The other day Erin and I took a day trip to Asheville, North Carolina. It was one of our few days off from working at the Brevard Music Center where we spend our summers. There was a long day of fun stuff planned. We toured the Biltmore Estate and Gardens, saw an interesting exhibit of Cuban art in a historic Black Mountain hotel, did some shopping in downtown Asheville, and watched the new Batman movie, but, as usual, our trip really centered around food. Asheville happens to be known for its delicious food with restaurants fiercely advocating for local organic ingredients. Anyway, the highlight of the trip, for me, was our visit to the French Broad Chocolate Lounge. The anticipation of the chocolate in the previous weeks had built up to the point of desperation. I needed to go back. But I was afraid.
Let’s rewind a year. In the summer of 2011 Erin and I spent a day in Asheville with some friends who were visiting from Florida. We had a great time hiking and shopping and decided to end the night by trying the French Broad Chocolate Lounge which was advertised in our hotel tourist booklet. I looooove chocolate so I really pushed for us to visit this place. Anyway, when we arrived we were exhausted from a long day of being tourists. Although the Lounge is in the downtown area, it’s on a rather empty corner which at night can seem lonely and kind of intimidating. When we opened the door, however, we discovered a very crowded and what seemed to be an extremely popular local phenomenon. The Lounge has a narrow rectangular shape with a tempting display along the left side and the cashier in the back. The atmosphere is quite unique with an artsy and hip feel that you can only find in a city like Asheville. Naturally, the line to order was long and filled with anxious people. You could tell most of the patrons were locals because when they looked at you their eyes screamed ‘I hate tourists.’ Well, I hate crowds so I was getting a bit impatient. Plus, the music was loud; hard-to-think kind of loud.
As we made our way to the front of the line we were greeted by rows upon rows of chocolate truffles. Every kind of truffle you could imagine: pomegranate ginger, fig and port, strawberry balsamic, earl grey, masala chai, white jasmine, lavender and honey, vanilla bourbon, canela picante, indian kulfi, etc. They weren’t cheap either. Then, before we knew it, it was time to order. We were all so engrossed in tasting every flavor with our eyes that we hadn’t chosen anything to actually eat. So, we scrambled and made quick decisions. I say ‘quick decisions’ but my decisions are never really quick so the locals behind us were probably annoyed. Anyway, our friends ordered a slice of rich chocolate cake and a small cup of liquid chocolate truffle. Erin ordered a chocolate mousse. I ordered a hot chai latte, a baby dark chocolate turtle, and, what was advertised as, “the greatest chocolate chip cookie.” With a boast like that, the Lounge was just begging to be challenged.
We waited impatiently for the edible gold by the counter. All we could do was stare at each other because there was so much noise we wouldn’t be able to hear our conversations anyway. Words weren’t really necessary though. We were so tired from the day that it was enough just to be around friends. Once the food arrived we made our way upstairs since there were no seats left on the main floor. There was some kind of party going on with dance music blasting and interesting people all about and the outfits were either quite memorable or hopefully forgettable depending on your personal taste. Regardless, we were clearly the weirdos in this land of weirdos. But I was too tired to care or feel self-conscious. So, we began to eat.
We shared everything since it all looked amazing. Our chocolate orgy began with the rich chocolate cake. It was the best chocolate cake I have ever tasted: moist and filled with complex flavors. We then moved to the liquid chocolate truffle. It did not disappoint us. Next was the greatest chocolate chip cookie. I’m not sure that it truly was the greatest, but it certainly was one of the best I’ve had: large chocolate chunks and thick, yet delicate, texture which bent to the touch with the correct amount of pressure. Delicious. Erin’s chocolate mousse was outstanding and the entire time I sipped what I believe was the greatest chai I will ever drink. The spices were the perfect complement to this cornucopia of chocolate lust. We then decided to pour the liquid chocolate truffle on the rich chocolate cake and the greatest chocolate chip cookie which, to our amazement, made these treats that we thought could never be improved upon, even better. It enhanced every bite of chocolate goodness we consumed. You must understand that this was not simply dessert. It was a cosmic experience; a religious experience. It was art. And yet, there was more.
As the evening began to awaken into what seems to be the hours in which Asheville is most alive, we reached a state of chocolate stimulus overload. We tried to have conversations but it was difficult between the noise of the party and the sweet coma which beckoned. We were tired and ready to dream in chocolate when I looked down and noticed that I had forgotten about my baby dark chocolate turtle. It was small and unassuming and I was very full. Yet, it compelled me to reach out to it and no one seemed to notice as I took my first taste. Then suddenly…
…time itself stopped.
For that moment nothing else in the entire universe existed except for this baby dark chocolate turtle and myself, and in that instant I knew there was a God. The combination of the dark chocolate, the pecan, and the salted honey caramel was so perfect that it seemed as though they were not combined by human hands but have always existed together as one, crafted by God himself. Gradually each member of our group looked over at me with confused expressions. When I finally returned to the planet Earth I encouraged everyone to have a taste. There was hesitation at first since it was so small that they didn’t want to eat it all and deprive me of such an experience. I insisted and curiously watched as they each reached enlightenment. There is no way to describe this baby dark chocolate turtle other than: it is the single greatest thing I have ever eaten, and yet, that very description implies that it was simply food. No. It was so much more than that. It was pure love.
Fast forward back to the future, one year later. After a long day of fun in Asheville we enter the French Broad Chocolate Lounge. I know that I must have the baby dark chocolate turtle, but I’m desperately concerned. What if it’s not as good as I remember it to be? What if I’ve exaggerated the experience in my mind? What if I’m disappointed and I lose faith in everything? I sigh, order and pay as fast as possible so I can’t change my mind, and wait. My heart rate increased and I became aware of the salty smell of drops of sweat as they ran down the side of my face. When our order arrived Erin and I, again, made our way up stairs to find the only empty seat in the Lounge. Though there wasn’t a party this time and the music wasn’t as loud, I could still feel the energy in the air. I reached down with hesitation and took a small bite into this item of myth. It was better than I had remembered.
I know what you’re wondering: it sounds great, but is it all an elaborate exaggeration? No it’s not, but I suppose you’ll have to decide for yourself. Good luck and happy eating!