photos by Allison Stockwell
I stepped out of Noodles and Company on the Plaza with my friends – I felt stuffed. I had enough pad thai and parmesan chicken to keep me full for what felt like days. Then, walking down Nichols Road, we walk passed a little chocolatier, black awning identifying it as “Panache.” And although I was full, my stomach was begging for the tiniest piece of chocolate. Man, I have a soft spot for sweets.
Every time I was on the Plaza since I was little, I walked by this chocolatier, promising myself that one day I would check it out. Yet somehow, I never stopped to peek in. But let me tell you, I wish I had earlier.
I walked into Panache on a Tuesday night and it was practically empty. I immediately saw glass display covers protecting their varying products, abstract tile floors and white walls with snowflake-like decor here and there. I had leftover bills stuffed in my pocket and decided this place was probably out of my budget. It felt much more upscale than my usual lunch at Noodles and Company. And yes, it drained my whole pocket of cash, but it was 100 percent worth it.
Julie, one of three workers in the store, was someone who I knew I wanted to be friends with. She complimented my shirt the second I walked in, what better way to make friends? Great customer service: check.
I quickly learned that she co-owned Panache with her husband Derrick, who I also met. After small talk about the Royals and East, we got down to business. She sat me down and gave me the inside scoop on what Panache is all about.
This woman sure did love her chocolate. She talked about their chocolate popcorn, “Choco Poppo,” like it was an antique delicacy, like they had found a hidden legend of the perfect blend between sweet and salty. She talked about how everything they produce is handmade, how they don’t even have machines in the back room. She knew their products were top notch.
So, I put it to the test.
I recieved plate after plate of different chocolates, and I had no idea how many different things could be covered in chocolate.
First was the hot chocolate. Julie knew they made good hot chocolate, but I’d be the judge of that. Inside I thought Oh no, not hot chocolate. Those gross powder packets with fake marshmallows always make my stomach hurt. However, this tasted nothing like those generic packets.
It was the perfect temperature. Not hot enough to burn my taste buds, but just above lukewarm. The added shot of espresso added a kick to it, each sip renewed with rich chocolate and a slight bitter twist from the espresso. So I sipped on that throughout my sitting.
Next, Julie brought out the choco poppo. The way she talked about it I thought it might be put on a gold platter to be served, which it might as well have been. Julie had every right to brag about this popcorn. It is sweet yet salty, crunchy yet smooth. I would not recommend buying too much of it though because fair warning: you will snack on it all day.
But it was not the Choco Poppo that stuck out to me. The first thing my eyes went to in the glass display cases were the “signature truffles,” so I asked what all the different kinds were. Julie identified each truffle simply by a small decoration on top of them and I picked out three to try.
The dark chocolate raspberry is the best selling, so of course I had to see why. Taking a bite, the dark chocolate hit me first. The richness of the outer coating of the truffle was strong, but not overpowering. Next, the fruitiness of raspberry kicked in. The flavor wasn’t overwhelming though, leaving most of the taste to the chocolate, and it created a delicious mixture.
The next truffle was the dark chocolate peanut butter. The thick peanut butter center was strong and lingered in my mouth a few minutes after I ate it. It tasted like a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, but stronger, thicker, more homemade. This was my favorite one, but I am a little biased because of my enamor for peanut butter.
While snacking on the different chocolates, Julie and Derrick made me, along with anyone else who walked in their café, feel at home. Julie and I talked about our weakness for ice cream, while Derrick told me all about Panache’s history. They bought Panache two years ago. He said it needed a new look and original ideas, and, well, why not?
Some very new aspects to the chocolatier are the breakfast and lunch menu. They are pretty plain as of now, but delicious. I never had their breakfast, but I will be going back for that chocolate dipped cronut very soon. As for lunch, they serve soups, salads, quiche and different kinds of paninis. The menus are limited right now, but intend to grow. And for such a new café, they make great paninis. The triple cheese grilled panini melts in your mouth.
Overall, Panache makes amazing food. I would recommend it to anyone looking for a little sweet treat.
But more importantly, if you are looking for a friendly environment, Panache is the place to go. The experience I had becoming friends with the owners while enjoying delicious food was one I won’t forget. It is simply a comfortable environment with nice people.
From now on, when I walk down the Plaza with a group of friends, I know where to stop for a sweet snack. I’m just disappointed it took this long for me to find it.
Map by Aidan Epstein