By Suzanne Russo in New York—
Winter. Gusty, chilly, bone-numbing winter—this writer is not a big fan. Don’t get me wrong: Those first frosty days are magical, the snow beautiful. But this time of year, I’ve about had it with the crazy wind tunnels created by those incredible buildings I love so much.
In New York, slinking into hermit-dom is not an option. Instead, this New Yorker’s winter survival guide involves lots of inside breaks. But one can only take so many cups of coffee before that jittery caffeine feeling sinks in, so why not mix it up with a little hot chocolate? I’m not talking a powdery packet of Swiss Miss (this is New York after all), but rather creamy, frothy and decadent, grown-up style hot chocolate. And here, because even this comforting cold weather favorite can get pricey (this is New York after all), a list of the best, and most affordable, cups of chocolately goodness in the city.
3 West 18th Street
Part cafeteria, part bakery, part café, this bustling New York mainstay pretty much does it all—and does it well. In terms of the treat in question, well, let’s just say hot chocolate has its very own month-long festival at City Bakery. Each February, the bakery takes its already gush-worthy hot chocolate (made from pure melted chocolate bars) to a whole new level, with daily-changing specialties like Tropical Hot Chocolate, Sunken Treasure Hot Chocolate and Bourbon Hot Chocolate (yes please!). At $5 per cup, this is the priciest pick of the list, but a hot chocolate with its own festival is well worth the splurge.
Various locations: 11 Madison Avenue (Madison Square Park); 691 8th Avenue; 154 East 86th Street; 366 Columbus Avenue
It started as, literally, a shack in Madison Square Park, serving mouthwatering burgers and crazy-delicious ice cream treats called “concretes” to miles-long lines of enthusiasts. The shack now has multiple locations throughout the city, but that doesn’t make its take on American classics any less yummy. For those looking to swap an icey treat for something warmer, I’ve five words for you: Salted Peanut Butter Hot Chocolate. Oh yes, they went there. This decadent concoction is Shake Shack custard creamy, with a mix of sweet chocolate, sticky peanut butter and a dash of salt to round it all out. And only $3.75.
OTTO Enoteca Pizzeria
1 Fifth Avenue
Mario Batali’s most casual—and affordable—outlet is one of this writer’s favorite restaurants in all of New York. Yet despite semi-regular visits to dip into the extensive wine list and indulge in fresh and creative pizzas and pastas, I had not, until writing this story, tasted the Gianduja Calda ($4.50), the pizzeria’s smooth, nutty hot chocolate made by melting milk and hazelnut chocolates into hazelnut-steeped milk. Imagine a piping hot cup of rich, melted Nutella.
The verdict: Molto bene! And a tip: While it’s perfectly acceptable to sidle up to the long marble bar and order a Gianduja, keep in mind that OTTO is a restaurant, not a café. Its roomy bar area is nightly packed with discerning foodies sipping wine, nibbling appetizers and awaiting tables, so get your hazelnut fix during the day.
5 Carmine Street
This fun and funky dessert spot specializing in gelato-on-a-stick wins the award for “most fun hot chocolate.” Here the sweet treat is partially DIY: You get a cup of steamed milk and a cube of Belgian chocolate on (you guessed it!) a stick for dipping. The starting price is $3.75 and if for some reason you need a second cube—or you simply can’t choose between dark chocolate and caramel—a second stick costs$2.50.
Aroma Espresso Bar
145 Greene Street
Israel’s most popular espresso bar chain can always be counted on for great coffee. This sunny location is, incidentally, a favorite EuroCheapo coffee purveyor, given its location just around the corner from our headquarters. Here at EC, we love Aroma’s fresh food, tasty coffee and the tiny chocolate bars that come with each cup. Which brings me to the subject at hand. Hot chocolate at Aroma is a simple but delicious affair, made by dropping a couple of the chains original chocolate into a cup of hot milk ($4).
The effect is a sort of layered drinking experience. First you encounter a sweet, cool dollop of whipped cream, topped with a sprinkling of cinnamon and sugar. Next you stir (this step is key), since the chocolate resides at the cup’s bottom. The drink itself is lighter and less rich than most of the New York hot chocolates, but still quite tasty. But the best comes last, in the form of the clumps of melted chocolate that remain at the bottom of the cup. A helpful hint: Don’t stir too thoroughly.