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Best Of 2007

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Best Of :: Shopping & Services

BEST PLACE TO GET YOUR TEDDY BEAR STUFFED

The first time (and, okay, the second and third) we walked into Dolls Bears & Surprises, we thought we'd stumbled into the toy store time (and organization) had forgotten. To our plebeian eyes, the shop was nothing more than a mishmash of far-too-real looking dolls, particularly babies, crammed onto every available surface, staring at us. Our instinct: run. But our 5-year-old was enthralled, so we stuck it out (much the way we'll now sit through a circus, grinning at the scary clowns) and realized, on subsequent visits, what a treasure trove this little shop is.

It's located in the Strip Mall Time Forgot — probably not for long, given the hipster encroachment from the north (Postino, et al.) and east (The Vig). There's a drugstore a friend refers to as That Scary Drugstore and Secret Post Office (it's true, there's a post office in the back, very old-school) and a coffee shop actually called The Coffee Lady, who got pushed out at 40th and Campbell when La Grande Orange set up shop.

Okay, back to dolls and bears — and surprises. We had come to love this shop even before the aforementioned 5-year-old happened last Christmas to ask the mall Santa for "a bear with a suitcase with clothes from other countries." (Don't ever let your kid see a toy catalogue, unless you intend to earmark and save it.)

We were completely stumped. No amount of Internet research yielded an answer. In a panic, we called Dolls Bears, and — of course — the proprietor, Mark Besler, had the answer. "Yes, that's Muffy Vander Bear," he said. "And that ensemble would run you several hundred dollars; it's from FAO Schwartz." He waited patiently for us to put ourselves back together, then said, simply, "Come in. I'll take care of you."

That he did. He sold us Muffy and several sets of clothing, for well under $100, advising that we find a little suitcase elsewhere. (We scored one at Cost Plus.) Our kindergartener was thrilled, and so were we.

Who knew? Those creepy dolls staring at us have the right to have an attitude. Dolls Bears & Surprises sells high end collectible dolls including Madame Alexander, Effanbee and Goetz, as well as our beloved Muffy. And, it turns out, Mark Besler's not just a salesman, he's an artist. There's a whole page on his Web site showcasing the glass eyes he puts in collectible dolls, and more than once we've watched him repair an antique teddy bear. We hope he's in business for a long time — Muffy is already looking a little the worse for wear.

On a recent visit, we noticed a sign in the window warning that no new repairs will be taken 'til 2008. Hang in there, Muffy.

BEST SPRINKLES
ABC Baking Cake Decorating

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.

2853 E. Indian School Rd., Phoenix, 85016
MAP
602-224-9796
BEST CANDY

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!

BEST CHOCOLATE
Chatham's Fine Chocolates

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.

114 W. Camelback Rd., Phoenix, 85013
MAP
602-277-5889
BEST CARAMEL CHOCOLATE-COVERED PRETZELS

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.

1035 N. McQueen Rd., Gilbert, 85233
MAP
866-362-2462
BEST GELATO

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!)

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BEST PLACE TO GET YOUR TEDDY BEAR STUFFED: Dolls Bears & Surprises

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