Ever since the beginning of the year, I've heard one resolution after another about "avoiding sugar." But if you're waiting for an excuse to stray from your commitment, check out Northwest Sweets.
The candy shop opened at the end of 2009 on Northwest 23rd Avenue, offering old-timey treats—taffy, jawbreakers, lemon drops, Squirrel Nut Zippers, wax soda bottles and retro chewing gum like Clove and Blackjack—and a haute shot of Nob Hill panache with a variety of housemade, artisan goodies.
Confectioner/owner Steve Gazda's sugar cred can be traced to a stint as pastry chef de partie at the Four Seasons in Atlanta, as well as local pastry- and confection-teaching gigs. These days he can be found in his kitchen/workshop right smack in the middle of the store concocting handmade English toffees, caramels, pâtes de fruits (think gussied-up Sunkist Fruit Gems), pistachio nougat, coconut snowballs and sugar plums, plus chocolate truffles bearing unexpected essences like masala spice and chestnut honey. His unique take on the now-ubiquitous handmade marshmallow resembles giant dollops of whipped cream, sized to span the entire surface area of a mug of hot cocoa.
Standouts include slider-sized dark-chocolate caramel turtles (sea salt-touched as well as a "drunken" variety spiked with red wine), astonishingly thick and mouthwatering brown-sugar pralines ($3.50) and caramels—soft, buttery, orthodontia-friendly and available by the piece (50 cents each). Espresso, orange blossom, red wine and "Buddha's delight" (an Asian citrus fruit) caramels are subtly flavored, but the smoked-salt version delivers a more assertive, full-flavored punch. Unfortunately, the incongruously named "brittles" are anything but; both cashew curry and peanut options are unyielding, indelicate and unkind to molars. (Note: For the gold standard in salty-sweet peanut-brittle awesomeness, look no further than See's Candies—that shit WINS!)
During our recent visit to the shop, Gazda was at work perfecting soon-to-be-available bacon-chipotle and pineapple-chipotle caramel sauces, as well as a positively addictive bacon butter-crunch toffee (which, I can attest, supports the argument that bacon has not yet jumped the shark). Sweeeet.
- Order this: Dark-chocolate pecan turtle ($3.50) is the best meal-replacement bar you could ever ask for.
- Best deal: Colored sugar dots on strips of white paper (25 cents a foot!) and housemade buttery caramels (50 cents).
- I’ll pass: Brittles are texturally challenged and likely to extract a filling ($3.50).
Northwest Sweets, 740 NW 23rd Ave., 360-1350. 11 am-7 pm Wednesday-Monday. $ Inexpensive. Check nwsweets.com for news of future candy-making classes.