Following Corning's Chocolate Trail is a sweet adventure.
Several months ago a friend asked me if I ever had heard of Corning's Chocolate Trail. "No," I replied, "But it sounds like something I want to find out about!" Considering that Corning is one of my favorite places to visit and I love anything chocolate, this proved to be a fun and delicious adventure.
My husband and I, accompanied by our two youngest children, took a day trip to Corning to check out the Chocolate Trail, which is one of several trails sponsored by Corning's Gaffer District (www.gafferdistrict.com). Other trails it sponsors include an Antiques & Collectibles Trail, An Edible Excursions Trail, and a Kid's Adventure Trail. The Gaffer District (a "gaffer" is a master glassblower) is the go-to group for tourism information about Corning.
More than two dozen merchants in downtown Corning, most of them along historic Market Street, participate in the Chocolate Trail. Each merchant carries a chocolate-themed item -- although not all of them are edible. Naturally, many have candies, cookies and desserts. Others sell items like chocolate soap, chocolate candles and even chocolate cigars.
Our first stop was Connors Mercantile, 16 East Market St. (607-937-4438; www.connorsmercantile.com), which can best be described as a country store within the city. While Connors stocks all sorts of items, including home decor, giftware, Vera Bradley, and the like, we stopped specifically to check out the chocolates displayed in its candy case. Store manager Jill Agosta described the two different brands of chocolates they sell. Naturally, we had to sample some of each, and I'm happy to report that they are as delicious as they are beautiful.
The first, made by Texas-based Sweet Shop USA, is noted for its signature Fudge Love Truffle. This confection has a milk chocolate whipped fudge center and it is dipped twice, first in dark chocolate and then in milk chocolate.
The other chocolate carried by Connors is made by a local chocolatier, Christian Therion, who often gives talks about chocolate-making at some of the events sponsored by the Gaffer District, including the upcoming Cabin Fever event in mid-February.
We wandered down the street to the School House Country Store, 22 East Market St. (607-962-4374; www.theschoolhousecountrystore.com), which features old-fashioned candy, candles, cookbooks, gifts and lots of odds and ends. Owner Shirley Toole pointed out the store's featured chocolate product, a chocolate delight candle by Corning Waxworks.
"These are the best," said Toole. "They burn nicely, and they smell so good."
Our next stop was Market Street Coffee & Tea, 61 East Market St. (607-936-3351; www.marketstreetcoffeeandtea.com). All its coffee beans are craft-roasted right in the store, and among the chocolate items it carries are chocolate coffee and tea, hot cocoa and chocolate chai, plus a variety of chocolate candies. Its featured candies are Lake Champlain Chocolates, made in Burlington, Vt.
Pam Weachock, owner of the shop, explained another promotion that Corning's Gaffer District is sponsoring. About two dozen of the businesses along Market Street participate in the collectible art cards promotion. Each beautifully decorated art card, sort of a cross between a business card and a bookmark, depicts a colored sketch of the storefront for the participating business, along with information about the business, its products and other helpful information. The cards, which are free for the asking, are so attractive they are suitable for framing.
When lunch time rolled around, we had our choice of more than a dozen restaurants along on Market Street alone but settled on Holmes Plate (607-377-5500; www.holmesplate.com).
The restaurant has a barroom with 54 different types of bottled beer on the menu, but the dining room is family-friendly. The tablecloths are made from large sheets of brown drawing paper, and big boxes of crayons are at each table. Patrons of any age are encouraged to draw on the tablecloth while they wait for their food. Some of the artwork is cut out and displayed in 8x10 frames around the dining room. We were told that they hope to eventually have the walls completely covered with the artwork.
As it turned out, pulled pork is the specialty at Holmes Plate. "Seventy-five percent of our customers order it," said our waitress. "It's awesome!"
My husband decided to join the crowd, while I went with the chicken pot pie, a piping hot creation filled with big chunks of chicken and veggies. For dessert, we ordered the Oreo cheesecake, which was absolutely decadent.
Fortified with lunch, we continued shopping. We stopped at Simple Style, 2 West Market St., which carries clothing, accessories and home decor items. According to owner Karen Maio, almost everything sold in the store is organic, Fair Trade, recycled, or re-engineered. Its Chocolate Trail featured items are chocolate soap and Fair Trade organic chocolate.
We then ventured to the far west end of Market, to Bottles & Corks, 130 West Market St. (607-936-2222, www.bottlesandcorks.biz), a wine and liquor store that has weekly tastings on Friday evenings and Saturday afternoons. That particular day it was offering a taste of hot chocolate laced with Chambord. It hit the spot on a cold day, and the staff was gracious enough to offer plain hot chocolate to the children. The shop specializes in New York State wines; it is located in Finger Lakes wine country, after all. It also carries more than 2,000 wines from around the world.
Beyond Baskets, 88 West Market St. (607-936-1663; www.beyondbasketscorningny.com), carries a variety of home and personal items, including soap, gourmet foods, jewelry and gift baskets. It also has a delicious selection of handmade chocolates.
"About a year and a half ago, my husband, Gary, started researching and experimenting with chocolate," said Cynthia Dickerman, the owner of Beyond Baskets. "We now have a large variety that we sell, both retail and wholesale."
Some of their creations include chocolate dipped pretzels; Gary's turtles (which really do look like turtles); and the Ritz, two crackers sandwiching a layer of peanut butter and then dipped in chocolate. They also have a variety of bark candy, including flavors like blueberry blast, espresso and Aztec, made with cinnamon, cayenne pepper and chili powder.
We also stopped by a couple of our favorite stores not participating in the Chocolate Trail, including Imagine That!, 86 West Market St., which has children's clothing and toys. Another place to check out is the Corning Revere Factory store, 114 Pine St., where you can stock up on houseware items made in Corning.
While we only had the time to visit Corning for a day, one could easily turn a journey along the Chocolate Trail into an overnight stay or a weekend getaway. With Valentine's Day coming up, a trip to Corning would make a nice romantic getaway.
The Fairfield Inn by Marriott Corning Riverside, 3 South Buffalo St. (607-937-9600, 800-228-2800), has created a special Chocolate Lovers promotion for $119. This package offers overnight accommodations, a continental breakfast in the morning, a welcome gift of a chocolate bar of soap, plus a chocolate muffin for each guest at check-in. The hotel is about two miles from Market Street.
The Chocolate Lover's package also contains discounts and freebies at some of the merchants, including 10 percent off bath items and a free truffle at Beyond Baskets. Another deal is a free fragrance wax tart made by Corning Waxworks at the School House Country Store, along with a free chocolate, old-fashioned candy stick.
If you do stay overnight, it leaves room to visit Corning's other attractions, including the well-known Corning Museum of Glass (1 Museum Way; 800-732-6845; www.cmog.org), which has the most extensive collection of glass objects in the world. It has a number of hands-on exhibits and a hot glass show where crafts people demonstrate glassblowing. You can even try your hand at making your own glass objects in a hands-on workshop.
Also in Corning, the Rockwell Museum of Western Art (111 Cedar St., 607-937-1430, www.rockwellmuseum.org) contains a large collection of American Western and Native American art. Admission is free every Sunday through April.