"Who can take a rainbow, wrap it in a sigh, soak it in the sun and make a groovy lemon pie?" Up until two years ago when Georganne Bryant opened her colorful retro candy boutique, Smeeks, no one in Phoenix could. Seems Bryant started a trend. Up popped Sweets and Beats (now defunct), Sweetie's, Rocket Fizz and the newest addition, Mill Avenue's Candy Addict.
We have a soft spot for Phoenix's old-school candy shops, in part because it reminds us of childhood afternoons spent licking flavored sugar off of candy sticks. We also love that they're independently owned. For this week's special candy-coated edition of Battle of the Dishes, we checked out two new sweet shops on opposite sides of the Valley.
In One Corner: Candy Addict
414 S. Mill Ave., Ste. 119, in Tempe
The new kid on the sugar block, Candy Addict was opened in early January by Frank Ellis, who relocated from Silicon Valley to Phoenix after his wife got a local job offer. Ellis is now a real-life Candy Man (minus the singing), slinging spiral lollipops and chocolates in clear glass jars.
Did you know that adults are the largest consumers of candy by a large margin, over kids? Ellis will tell you. He'll also recommend a chocolate bar with caramel and sea salt or point you in the direction of the horehound candy you've never seen outside of grandpa's house.
The Vibe: Neighborhood candy store. The kitschy game board on the walls told us this place was aimed at little ones, but the customers we saw there late on a weekday afternoon were all legal. Most were college kids in-between classes, and a few (like us) were adults excitedly pawing a favorite childhood treat they hadn't seen in years.
Candy Addict doesn't have the upscale feel of Smeeks. It's more of a neighborhood joint, the kind of place a twelve-year-old might stop on his way home from school.
The Selection: Intense. There must be thousands of candies here. Candy Addict stocks all the usual suspects, from Mounds, Heath and Wonka bars to retro items like candy buttons and Big League Chew, an '80s classic. Snack size chocolates and salt water taffy is sold by the pound. You'll find gems like Diamond Ring Pops and Canadian favorite Cadbury Dairy Milk bars hidden among candy standards. They even stock cute collectible "Chick" bars and Pike's Place espresso chocolate.
What We Tried: At Ellis' recommendation we sampled two Chocopotamus truffles, a brand that was recommended by Rachel Ray. Candy Addict is the only place in the Valley that carries 'em. Chocopotamus apparently favors subtlety over hitting you over the head with artificial flavors. The truffles were silky and smooth, with just a trace of sea salt and coconut.
The interior of each truffle was textured like soft caramel; it melted in our mouths. These were truly delicious truffles -- at about a buck fifty a pop, they'd better be good. We spotted a few classics like Old Faithful, peanut chews and candy almonds but opted for a Moon Pie as our retro selection. It was exactly as we remembered it from our lunch box days.
In the Other Corner: Rocket Fizz
18425 N. 51st Ave., Ste. E&F, in Glendale
602-942-3499 Rocket Fizz is an independent branch of the California-based sweet shop, run by longtime Glendale residents Brad and Kim Fry. This is truly a family business. When we popped in on a Saturday afternoon, the oldest Fry kid greeted us and provided a quick store tour. We even scored a free sample of his favorite cookie dough flavored salt water taffy.
The Vibe: Retro mom-and-pop shop. The walls are lined with reproduction antique tin signs with cheeky slogans like, "Seaside Bakery: Best buns on the beach." They've got several candy kiosks and a tin-roofed soda shack in the back housing several refrigerator cases. There's definitely a beachy California feel here, though it's not exactly laid-back: everything in the store is in perfect, pristine order. Soda bottles are lined up in neat little rows. Every time one is removed, Fry is there to replace it so nothing looks out of order. Pride of ownership, now that's a retro concept!
The Selection: Impressive. Rocket Fizz is deceptively large, with candies lining one wall and hidden on the top two tiers of several rectangular kiosks. The salt water taffy selection is the best we've seen outside of a beach town, neatly arranged in baskets along one wall.
They've got plenty of Twix and Hershey's type chocolates, and a fun selection of hard-to-find bars like the British Yorkie (It's not for girls, says the label) and Kinder Bueno. There's a basket of Pop Rocks and even wine flavored gummies. Seriously.
Another benefit of Rocket Fizz is that it's half "pop shop." They carry more than 600 types of flavored soda pop, including Brain Wash, Fukola Cola, Lurch Birch and the Japanese drinks with the little marbles in them.
What We Tried: After chatting with small and big Frys, we chose an Idaho Spud, Twin Bing and the last maple Bun bar on the shelf, all washed down with Squamsco Birch Beer. The Spud was amazing, a fluffy marshmallow bar with coconut that was amazingly light and so delicately sweet we almost thought it was diet. Almost. So at least Idaho has one more thing going for it.
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SHOW ME HOW
The Twin Bing was a nutty cherry- chocolate delight that looked like a pair of...well, we'll let you decide (see pic on left). Sadly, we could barely taste the maple in the Bun bar. Why they're so popular we have no idea.
The Winner: Asking us to choose is like making a kid pick who dies -- Spongebob or Mickey Mouse. We don't want that responsibility. But if we have to pick just one, we'll take Rocket Fizz for their massive salt water taffy and soda selections.