Best Of :: Shopping & Services
Gold Bar? What's that? Oh, yeah, it was the beloved coffee shop that moved out of this former bank building a few years ago. We almost forgot not because Gold Bar wasn't a great place for hanging out (still is its new location is down the road at 3141 South McClintock Drive) but because Xtreme Bean was such a fine replacement.
We love the not-too-sweet iced mochas, the perky iced teas and the cappuccinos, which contain the proper ratio of milk foam to espresso. Food offerings are minimal, but we appreciate the more healthful choices they do, like the breakfast of nuts and strawberries.
The ambiance is as good as it gets for a Valley coffee shop. There's free wireless Internet access and plenty of electrical outlets. The place is airy with high ceilings, and natural light falls everywhere but the old bank vault, which is an excellent place to plug in a laptop and get to work. The main area is similar to a nice hotel lobby, and the shop is often crowded, even on weekdays, with groups of people engaged in brainstorming and solitary computer users working on their next unpublishable novel. If Xtreme Bean had beds and cable TV, we'd move in.
We've been shopping at ABC Baking for years, and have yet to walk in the place and not have our deepest wish fulfilled and we have some odd wishes, including a need for pink bakery boxes in assorted sizes, sugar violets, and tiny plastic ballerinas that dance on the tops of cupcakes. If you're a serious baker, you're in luck these folks know what they're doing, and will provide you with all the hard-core tools of the trade, from pastry tubes to cake pans in shapes you never imagined. This year, we had a special desire for sprinkles (see our cover) and we knew right where to go. ABC has an entire section devoted to nothing but both the nonpareil and sugar varieties, in every hue imaginable. As you noticed, we chose classic rainbow.
This candy company doesn't sell prickly pear jellies or candy rocks. (Thank goodness have you ever tried to eat a candy rock?) They're much more creative than that. Instead, you can order small bags of treats, including Arizona Great Fruits (hard candies in citrus flavors), Margaritas on the Rocks (flavored like tequila, lime, and salt) and Hot Chocolate (again, hard candy, flavored with New Mexico chile, chocolate, and vanilla). Our personal favorites are the Fortune Tamales, cinnamon candies wrapped like tamales, including "spicy sayings" in Spanish and English. All clever twists on old favorites, but not too icky sweet. Yummy!
Finally a place where we can let our chocolate freak flags fly, and nobody will give us a funny look. On the contrary, it's de rigueur to gush about cacao confections here, and the more exotic, the better. The proprietors are so enthusiastic that they're like gourmet chocolate cheerleaders. How about the marzipan filled with rum and spiced poached black mission figs, dipped in chocolate, and encrusted with crushed almonds? It's divine. Dark chocolate filled with caramel and sprinkled with pink sea salt? Exquisite. Or the lavender and peppercorn-infused dark chocolate ganache with candied violet petals? Totally freakin' mind-blowing. (Okay, that last one is our description, not theirs.) With about 270 individual pieces of chocolate from more than a dozen artisan chocolatiers plus the biggest selection of fancy chocolate bars we've ever seen this bonbon-sized boutique is just the place to go to break out of your Hershey's shell.
Chocoholics, take note: The shop just moved from Scottsdale to Phoenix, where it reopens in early October.
There are lots of ways to satisfy your craving for sweet/salty (and don't act like you don't know what we're talking about), but our favorite is with a caramel-dipped, chocolate-covered pretzel rod from Granny's. We've spotted Granny's rods at Starbucks in Seattle and closer to home, at MADE art boutique and at Granny's quaint HQ in Gilbert where, if you're particularly kind to the owners, you might just get a behind-the-scenes tour. We've seen the vat they heat that caramel in, and let's just say we wouldn't be surprised if lives have been lost. We're here to tell you, it's well worth the sacrifice.
Falling for the gelato at Arlecchino is kind of like finding religion.
At first, you try to be rational. (There are new gelato places cropping up all over town. I can find gelato a lot closer to home.)
Then, some healthy skepticism kicks in. (What's all the fuss? How can it really be that good?)
Pretty soon, you admit that you're curious. (Man, my friends won't shut up about Arlecchino. I think I need to try it.)
You educate yourself. (Wow. Arlecchino's owner trained with a gelato master in Italy, and he makes every pan of gelato from scratch...) Next, you do some soul-searching. (Chocolate, pistachio, or strawberry?
Finally, you take a leap of faith, and dig in. Within a bite or two, the potent flavors and dense, creamy texture overwhelm your taste buds. You've never tasted gelato this good anywhere, ever. It's so delicious, it's almost hard to explain the sensation. Like fireworks, or ecstasy, or... (Heaven!)