On Valentine's Day, “It’s all about the heart-shaped box.”
So says Ginny Monk of Bromilow’s Homemade Chocolates—and she ought to know. As the granddaughter of the founder, Monk said she's been working in the family business her "entire life.”
Opened more than 50 years ago in West Paterson, Bromilow’s still crafts their chocolates on site using their exclusive family recipe.
“Our base chocolate has not changed since we started,” said Monk.
“We try to make everything ourselves,” Monk stressed. “We make the centers, the marshmallows and the jellies all ourselves. A lot of places don’t do that anymore.”
It’s a chocolate area residents have appreciated for the past 34 years, ever since the family expanded their business to West Caldwell with a storefront in the Essex Shopping Mall.
For Valentine’s Day, Bromilow's offers a wall of heart-shaped boxes, graduating in size and price. The boxes range from a manageable $5 box to an enormous $200 option, weighing in at six pounds, for the person who is truly loved.
Even with endless heart-shaped boxes and more than 150 confections, Monk said chocolate-covered strawberries are their biggest seller for Valentine’s Day.
Fade to Chocolate
Homemade may be hard to find, but another local shop, Holsten’s Brookdale Confectionery in Bloomfield, still does it. Opened in 1939, the family restaurant, ice cream parlor and confectionery still makes its own chocolate right on the premises.
For a place that does a little bit of everything, they have quite an extensive selection of confections, with one whole case devoted to dark chocolate, another to milk chocolate and plenty of unique holiday items in between.
Co-owned by Ron Stark and Chris Carly, the business has been in the Stark family for over 40 years and is known for superior quality and great value.
“We give the best product at the best price,” said Stark, noting their chocolate sells for $19/lb., a dollar less than their competitors.
Holsten's is reminiscent of an earlier era when shopkeepers knew their customers and patrons lingered, passing time with neighbors. Maybe that’s what drew HBO to film the final episode of The Sopranos at Holsten's.
The Valentine’s Day candy displays reflect the nostalgic vibe. Here, you’ll find chocolate-dipped pink heart peeps and red, white and pink topped nonpareils. You’ll also find cupid’s corn (a Valentine version of candy corn), and large, heart-shaped chocolate lollipops trimmed with nonpareils in the colors of the season and wrapped with ribbon.
For the teenager, Holsten’s has what can only be described as the greatest gift ever—chocolate cell phones adorned with oversized conversation hearts printed with such sayings as “True Love” and “My Boo.” For those too young to receive a cell phone for the holiday, the confectionery offers giant, red foil wrapped kisses and chocolate covered Oreos decorated with mini red chocolate hearts.
If, however, you’re in the market for a pistachio, caramel and sea salt bark or an unusual chocolate-covered pretzel flavor, we’ve found your chocolatier.
Opened a little over two years ago in Upper Montclair, Sweet Home Montclair has been turning out creative pretzels ever since first setting up shop in Randolph 25 years ago.
What’s special about a pretzel? You have no idea.
Store manager Ann Asilo has been with the chocolatier since its inception.
“We make up to 340 different kinds of pretzels,” Asilo said, adding at any given time the store offers 40 varieties.
She’s not exaggerating. One entire case is filled with chocolate-covered pretzels encrusted in every kind of delectable sweet from M&M’s and Reese’s Pieces to toffee and Girl Scout mint cookies. The store has about eight kinds of peanut butter variations alone. It also has its own version of the old-fashioned black and white cookie, created in chocolate-covered pretzel form.
None of those pretzels will go to waste. “We sell 10,000 to 12,000 pretzels for Valentine's Day,” Asilo noted.
Pretzels not your thing? They also make chocolate-covered Twinkies, Oreos, Devil Dogs, Nutter Butters, Vienna Fingers—they will cover just about anything in chocolate. The store can also customize pretzels to suit a patron’s tastes or party theme.
With a chocolatier on premises “at all times,” everything is hand-dipped, never from a factory. In fact, their pretzels are double-dipped for a thick, two-layer shell of chocolate before they are covered in candy coatings.
Deep Dark Secrets
For connoisseurs who prefer dark chocolate, all roads lead to The Chocolate Path.
This Montclair-based online business has been meeting the needs of the neglected dark chocolate lover for the past six years. The business started for “purely selfish reasons,” according to owner Susan Fine. Its inception, she said, was derived from her own love of dark chocolate and her difficulty in finding it when she moved to Montclair from New York City several years ago.
“Living out here without having access to chocolate was a little traumatic for me,” Fine admitted.
Fine managed to find small selections of quality dark chocolate at specialty stores, but she felt someone needed to bring a variety of good dark chocolate to one location. She became that person.
Originally, Fine opened a brick and mortar store, but ultimately consolidated her business to the Internet. Now customers across the country can get their fix of organic, raw and Fair Trade dark chocolate from their preferred region of the world. Fine offers everything from African and Asian to Caribbean and Indonesian chocolate, each with its own subtle differences in flavor.
“With dark chocolate, you can get better flavor profiles. You can taste some of the flavors from where the chocolate is from," she said.
Although cocoa trees span the globe, they only grow in lush, tropical environments near the equator. As Fine explained, the cocoa bean takes on the properties of the region in which it is grown, picking up the flavors of surrounding vegetation from the soil. The cocoa bean from South America, for example, will have notes of mangoes and citrus because these trees are prevalent in the area.
For the holiday, Fine offers all of her usual specialties wrapped in special Valentine’s gift packages. She does have one seasonal treat—a cinnamon chili, solid chocolate heart.
“I really love the cinnamon chili combination. It’s a really, really nice flavor combination,” she said.
You can find Fine this Saturday at the Morris Museum’s chocolate festival, where she along with other chocolatiers will be holding chocolate making demonstrations, chocolate tastings, chocolate games and activities, giving out samples of hot chocolate and offering their delectable treats for sale.