Every great now and again I find myself stricken with this uncontrollable urge for candy. An evolutionary sweet tooth perhaps, or more aptly the psychological remnants of strict parents who believed that only good little children deserved candy. For me, being an adult partly means the right to dive into sweet indulgences, melted chocolate obscenely dripping down my fingers, even though I haven’t made my bed or paid my cable bill on time.
So, this uncontrollable urge was partly to blame for a recent road trip with a singular goal: Show me the candy. Actually I wasn’t just looking for candy. I was mostly looking for chocolate. And not just any chocolate, either—real, handmade, buttery, fudgy, gooey, melt-in-your-mouth and stick-to-your-ass chocolate.
The morning sun was rising over the hollow. Coffee in hand, I started in Montauk, heading west through candy shops in East Hampton, South Hampton and Sag Harbor, including Dylan’s Mini Candy Bar and Candy & Flowers. While they were all quite nice in general with quaint atmospheres, I wasn’t looking for bins of individual Tootsie Rolls or Smarties or miniature candy bars, which is mostly what I found. I can buy all of those at the grocery store.
Disappointed, I continued toward Riverhead, optimistic that homemade candies might be found on the back half of my journey after I took a U-turn onto the North Fork. Would the ubiquity of farm stands and worn barns on the East End’s quieter half mean the presence of sweets from a bygone age?
I’d have to wait to find out, because a few wrong turns—perhaps guided by the Cocoa Fates—actually landed me at the Tanger Outlet Center, where I happened upon the Fudgery, just next to Old Navy in Tanger II. Good news: The shop makes its own fudge in-house—a rainbow of fudges from chocolate caramel to rocky road; creamy vanilla to cookies n’ cream; New Orleans praline to chocolate peanut butter—and the spick-and-span deli counter is warmed with a charming copper pot and marble-topped tables in the corner.
Bad news: They only sell fudge in half-pound blocks—nothing smaller. I bought a half-pound of New Orleans praline just for a taste. It wasn’t the best and had a distinct corn syrup taste that I just couldn’t shake. And the piece was just way too big—even the best of fudge can’t be eaten in an amount that large. When I was done with my sampling, I found that I couldn’t even give it away, and into the trash it went. This is a place to go when you are at the mall already, and you have a whole huge family with a sweet tooth. They also have an ice cream station stocked full of Edys—if fudge is not for you, then perhaps a milkshake.
Suffering from a corn syrup comma, I careened with bleary eyes into Jamesport where Cliff’s Elbow Room restaurant rose up like a beacon of savory palate resuscitators. I refreshed my swooning spirit with the best damn cheeseburger I’ve had in years. And I said a special prayer of gratitude to the noble Irishmen who export unto us Guinness, the touchstone of the searching soul.
Rejuvenated, I found my way across the street to the Retro Village and into Whoa! Nellie! on Highway 25. Though I came in search of hand-spun confections, I found something most delightful instead. On my knees at the candy corner, I lost myself in childhood memories of corner stores, trick-or-treating, and, of course, that fateful day of the unofficial Bazooka bubble-blowing contest in fifth grade, when I hoped I could blow a bigger bubble than Jamie by putting about five pieces of gum in my mouth all at once. (I was foiled by the laws of physics and when it came to be my turn to show and tell, a bubble there was ne’er to be. Instead, a two-inch diameter missile of Bazooka smacked Mrs. Lyda straight upside the head. To judge from my meager holiday gifts that year, Mrs. Lyda had a direct line to Santa.)
Whoa! Nellie! sells retro candy from the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s. I found candy cigarettes, Roy Rogers, Happy Trails Chocolate Peanut Butter & Trail Mix, Mallo Cups, BB Bats and Wax Lips. Wowee! When I spoke with Linda Seaton, the owner, she said, “The store has a lot to do with what we are losing—the innocence and landscape of our country. We want to celebrate what we have let slip through our fingers, and Whoa! Nellie! helps to grab our attention and bring out our inner child to celebrate and preserve what we knew, what we were.”
Sounds like a tall order for candy, but, boy, was she right! I haven’t had such a delightful time in as long as I can remember. At Seaton’s store, children are actually encouraged to be tactile. They can open and close the old-fashioned cash register and dig through the drawers of the antique apothecary cabinets in search of such treasures as baseball cards, dolls and other retro toys.
In addition to old-fashioned candy and delightfully funny gag gifts, Seaton features authentic vintage and reproduction home furnishings, Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys books, vintage jewelry and a whole host of amazingly nifty things. At Christmas, Whoa! Nellie! showcases Santa Claus for parents to take pictures, and fire-roasts chestnuts on the sidewalk. I did all of my Christmas shopping while enjoying some Chiclets. I bought my mom a box of Don’t Have Ugly Children Gum: Used by the world’s most perfect families. I also got her a magnet that says: “Don’t make me come down there.” Appropriately, it is signed by God.
Lost in old-time cookbooks, records and Beatles paraphernalia, I could have reminisced until closing time, but I remembered I was a gastroadventurer, and I headed up to the Candyman in Orient. And here, at the end of the North Fork, I found what every aspect of my molecular structure had been craving all day: homemade chocolate candy. I was in every hyperactive kid’s dream of candy heaven: milk chocolate cashew turtles and dark chocolate pecan turtles; chocolate-covered molasses and peanut butter sponges and dipped ginger and pineapple; dark chocolate raisin clusters and milk chocolate-coated caramels. God Bless adulthood for granting us this delectable playground of sweet feasting regardless of daily sin!
The Candyman makes all of the chocolates and chocolate centers. They make fudge, buttercrunch and marshmallows, showing them proudly in racks and displays that bring those of us suffering from chocolate thirst in the desert to our knees. They make chocolate baskets, Santas and gift boxes. Shipping by UPS, the Candyman caters to corporate clients and businesses who believe that their employees are the best employees in the world by rewarding them with these sustainably handmade Christmas goodies. (I mean “sustainable” in the sense of a community-sustaining product that employs locals and that pumps money back into the local economy. Unfortunately, a consciousness about fair-trade or shade-grown cocoa that is good for plantation workers and the rainforest wasn’t a major focus at any of my destinations.) I loaded up my arms with a smattering of different perfections, placed my candy order to be delivered as gifts at Christmas, and settled back into my seatbelt for the promise of a sticky chocolate ride back across the Sound.
The unseasonably warm day of October was the frosting on my candy adventure. As the ferry pulled away, I let the breeze wrap around my sweater and the sun embrace my face as I leaned against my car nursing the fond memories of a day full of adventure and a completed Christmas shopping list. I allowed the gentle waves of the Atlantic Ocean to rock my satisfied sweet tooth gently back to sleep. Until the next time, anyway.
Chef Emily Brooks, a food writer and health advocate in Washington, Connecticut, is the president of Edibles Advocate Alliance, which promotes community-based health and agricultural initiatives at farms, schools, restaurants and food businesses.
A PILGRIMAGE OF SWEETS
While I had found exactly what my heart desired on my Great East End Candy Escape, here are some of the other places that I visited, from Montauk to Riverhead to Orient.
Dylan’s Mini Candy Bar
52 Main Street, East Hampton
Dylan’s had rows-upon-rows of individual candy. They call themselves the “virtual playground for the young and the young at heart.” The store was decorated with a bulky, kid-friendly feel, and offered a wide array of Tootsie Rolls, lollipops, gummy bears and other mini treats. It was a bit like a grocery store turned candy store—very commercial, very anonymous and very bright lights.
Candy & Flowers
83 Main Street, Sag Harbor
Candy & Flowers rests nicely among Main Street with clever window displays of balloons, purses, flowers, hay bales and wicker tables. They, too, get most of their candy from outside companies, and their indoor displays boast a tower of candy, decorated tins, soap, popcorn, nuts, stickers and yardsticks of bubble gum, as well as a wall lined with bins of jelly beans, gum drops, candy bars, and a plethora of unusually flavored licorice. Who knew licorice was so popular?
67 Main Street and 66 Jobs Lane, Southampton
The Fudge Company in down- town Southampton, established in 1973, has two locations within a hop-skip-and-a-jump from each other—one on Main Street and one around the corner on Jobs Lane. The fudge counter is racked with blocks of chocolate–peanut butter, Oreo, and marshmallow-filled chocolate, as well as racks and bins of hundreds of penny candies, and some homemade chocolate confections, but not homemade ice cream.
Tanger II Outlet Mall, 1947 Old Country Road #1422, Riverhead.
Star Confectionery Store
4 East Main Street, Riverhead
The Star Confectionery Store sells some candy, as well as old-fashioned egg creams, which are sort of like liquid candy. Also a luncheonette, it seems that candy may be a dessert-to-go option after a meal. This place was wonderful fun—an antidote to Riverhead’s creeping big-box development—and having started as an ice cream store in 1911, history bubbles throughout the wooden booth and Formica-countered room. In the stone basement, you’ll find a 100-year-old ice cream maker and the machines and molds where owner Anthony Meras, 75, still makes his beloved chocolate turkeys for Thanksgiving, Santas for Christmas, and bunnies and baskets for Easter.
1572 Main Road, Jamesport
200 Main Street, Greenport
Sweet Indulgences’s name conjured mental images of a fully stocked candy store. Oh, they sell candy all right—Godiva chocolates in particular. They, too, have racks of individual candy tubs, but the store is much more than sweet indulgences. It is very femme fatale with pillows, candles, cute wall plaques, figurines, holiday decorations, clocks and candelabras. They also sell specialty foods such as olives, mustards, tapenades, dipping oils and tomato sauces and much more. It is where I would shop for gifts with the added benefit of nibbling on chocolate as I browsed the store.
22350 Main Road, Orient