They say the way to a man's heart is through his stomach. The way to a woman's heart is just as simple. In fact, it can be summed up in one little word: chocolate. Doctors even compare the endorphins secreted during chocolate consumption to the ones produced during sex. Oh, my! Is it hot in here?
Fudge doesn't quite pack the "stimulating" punch of real chocolate, but it combines a little bit of that chocolaty satisfaction with the warm, wholesome feeling you get when you spot an old-fashioned childhood classic. Problem is, there aren't many places in Phoenix where confectioners make their own fudge. For this week's Battle of the Dishes, we tracked down trays of real homestyle fudge tucked next to guns and ammo. Let the battle begin!
In One Corner: Cabela's
9380 W. Glendale Ave. in Glendale
Cabela's is like a candy store for hunters, sports fanatics, fishermen and basically anyone who appreciates the outdoors. The place is set up like a massive lodge, with rough hewn wood walls, taxidermy animals and aquarium tanks with live fish.
"Take me with you," a store employee at Big 5 Sporting Goods begged when we said Cabela's was our next stop. "I'd rather work there. Cabela's is awesome; I take dates there all the time!" Wow, talk about a redneck Valentine's Day plan. But the dude had a point. There's lots to see and do at Cabela's, from dining at the cafe to playing shooting games in the upstairs gallery. We even spotted a couple kissing inside of a gun safe on our visit.
On the second floor next to the footwear section is a small glass window storefront housing Cabela's candy shop. Inside you'll find licorice, candy sticks, bags of peppermint disks and a counter filled with fresh fudge, made daily. Squares are $3.50 each and come in varieties from standard peanut butter and rocky road to the cleverly named AZ Road Kill with cherries and nuts. We ordered the unattractive sounding but wonderful looking Moose Drool, along with the Butterfinger fudge.
Both treats had the rich flavor and powdery texture associated with old-fashioned fudge. The Butterfinger one featured thick milk chocolate fudge topped with a layer of Butterfinger candy condensed to form a hard crust on top. It was chewy and tough, like biting into a sticky caramel that's gone stale.
The Moose Drool was more likeable; dark fudge studded with nuts, caramel and marshmallows. It tasted like a slightly bitterer version of the Rocky Road candy bars popular in the '50s. The marshmallows were fluffy and soft, the nuts crisp and salty. A perfectly sweet ending to the outdoor shop experience.
In the Other Corner: Bass Pro Shops
1133 N. Dobson in Mesa
Who came out first? That's the question we were asking when we visited Cabela's and Bass Pro Shops in one day. The stores could be twins. The layout and feel is nearly identical, from the log cabin look down to the stuffed critters, faux rock cliffs and live fish. Good thing they're on opposite sides of the Valley.
The main difference with Bass Pro aside from stock is the attached Islamorada Fish Company, a huge full-service restaurant boasting massive fish tanks and unusual menu items like fried alligator. Near the restaurant entrance is a small fudge shop where employees combine sugar, cream, chocolate and more to form over a dozen flavors of the old-fashioned confection.
It looks like a concession stand -- think popcorn and hot pretzel cases -- overlaid with a faux old-fashioned exterior straight out of Little House on the Prairie. Out front are two worn picnic tables for guests to savor their snacks at. It's not as charming as Cabela's vintage-looking confectionary, but the rows of colorful fudge trays displayed in the glass counter had us interested.
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Two women on line in front of us took advantage of the "Buy 1 pound, get a half pound FREE" sale advertised on the chalkboard behind the counter. At $12, it's an awesome deal. Not willing to splurge for a zillion squares of diet-busting candy, we opted for one square of the caramel nut fudge and another of their Butterfinger fudge.
The Butterfinger fudge was disappointing; a powdery vanilla confection that tasted like plain sugar with the barest hint of the peanut butter candy. Bland and blah, with no trace of chocolate. The caramel nut was another matter. "This is really different, unlike any fudge I've ever had," exclaimed my tasting partner. "It's velvety!"
I admit I'm not a huge fudge fanatic, but this stuff converted me. The caramel nut fudge was smooth and rich, more like truffle filling than the powdery fudge of my youth. The caramel was soft, with just a little bite, and the peanuts added a nice crunch and flavor reminiscent of a dark chocolate Snickers bar. We consumed the square in minutes.
The Winner: Bass Pro Shops. I'd pack their caramel nut fudge in my (camping) sack any day!