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5,000 Calories at Hot Chocolate
May 03, 2005 | 1 Comments

That special hot-spot excitement has surrounded Mindy Segal's new café Hot Chocolate, since long before it opened. Segal's notable acclaim as a pastry chef combined with a trendy Bucktown location nearly guaranteed writeups in Chicago Magazine and Metromix. Now, the writeups have come and the people are lining up. I usually shy away from the big hotspots until some of the buzz dies down. This time, the promise of some of the best desserts in town took precedence and we chose an early dinner on an off-night.

Full disclosure: Ms. EC and I had dinner with a couple other friends that night, one of which is a vendor for Hot Chocolate. Also, all four of us are friends with someone working in Hot Chocolate's kitchen. No one knew we would be there, our waiter didn't know us at all, and we didn't receive any special service other than some extra items sent to us from our friend in back.

Even though we knew dessert was coming eventually, we wound up with quite a bit of savory food. Hot Chocolate carries a seasonal menu of appetizers that we were told changes every couple weeks. We were all surprised by the sweet and gooey cheddar cheese melts and I couldn't get enough of manila clams in a mild curry broth.

In hindsight, our entrees were very good, but blurred by the furious onslaught of dessert. I think I remember eating a wagyu skirt steak sandwich and a bit of halibut and some buttery tallegio in a pastry crust, but my sugar rush clouded my memory. On to the sweets:

Hot chocolate: Two types: "medium" strength and one that's mixed with espresso. Pretty darn good, maybe not five-bucks-a-cup good, but very rich with strong cocoa flavors. If you like hot chocolate, it should be on your list of "to try". If you don't have a list, start one (also add Angel Food Bakery to it).

Mini brioche doughnuts: The clear winner for me. Small, warm, sugar-coated, brioche donuts (and their donut holes) with some hot fudge for dipping and some homemade caramel corn. There's nothing to complain about here. I ate one doughnut before I saw the hot fudge and it was still a great little treat. The hot fudge was a perfect example of gilding the lily, but that's what made it so good.

Milkshakes and brownies: Four small shot glasses of milkshakes with four small slivers of brownies. The brownies are slightly fudgy and slightly sweet. They're the kind of brownies you could easily eat way too many of. They're for sale at the front counter to-go.

Big Snickers: This looked a slice of a giant Snickers bar. It consisted of very chocolaty mousse and a semi-hard peanut-caramel brittle. Very good.

Some banana thing: I barely remember this one in the storm of sweets. Bananas and grahams I think. Tasty but I was still staring at the doughnuts.

We rolled ourselves out, vowing not to eat again for days.

As a café, Hot Chocolate is a nice addition to Bucktown, a neighborhood that seems overrun with chains lately. The savory foods are comforting and enjoyable. As a dessert bakery and Mindy Segal showcase, it doesn't disappoint in the least. Segal is a pastry chef who understands her ingredients. She knows when to make something really sweet and when to back off and let the other flavors shine.

In spite of its Chicago Mag hot-spot pedigree, I enjoyed Hot Chocolate. I probably wouldn't make a special trip if I lived far from Bucktown, but it's a nice dining option for that neighborhood with some excellent desserts. I'm told that the place can get packed (reservations not accepted) so I recommend doing what we did and visit on an off-night, preferably during a Bulls playoff game.

Hot Chocolate is located at 1747 N. Damen (look carefully, it's easy to miss). No reservations (except for very large parties). Valet parking, and they're open for brunch on the weekends.

Posted 04:03 PM
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