Bissinger’s Handcrafted Chocolatier at Maryland Plaza

Anyone who has ever sprinkled a dash of salt on a slice of watermelon knows the savory enhances the sweet. The combination reaches new heights at Bissinger’s Handcrafted Chocolatier at Maryland Plaza, which now has an expanded menu to go with its recently expanded space.

The combination retail confectioner and cafe in the Central West End, renowned for its sumptuous chocolate desserts, European-style coffee drinks and well-edited wine list, now offers savory items, as well. “The new menu is a direct response to the needs of our customers, who often wanted something a little bit more substantial with their wine before they ordered dessert,” says Dave Owens, Bissinger’s vice president of operations and chief chocolatier. “So we’ve added some wine-friendly savories that pair well with chocolate.”

Before you enjoy a slice of chocolate cheesecake with blackberry sauce or share the three-layered Cococcino with a friend, you can sharpen your palate with a tangy bleu cheese tart accompanied by a salad with chocolate vinaigrette. Other new dishes include warm, creamy goat’s milk cheese served with cured olives, roasted almonds and a rosemary-wine cracker; and thinly sliced prosciutto with fig preserves and extra-virgin olive oil.

“This is an intimate space, not a huge restaurant, so we wanted to offer just a few bites that would satisfy our customers, but also be cohesive with the rest of the menu, including the wine list,” says Owens, who joined Bissinger’s in 2007 after 25 years in the restaurant business. “All of our wines and custom-blended coffees have been chosen to harmonize beautifully with chocolate, and it’s the same with our savories—the saltiness of the cheese and prosciutto complements chocolate beautifully; the rich, oil-cured olives echo the richness and body of dark chocolate; and the robust, crunchy almonds stand up to the strong character of chocolate and wine.” To toast the new menu items, he recommends a Bissinger’s Cabernet or the soon-to-be-launched Bissinger’s Chardonnay.

Owens and Bissinger’s CEO Ken Kellerhals are particularly proud of the ever-evolving wine list. “Many of our wines are limited-availability vintages not typically poured by the glass here in St. Louis,” Owens says, giving Robert Biale’s Black Chicken Zinfandel as an example. “We sell them at a comfortable price point. We want to make it as easy as possible for our customers to experience them.”

This is just the latest chapter in Bissinger’s 350-year history. The Bissinger family began creating confections in 17th-century Paris. Today, the St. Louis-based business is one of the last small-batch, hand-dipped confectioners in the United States. Its flagship store on McPherson Avenue satisfied the local sweet tooth for 80 years before moving to Maryland Plaza three years ago. The company, which does a brisk online business, also has a shop in Plaza Frontenac, and selected items can be found in area Straub’s and Whole Foods stores.

The new menu is available all day. “It pleases the customer who craves a light lunch, a post-work or pre-dinner snack, or an after-hours treat,” Owens says. “Our customers are both surprised and delighted by the change, and the savory items have been a big hit at our wine tastings, held the third Thursday of every month. People are so appreciative of our efforts to constantly enhance their dining experience, and they love trying new things. Now we’re giving them a little more to play with.”