"I’m here as part of a 12-step chocoholics program,” said a patron of Bissinger’s Chocolatier in Maryland Plaza . “Step 1 is, never be more than 12 steps from chocolate.”
She came to the right place. Bissinger’s, which recently moved to Maryland Plaza after 80 years on McPherson Avenue, has evolved into a retail shop and ‘chocolate lounge’ that’s the go-to place for local chocophiles. A recent expansion has made the Central West End spot more popular than ever, with its selection of Bissinger’s candy, tempting desserts, wines by the glass and bottle, and custom-blended coffees. “It was so busy we were turning people away on weekends, so we’ve expanded from 18 to 60 seats,” says owner Ken Kellerhals. “We’ve expanded the menu, too.”
The enlarged space, with its cozy fireplace, rich dark woods, elegant glasswork and wall of wines, looks like an intimate Parisian or Manhattan bistro. “It’s the ideal spot for a romantic after-dinner date, a relaxing conversation with friends, or a baby or bridal shower,” Kellerhals says. “We’ve added about 30 feet of windows that look out on Maryland Plaza, so our patrons have a ringside seat for people-watching and a great view of the fountain. And now that the weather’s warming up, we also have outdoor seating, and we’ve extended our Sunday hours to 8 p.m.”
Even more of a lure than the ambience are the desserts. The proof is in the melt-in-your-mouth bread pudding, served with seasonal toppings such as caramel, crème anglaise, fresh blackberry sauce and, of course, velvety chocolate. Savor a plate of three perfect truffles—porcini mushroom, olive oil and fig—served with a glass of Bissinger’s cabernet, made exclusively for the chocolatier by Sherwin Family Vineyards in Napa Valley. Share a slice of chocolate cheesecake or chocolate tart, drizzled with housemade blackberry sauce, with a friend. The lounge’s most popular dessert, the Cococcino, features three layers of multi-textured chocolate: a creamy base, molten center and crunchy, brownie-like top, drenched in crème anglaise. It’s best enjoyed with a glass of dessert wine or a cup of Bissinger’s raspberry mocha truffle coffee, Kellerhals notes. “All of our wines and coffee drinks have been chosen to pair beautifully with chocolate,” he adds.
The chocolate lounge at Maryland Plaza is just the latest chapter in Bissinger’s 350-year history. The Bissinger family began creating their sumptuous confections in 17th-century Paris—legend has it that Napoleon Bonaparte presented Bissinger’s chocolates to Josephine upon his return from battle. Today, Bissinger’s is one of the last small-batch, hand-dipped confectioners in the United States. Although its fame is spreading thanks to catalog sales, a recent plant expansion and partnerships with national retail outlets and Ben & Jerry’s, it remains a local company, with stores in Plaza Frontenac and the St. Louis Galleria in addition to the Central West End location. Bissinger’s chocolates can also be found in area Straub’s stores, Whole Foods and online.
In the near future, Kellerhals plans to host wine and chocolate tastings and special presentations by wine experts and cookbook authors. “The place is constantly evolving in response to customer feedback and my own love of chocolate and wine,” he says. “We’re so pleased with the way St. Louisans have embraced us—and now there’s even more to enjoy.”
On the Cover: Bissinger’s newly expanded chocolate lounge, a retail shop and dessert cafe at 32 Maryland Plaza in the Central West End, now has seating for 60 and features a new fireplace. For more information, call 367-7750 or visit www.bissingers.com