently reached an epiphany at The Melting Pot (www.meltingpot.com), a Florida-based chain of fondue restaurants with locations in Boca Raton (where I did my tasting), Clearwater, Coral Springs, Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers, Gainesville, Lake Worth, Longwood, Miami, North Miami Beach, Ocala, Orlando, Pensacola, Sarasota, St. Petersburg, Tallahassee, and Tampa, as well as their flagship outlet in Maitland. Melting Pot urges its customers to "come dip into something different." You can have a traditional sit-down "meat and sides" meal at Melting Pot (Lobster Tails, Teriyaki Sirloin, Coq au Vin), dipping into a ten-page international wine list, but do that on your second visit; the chocolate fondues are the real draw. They give you a plate of fresh strawberries, bananas, and pineapple, plus cheesecake, marshmallows, pound cake and brownies for you to dip into your choice of chocolate fondues: "pure" dark, milk or white chocolate, or concoctions like "Amaretto Meltdown" (flambéed tableside), "Yin & Yang" (white chocolate swirled decoratively into dark), or "Flaming Turtle" (milk chocolate, caramel and chopped pecans, also flambéed). After your enjoyable and, perhaps, theatrical dip, try a Melting Pot "afterthought," one of dozens of port and Madeira offerings, cognacs, or specialty drinks like "Double-Chocolate Martini Double Decadence: Godiva Dark Liqueur and Kremyovskaya Chocolate Vodka and White Cream De Cacao sipped from a chocolate rimmed glass." There's nothing quite like quantity and quality.

Tropical Flavors Ice Cream in Miami (www.tropicalflavors.net) prides itself on producing uniquely flavored ice creams-"The Original Taste of Jamaica"-all based on fresh tropical fruits brought in from that unique Caribbean island. With natural flavors like Tamarind, Guava, Kola Champagne or Island Stout, Banana, Coconut, Sweetsop or Passion Fruit, Tropical Flavors distances itself dramatically from the average corner ice cream stand. The Mango is my favorite. The company will ship you your ice cream or sherbet by next-day air packed in dry ice; it is advisable to be home when the delivery arrives (preferably accompanied by someone who can prevent you from eating the entire shipment in a single sitting).

The Blond Giraffe Café (www.blondgiraffe.com), headquartered on famous Duval Street in Key West but with additional retail stores in Marathon and South Miami, has garnered numerous taste-test awards for its Key Lime Pie, the region's signature dish. Key limes are wonderfully tart, tiny citrus fruits, originally brought to the Caribbean region by Christopher Columbus himself in 1493; they lend themselves perfectly to pies and tarts. Blond Giraffe, owned by a couple from Brazil, is a relative newcomer to the fiercely competitive world of key lime pies, where hundreds of bakeries each claim to be the best. In 1999, Blond Giraffe's combination of delicate flaky crust, rich key lime custard filling and thick meringue topping-"the Sublime Key Lime Pie"-beat all comers in the first, definitive, key lime pie competition every held. Every expanding, Blond Giraffe has now added a factory to fill mail and Internet orders.

Strudel King in Clearwater (www.strudelking.com) has taken the centuries old art of Austrian strudel making to entirely new levels. Chef Peter Dunst prepares his strudels strictly by hand; you can be sure the fifty or so the Austrian is able to make every day sell out rather quickly. His secret ingredient: potent Austrian rum with an 80% alcohol content; though the alcohol bakes off in the oven, the unique flavor remains. In addition to the traditional apple strudel, Strudel King offers flavor variations that cater to local American tastes: cream cheese, cherry, blueberry, raspberry, peach and even key lime. These strudels are well known in the Tampa Bay area, where you'll find them in restaurants, hotels and specialty food store. Strudel King ships its ready-to-eat strudels throughout the United States by next-day air.

If cheesecake is your undoing, Naples Cheese Cake Company (naplescheesecake.com) can easily take care of your addiction. The company maintains retail outlets in Naples, Ft. Myers and Bonita Springs and also ships its delights by next day or second day air. Cheesecake flavors run the gamut from basic (plain, chocolate chip peanut butter, fudge marble) to exotic (amaretto, piña colada, Baileys Irish Cream) to name just a few. As with most Florida bakeries, the company offers a key lime pie it claims is the state's best, plus two varieties of key lime-based cheesecakes (with or without raspberries). My choice for absolute indulgence: the Oreo cookie cheesecake, though chocolate fudge is a close runner up.

Palm Beach Confections (palmbeachconfections.com) operates a trio of chocolate and confectionary kitchens on South Florida's "Gold Coast," with locations in major shopping malls in Sunrise, Boca Raton and Coral Springs. Each location has an open "candy kitchen" where mesmerized onlookers can watch their favorite delights being created. These are luxury sweets: crunchy butter toffee, chocolate-covered coconut patties (a Florida tradition), chocolate-dipped glazed apricots, caramel and pecan "Tortoises," caramel-covered Granny Smith apples. Palm Beach also offers a full line of boxed chocolates: truffles, chocolate seashells, nut clusters, and holiday special assortments for Halloween, Christmas, New Years, Valentine's Day, and Easter.

For cakes and pastries in the finest European tradition, visit Bruno's Gourmet Kitchen (brunosgourmetkitchen.com) in Sanford, north of Orlando. Owner/chef Bruno learned his trade at the world-famous Paul Bocuse Restaurant in Lyons, France, among others, then was recruited as a pastry chef by Walt Disney World prior to opening his own central Florida patisserie. He specializes in truly traditional European mainstays like the St. Honore, Black Forest chocolate cakes, Napoleon pastries, petit fours, and an exquisite Italian tiramisu.

In historic downtown Melbourne, Grimaldi Candies (grimaldicandies.com) has been offering hand-made Italian sweets based on original family recipes since 1969. You can try chocolate-covered pretzels for a new experience in flavor and textures, pecan rum and almond "barks," chocolate-covered cherries, the traditional Florida chocolate-covered coconut patties, and many other varieties all made fresh, or order any of the products from the lusciously-illustrated on-line site. I enjoy the "Poke-A-Longs" particularly: rich patties of chocolate-covered caramel with pecans and cashews. For something truly Floridian, try the orange and grapefruit strips; these are candied orange and grapefruit peel dipped in dark chocolate.

In Sarasota, Floribbean Flo's Gift Store and Tropical Bakery (www.floribbean.com) is run by a woman whose mother originally named her "Florida." You can come to owner Flo to buy fresh Florida citrus fruits like oranges, tangerines, and grapefruit, but you can go "sweet" as well. Key lime coconut macaroons combine several Florida and Caribbean flavor themes as do Flo's orange fruit chewies, in which orange flavors compete with spices for your attention. Or try Flo's Florida crackers: rolled oats with imported French cocoa and a splash of Caribbean rum.

For those whose sweet teeth can only be satisfied by British confections they came to know and love as children, the British Supermarket (britishsupermarket.com) in Orlando will not fail to fit the bill. Need Cadburys Roses or Mars Malteasers, Crawfords Custard Creams or Walkers Shortbread Fingers? It's all in stock, along with Lyles Black Treacle, Tate & Lyle Golden Syrup, Roses Lime Marmelade, Birds Custard Powder, and more. While you're at it, you can wash it all down with a nice cup of Typhoo tea. The company will be happy to put together an attractive gift basket for you for those times when you feel the need to ruin somebody else's diet.

Over the length and breadth of Florida, there is no shortage of opportunities to maintain your sweet tooth in perfect working condition; after all, it's probably use it or lose it, so you do have a responsibility to yourself. Being good to oneself is an important concept in Florida; "decadence" and "indulgence" have absolutely nothing to do with it. Even so, you simply cannot refute the mathematics of chocolate, cake, ice cream and sweets. You will have to account for the calories somehow. I would jog them off well in advance, but "later" and "never" are also respectable options. Top -- Food Articles Home

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