Those with a sweet tooth will find pockets of heaven in Kansas’ largest city. From gourmet chocolates to ice cream creations, Wichita will satisfy your craving for sugar.
I’m someone who looks for a bakery or candy store soon after arrival at a new destination—sweets are usually the first thing on my mind when I go out exploring. Downtown Wichita didn’t disappoint, as I found a number of goodies within walking distance of the historic Drury Plaza Hotel Broadview.
Gourmet Chocolates and Scrumptious Pie
Chocoholics flock to Cocoa Dolce, an artisan chocolatier with three stores in Wichita. The newest is at the new production plant housed in the former factory and museum of Wichita-based Coleman camping goods company.
These aren’t just any chocolates. A box of 32 different pieces—each a handcrafted work of confectionery art—costs $70, and they’re sold in smaller quantities as well. Among the eye-catching colors and patterns: teal, bright orange, lime green and red polka dots. Most popular are the Champagne truffles, while liquor also makes its way into the Irish Cream (Bailey’s), Red Wine Sangria, Spicy Margarita, Bananas Foster and Blackberry Mojito varieties. Or maybe a hint of coffee, creme brulee, dulce de leche or chili powder is your idea of chocolate bliss. All Cocoa Dolce candies are made from Callebaut bulk chocolate from Belgium. The company also makes macarons and other gourmet pastries—the salted caramel scone is to die for. Each location has a Sweet Lounge that offers craft beer and cocktails.
Everyone takes comfort in a piece of pie, and Peace, Love & Pie certainly serves up slices of joy. At this premium dessert and pie shop in newly revamped Naftzger Park, choose from flavors like strawberry rhubarb, lemon custard, cheddar bacon apple and salted dulce de leche. Pie shakes are available, too.
Nuts and Candy by the Scoopful
Those with a passion for the sweet and salty go nuts at Nifty Nut House, a sort of candy supermarket with lots of salespeople ready to scoop and weigh your choice of bulk candies and nuts. You’ll feel like a kid in a candy store—the choices are endless. At any given time the store stocks more than 3,000 different items.
Opened in 1937, the third-generation family-owned business two years ago moved to a new location with double the space—ample room for every kind of bulk and packaged candy imaginable. Nifty Nut House roasts its own nuts and is well known for its fancy mixed nut selections. Also house-made are fudge (flavors like banana walnut and root beer) and trail mixes. But most of the product comes from other sources.
What’s great about Nifty Nut House is that you’re free to sample to your heart’s content. Workers gladly will give you a spoonful of the chocolate-covered raisins or cranberries, coconut curry cashews, tiramisu caramels or butter toffee pecans. Try malt balls in flavors like pumpkin spice and mint chip. After sampling the bulk bridge mix (a favorite indulgence of mine), I had to buy a bag—best I’ve ever had. Dried fruits are another big seller.
Shoppers also will find a vast selection of Pez dispensers, M&M varieties and Jelly Belly flavors, to mention a few familiar brands. Nostalgia candies on the “Retro” shelves include Turkish Taffy, candy cigarettes, and Clove and Blackjack chewing gum. Look up and you’ll see vintage gumball machines on display throughout the store—the owner has more than 1,000 in his collection.
Ice Cream Creations
What would a sweets tour of Wichita be without ice cream? Old Mill Tasty Shop, another downtown fixture that has served generations of Wichita residents, is a time-honored diner advertising “Fountain Service and Sandwiches.” Settle into a booth or grab a stool at the antique soda fountain and indulge in a shake, malt, soda or sundae. Quench your thirst with cherry limeade, root beer mixed with marshmallow fluff, or a chocolate, cherry or vanilla Coke.
Old Mill Tasty Shop, a high-ceilinged place decorated with black-and-white pictures of Old Wichita, also is famous for its homemade carrot cake, a family recipe that calls for a half-inch-thick layer of fluffy, buttery frosting. The chicken salad (people take it home in big containers) and green chili are other crowd-pleasers.
One family ran Old Mill from 1932 until 1979; another has been in charge since 1982.
In the historic Delano district, just across the Arkansas River from my hotel, I discovered Milkfloat, a scratch dessert bakery. It’s hard to choose between all the cheesecakes, cupcakes, pies, and giant cookies and brownies. Homemade pop-tarts come in flavors like key lime and black raspberry. Accompany your dessert with a specialty coffee or tea. There are milkshakes and other ice cream creations, too. How about a pecan pie concrete?
Just down the street, Sweet ’n Saucy stocks more than 250 kinds of craft soda, including flavors like butter, strawberry shortcake and bacon chocolate. That’s in addition to a vast range of hot sauces, barbecue sauces (mostly from Kansas) and candy (including saltwater taffy by the pound and hard-to-find brands from yesteryear). Novelty socks and miniature versions of popular toys (yo-yos, Uno, Silly Putty and Barbie dolls) add to the fun.
For information on Wichita tourism, log on to www.visitwichita.com.
By Randy Mink, Senior Editor