When the dim-lit October evenings begin stretching shadows into twilight and the only notable mass holiday on the horizon is Halloween, all I can think about is pure comfort food. I grow tired of caramel apples and non-spiked cider by the end of September, so I require a seasonal pick-me-up to get me to the feasting season. Comfort food incarnate, for me — in its entire saccharine splendor — is candy. Instead of the usual thematic restaurant column, indulge in what these sweet-toothed West Michigan stops have to offer for your autumn sugar cravings. My apologies to any diabetic readers.
Require an extraordinary edible centerpiece or host gift? Scratch the banal wine and cheese plate and marvel at Rudy Kazoody's (54 Courtland, Rockford) for a show-stopper. Owners Marge Cavendar and Tammy Barth have created a unique shop that features prebuilt baskets sporting your favorite name brand and hard-to-find items. These are not just any old gift baskets though; Marge and Tammy have crafted thematic baskets based upon decade or occasion. The nostalgic gift baskets include the ‘50s record basket (Fizzies, Candy Cigarettes, Lemon Heads), ‘60s record baskets (Chuckles, Jujubes, Smartees), ‘70s VW retro bus (Razzles, Zotz, Wax Lips) or ‘80s Basket (Nerds, Big League Chew, Blow Pops, a pack of Garbage Pail Kids, and all of which, I think, should be in a Styrofoam container). Quite possibly the most appropriate for Halloween, the Disgusting Basket has Crick-Ettes (real crickets in salt and vinegar, bacon and cheese, and sour cream and onion), Chocolate flavored Farm Ants (real ants), and suckers with scorpions, how can you not turn this down? Made-to-order baskets are also available.
Sinful Cheesecake Company (3078 S. Bluff Ct., Hudsonville) is a special order operation, most notably for weddings and special occasions, but don't let that deter you from ordering one "just because." Stacey and Garrett Barber began the company in 2001 without any formal training beyond crafting perfect cheesecakes. The appropriate name came by way of a relative who declared the confection as "positively sinful."Cakes are 10-inch, 16-slices of solace and as long as the ingredients required are not too exotic, it can be made. The laundry list of decadence has included Tiramisu (layered with lady fingers and chocolate espresso mouse) and the Michigan favorite Berries with Cherries, a glazed blueberry, raspberry and cherry cake. Oh, and if you'd like a sampling of marriage bliss, try one with the signature white chocolate that bases each wedding cake.
Downtown Holland wouldn't be the same without The Holland Peanut Store (46 E. 8th St.), which has been owned and operated by the Fabiano family for 108 years. With five generations of expertise behind the counter, this shop is known for their summertime paddle pops (ice cream double-dipped in chocolate with fresh roasted crushed peanuts), yet in the cooler months you can choose from old-fashioned sweets like Sea Foam, chocolate covered raisins and nuts. The menu includes a variety of sugar-free alternatives for the glucose-impaired. Also, for a vegan-friendly snack-turned-gorge fest, there are more than 20 kinds of fresh roasted nuts, including almonds, cashews, peanuts, hazelnuts, and filberts.
If you desire some straight out of the box chocolate luxury, order a box from Vita Dolce Chocolates (vitadolcechocolates.com). Vita Dolce or, "The Sweet Life," is based in Grand Rapids and North Carolina, and was started by childhood friends Jessica and Dana, who have based their creations on Jessica's mother's recipes. Desire some truffles? Available are assorted dark, milk, or double chocolate truffles filled with hazelnut, amaretto, raspberry, and more, all available for online order in 16 and 24-piece boxes. Or you can opt for a 12, 24 or 48-piece boxes of dark or milk chocolate toffee or mints. The Artisan line of chocolates is visually stunning and looks great on a tray. With a few more options, the Artisan series has macadamia nut, toasted almond, orange and white chocolate options. Go for it and have it shipped overnight for some lucky bum's gift or emergency noshing with elegance.
Santo Stefano del Lago (12 Washington Ave., Grand Haven) is not just an espresso and gelato bar that sells fine wines, beers, and gourmet Italian foods-it has decadent chocolates, too. Giselle's Pizzelles Cookies are a homemade and a must; Chocolate Boardwalk Bark will give you pause and ponder what's in your mouth and not the view of Grand Haven; Caramel Corn with Chocolate Covered Almonds and Cherries can become more than a snack if you aren't careful; Barefoot Contessa Dark Chocolate Toffee , Marshmallow Caramels, Chocolate Covered Graham Crackers, Fudge, Jumbo Malted Milk Balls, Chocolate Hazelnut Torrone ... Ah, if only I can retire my taste buds here.