Sipping my way through a local hot-chocolate tour

It’s no coincidence that winter is the prime season for indulging in sweets. Shorter days, impenetrable gray skies, arctic temperatures — these things make me want to bury myself until March in a Snuggie made of chocolate. Ah, but I’d walk into a snowstorm for a truly great mug of hot chocolate. To try the cocoa served at these six local staples, I didn’t have to brave a whiteout, but I was still glad for help with taking the edge off December’s cold.

Christopher Elbow Artisanal Chocolates (1819 McGee)

Like all of Christopher Elbow’s flavors, the ginger in the liquid chocolate here is true to nature. Good thing, too: The chocolate—caramel combo is so sweet that it would be overwhelming without the ginger’s slight tang. If you prefer something else, Elbow has enough flavors available to ensure a week’s worth of drinking without a repeat. My other go-tos are the coconut curry, which combines coconut milk and curry powder, and the passion fruit.

But the real star of the hot-chocolate show at Elbow is the marshmallow, a confection here that’s denser and sweeter than the typical store-bought variety, and the three that floated atop my cocoa were white, fluffy cubes of pure magic. The last one got stuck to the bottom of my cup when I finished my drink, leaving me no choice but to scoop it out with my fingers, not caring that I had completely covered my hand with chocolate.

You Say Tomato (2801 Holmes)
The Classic Cookie (409 West Gregory)

The hot chocolates at Classic Cookie and You Say Tomato, a couple of places on many Kansas Citians’ lists of favorite lunch destinations, come closer than any other restaurants’ to what my mom served me when I was a kid. I’m talking about plain old chocolate and warm milk, that most comfortingly simple combination. What makes the mugs at these places especially worthwhile, though, is the atmosphere of each establishment.

As at many places in Waldo, entering the Classic Cookie feels like stepping back in time to a quintessential business — in this case, a neighborhood bakery. Have one of the friendly servers grab you a blueberry muffin or chocolate—chocolate-chip cookie while you’re there. The hot chocolate at You Say Tomato, on the other hand, is best enjoyed while sitting in one of the café’s mismatched chairs and staring through one of the perpetually foggy front windows, dreaming of warmer days.

Panache Chocolatier (418 Nichols Road)

Panache’s hot chocolate came with a warning from the cashier the day I ordered a cup: “It’s not as dark as you think,” he said. I should have warned him instead because my first sip of the hot, rich beverage prompted me to exclaim, “Holy shit, that’s good.” This attracted some attention from the people around me, but they would have said the same thing if they had only thought to ask for this drink. With a smooth texture that’s never too sweet, this dark chocolate dares you to risk a scalded throat by chugging it. When I finished, I wanted another cup.

The drink is proof that, after 35 years in the business, these chocolatiers know what they’re doing. And the central Plaza location makes Panache an ideal spot to take a break from shopping and enjoy the holiday lights as they come on at dusk.

Russell Stover (2814 Shawnee Mission Parkway, Fairway)

I’ve been enjoying Russell Stover’s chocolates since I was a kid, so I expected the candy conglomerate’s hot chocolate to be as sweet as the boxes of truffles I look forward to guiltily scarfing every Valentine’s Day. The drink’s ingredients — dark-chocolate syrup, cocoa powder and whole milk (the counter here doesn’t speak nonfat) — sound simple and promising.

But on the day I visited the shop, the choco-late dispenser seemed to be malfunctioning. “You should probably play that ‘Eye of the Tiger’ song while you’re doing that,” one of the cashiers remarked as another repeatedly pressed the chocolate pump in vain. What resulted was a semisweet cup of disappointing steamed whole milk. I might have finished it if someone had in fact cranked up the Survivor song.

André’s Confiserie Suisse (5018 Main)

For an antidote, I ordered the chili-spiced hot chocolate at André’s, a smooth, rich drink with a distinctive but not overpowering spice that bites the back of your throat in a way that just makes you want more. It was delicious even with skim milk and with no whipped cream. Going nonfat made me feel good enough to inquire about an item in the pastry case that had caught my eye. It looked like a little chocolate mountain, and I learned that it was a buttercream cookie, with chocolate and buttercream frosting whipped together on top. I took one home for later but ended up eating it in the car. ’Tis the season.