Finding the Sweet Spot
The Secret Chocolatier in Cotswold is as charming and whimsical as the opening scene in the 2000 movie Chocolat. Rows of perfectly poised truffles tantalize the eye, while flavors range from haute to homey. The base ganache is either milk or dark, and infusions are seasonal. For the holidays, tins as well as boxes are available in different sizes and price points. Owner and pastry chef Bill Dietz brings it home with his artisan S'mores Bar ($2.50) with house-made marshmallows and graham crackers — the latter made with local honey. Our current fave: cakes in a jar ($8.50). Flavors include Midnight Delight — a chocolate fudge extravaganza — and Caramel Cream, with chocolate cake, white chocolate buttercream and caramel sauce. The decoratively delicious chocolate bark combo is packed in a holiday tin ($24.50) with roasted pecan cherry, chocolate peppermint swirl, and caramelized cacao nib and espresso bean barks.
The Secret Chocolatier, 2935 Providence Road, #104, 704-323-8178. Normally closed on Mondays, the shop will be open on Christmas Eve. www.thesecretchocolatier.com
Sugar and Spice
The spice shop is hardly a new concept, having been around since antiquity, but the Savory Spice Shop in the South End nails both the interior aesthetic and the art of information dissemination. For the holidays, proprietors Amy and Scott MacCabe have more than 40 gift sets ranging from $19 to $72. Gift boxes of two to 12 spice or blend jars can be created as well. Also available are spice tubes; peppermint vanilla bean and lavender vanilla bean sugars; and proprietary blends which now include flavors such as Carolina High Country BBQ rub and Cape Hatteras smoked seafood seasoning.
The Savory Spice Shop, Atherton Mill, 2000 South Blvd. 980-225-5419. Extended holiday hours. Shop will be open Christmas Eve, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. www.savoryspiceshop.com
NoDa is hardly known as a shopping hub, but Teresa Hernandez's Pura Vida Worldly Arts always stocks unusual, worldly housewares with easy prices. Beyond the international and local art and textiles are well-priced and versatile gifts, some pretty enough not to need wrapping. The hammered silver spoon and fork servers with recycled-glass handles from India ($30) are available in a riot of color combinations. Glass wine-stoppers ($15) have fanciful shapes and colors, while Japanese chopsticks ($3.95) are carved from assorted woods.
Pura Vida Worldly Art, 3202 N. Davidson St., 704-335-8587. (Note: This shop closes for siesta during weeky afternoons.) www.puravidaart.com
The Mecklenburg County ABC store has multiple offerings from North Carolina's burgeoning micro-distillery industry. Sure, there's moonshine, but now there's vodka, rum and gin, too. Topo (Top of the Hill) Distillery vodka ($28.95) is made from organic Carolina wheat in Chapel Hill and dressed in Carolina Blue packaging. Topo also sells an age-your-own-whiskey kit, complete with miniature barrel. Muddy River Distillery makes its Carolina Rum ($19.95) in Belmont. For a Christmas-in-a-glass rum, try Carolina Coast by Broadslab Distillery of Benson, N.C. (Broadslab also has a moonshine.) Cardinal Gin ($29.95), with its floral profile, is made by Southern Artisan Spirits in Kings Mountain.
Troy & Sons Distillers of Asheville is making small-batch moonshine ($29.95) and an oak reserve whiskey ($36.95) from North Carolinian-heritage Crooked Creek corn — a non-genetically modified American corn. Troy's recipes are strictly indigenous to the mountains and one of the partners is Oscar Wong, owner of the Highland Brewing Company, also in Asheville. Also from Asheville is Howling Moon Moonshine ($24.95) by Copper Still. Junior Johnson's Midnight Moon ($21.95), from Piedmont Distillers in Madison, N.C., comes in Mason jars and in six flavors: apple pie, blackberry, cherry, blueberry, cranberry and strawberry. Piedmont also produces Catdaddy moonshine. One of the oldest N.C. distillers is Carolina Distillers in Lenoir, which opened in 2008. Its Carriage House apple brandy ($23.95) is crafted from a family recipe and uses Pink Lady apples from local farms.
ABC stores operate independently from county to county and do not carry the same products. The Mecklenburg ABC website has a "find a product near you" feature. From a drop-down box you can enter the type of alcohol, the description or the code number. The search will tell you how many bottles are currently available (updated with each sale) in each store throughout the county.