I love to write travel pieces, from tales based on exotic sojourns to tiny islands far, far away, to “wow, look what’s right in my backyard” articles. One of the travel article forms is the service piece, which is distinguished from the storytelling article by having a “news you can use” angle, often specifying a destination’s particular sights to be seen, restaurants, lodging prices and hours and locales for all.
Such a piece is my “Five Places for Getting to the Soul of Whiskey” article, published in the San Francisco Chronicle. (One does like good service when it comes to whiskey.) I’m mentioning the Chronicle article in this lineup because the Chronicle travel section presents another angle of article-writing math: they only accept pieces on spec. That means that they don’t assign articles as a result of your crafted query: they take a look at completed pieces, and then say yea or nay.
Which is my long-winded way of saying that I recently wrote another travel piece on spec for the Chronicle: “Five Bay Area Places to Get Killer Chocolate.” Even though I’d seen they’d done a chocolate roundup early last year, I thought mine was distinctive enough to re-whet the editor’s chocolate appetite. My mistake: writing on spec is always chancy (way more time involved than writing a query), and chancier still in this venue, because the Chronicle’s “Five Places” structure doesn’t easily lend itself to rewrite for another publication’s slant. So when the Chron editor said, “thanks but no thanks,” I pondered this article’s fate.
It’s often worth it to pursue rewriting or re-purposing articles—I’ve had articles reprinted in whole, or their rewritten variants published a number of times—but I decided to let this one go. But I had to give it some kind of a home, so let’s allow its velvety chocolate soul to rest here.
Five Bay Area Places to Get Killer Chocolate
Chocolate has morphed from a bitter beverage in Mayan shamanic circles to a sweeter infusion that delighted Europe’s elite to a connoisseur’s candy laced with chipotle and cognac. And it recently broke through the anti-fat, anti-sugar, anti-pleasure nutritional naysayers to now be thought of as a stroke suppressant, cholesterol cutter, diabetes deterrent and all-around good soul. Not a bad resume for a humble bean.
Whatever form the confection takes, there’s a simple reason that enthusiasts can’t seem to get enough: the stuff’s good—really good. Whether you like to slurp, gobble or even flip your chocolate with a spatula, the Bay Area has some choice offerings for the chocoholic.
Big Sur Bakery, Big Sur
The chocolate cake here is deep as a mystery, a buttery, luscious darkness that will have you tonguing the plate and longing for more. Pair it with the bracing espresso and swoon. (And it’s not always available—scarcity sharpens desire.)
47540 Highway 1, (831) 667-0520
Richard Donnelly Chocolates, Santa Cruz
When I lived on a tiny Micronesian island, I cried in pain because the Chinese and Japanese chocolate there was so bad. When a friend sent Richard Donnelly’s Brownie Mix, I wept for joy. These brownies are the chewy, dense, essential core of chocolate. Music for the mouth, with a lingering finish.
1509 Mission Street, (888) 685-1871
Vosges Chocolate, Bay Area Locations
I know, I know—bacon is the new black. We see it in cocktails, mayonnaise, even toothpaste. But Bacon Chocolate Chip Pancake Mix—delicious! Buttermilk pancake mix studded with hickory-smoked bacon enshrouded in sea-salted milk chocolate. You’ll flip the cakes and flip your lid.
Andronico’s, various Bay Area locations
Bittersweet Cafe, Oakland
A place that calls itself “The Chocolate Cafe” better deliver the goods. They have over 150 bars from all over the world and great coffee too, but what really sets them apart are their “drinking chocolates,” which come in three deadly and deep flavors. Whether you go for them hot or cold, these slurpables will coat your mouth in chocolate heaven.
5427 College Avenue, (510) 654-7159
CocoaBella, San Francisco
They dub themselves a “chocolate lifestyle shop,” and indeed the digs are nice. But they could be vending out of a broom closet and still have a steady customer stream, because they have the best chocolates selection around. All the good stuff from Belgium, Switzerland, France, Italy, Spain, Canada and the United States. What’s really fun is to build your own custom box online. What’s more fun is when the box arrives.
2102 Union Street, (415) 931-6213