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Laura Byrne Paquet

9 Stops, Dozens of Treats, Countless Calories

Published in the Ottawa Citizen

What did you do?
I went on a chocolate pilgrimage.

Why?
It’s chocolate—do you have to ask?

Where did you start?
At the motherlode, the Hershey’s plant in Smiths Falls (1 Hershey Drive, 613-283-3300, www.hersheys.com). After being closed for three weeks late last year due to a salmonella scare, the sanitized plant is open again for business.

How is business?
Hard to say. The morning I visited it was –23C outside, which probably deterred casual daytrippers. Even so, about half a dozen other folks were taking the self-guided tour when I was there. Note: even though the plant is open seven days a week, your best chance of seeing the machines in action is to visit on weekdays before 2pm.

So what did you see?
A scene straight out of “I Love Lucy”: workers diligently sorting Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups flowing along a set of conveyor belts. Malformed ones went into a seconds bin, really mangled ones into a garbage can. Other cool sights: liquid chocolate being poured into chocolate bar moulds, syrup tins being shunted along a complex series of chutes, and naked Oh Henry bars chugging toward the machine where they’d get their chocolate coating.

Could you buy products afterward?
But of course. In fact, you have to walk through the huge Chocolate Shoppe to get to the second-floor tour gallery. After inhaling chocolate fumes for the 20 minutes it took me to do the tour, I was ravenous. And the prices in the shop are unbeatable. No five-cent chocolate bars, as portrayed in some of the vintage promotional materials in the gallery, but there are full-sized 65-cent bars, bulk silos of chocolate chips and Reese’s Pieces, oddball products like candy-coated chocolate kisses, and a variety of chocolate-themed gifts.

What was your weirdest purchase?
Something called a Max5 bar, a combination of chocolate, caramel, peanuts, peanut butter and pretzels. Unusual salty aftertaste, but not bad. And every customer gets a freebie at the checkout—mine was a small box of mini Oh Henrys.

After you waddled out, what was next?
I debated driving 18km for lunch in cute Merrickville, but I had other chocolates to sample. A quick lunch at a Tim Horton’s curbed my sugar high, then it was off to Kanata.

Kanata? What’s there?
A cute little place called Forte (457 Hazeldean Road, 613-836-4661, www.fortechocolate.com), which sells gelato, waffles, coffee and superb Leonidas chocolates imported from Belgium. I splurged on an assortment ($7.89 for 125g). When I said I was saving them as a gift, they gave me a free sample. The best chocolates I had all day, bar none.

Anywhere else to get a fix in Kanata?
I dropped into La Provence Bakery (500 Hazeldean Road, 613-836-8838) in hopes of finding a chocolate croissant, but—zut alors!—they were sold out. So I “settled” for an éclair topped with chocolate icing and sprinkles and filled with chocolate cream ($2.99). Very tasty.

Surely you were done?
You underestimate me. The next stop was Truffle Treasures in Westboro (348A Richmond Road, 613-761-3859, www.truffletreasures.com). If it had been a Wednesday afternoon, I could have had a reading from a “life path consultant” called Sage, but I was happy with two lovely hand-made truffles, one flavoured with Earl Grey tea and the other with strawberries and champagne ($2 each). If I’d had company, it would have been a pleasant place to dish with the gals—several small tables faced a flat-screen TV playing an art-house movie.

I suspect this wasn’t the end of the journey.
Nope. I also hit Louise’s Belgian Chocolates (283 Richmond Road, 613-722-6262, www.louisesbelgianchocs.com; also in Bells Corners), an airy shop stocking all sorts of chocolates from a variety of Belgian companies, as well as cakes, marzipan and other goodies. One specialty is candy suitable for diabetics. Curious, I bought a bar of Cachet sugar-free milk chocolate (85 g for $3.95). While it tasted slightly different from regular chocolate, it was good and didn’t have that irritating carob tang of most cheap sugar-free chocs.

I’m afraid to ask—what next?
One last stop: the unprepossessing Giovanni’s Snack Bar in Little Italy (376 Booth Street, 613-238-9204), where a spirited debate in Italian was in full swing among a group of obvious regulars when I walked in. Even though my $2.50 hot chocolate was made with Carnation instant mix, warm frothed milk made it a perfect winter treat.

Where else in town can chocophiles go?
Try Stubbe Chocolate (375 Dalhousie Street, 613-241-1040) for custom-made items, the French Baker (119 Murray Street, 613-789-7941) for pain au chocolat and Cakes by Tatiana (1202 Bank Street, 613-523-2112, www.cakesbytatiana.com) for chocolate champagne corks—huge chunks of moist chocolate mousse cake dipped, for good measure, in chocolate.

Any last words?
Anyone have the number for Weight Watchers?