10 Best Hot Chocolates in NYC
March 5, 2014
Take a break from sightseeing with the best hot chocolates in the city
10. Ample Hills
“I too lived -- Brooklyn of ample hills was mine.” Walt Whitman’s poetry is the inspiration behind the name of this Prospect Heights ice cream parlor, which serves equally creamy hot chocolate. What started as a break from writing science fiction novels for founder Brian Smith, who sold his first ice cream from a cart at summer concerts in Prospect Park, has churned into the bustling Ample Hills Creamery that is expanding with additional locations in Brooklyn. While Ample Hills loses a few points for having the hot chocolate pre-made, which sometimes leads to an uneven consistency, the result is mostly a rich, dark hot chocolate beverage that would have you believe it was made just for you. Bonus points are given for the homemade vanilla bean marshmallow gracing the surface of this beautiful hot chocolate.
Bubby’s claims it is “defending the American table” and “we steal recipes from grandmas.” Well, their ‘grandma’ evidently makes not one but three delicious hot chocolates: American, spicy, and Valrhona. The recipe harkens back to the basics — no whipped cream or marshmallows are needed here and the simple presentation looks like something you would make at home. While a bit pricey at $8, the Valrhona is light, airy, and simplistic, proof that some of the best hot chocolates need not be complicated.
We did not expect to find some of the best hot chocolate at a Mediterranean tapas restaurant in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, but we did. The hot chocolate at Olea is simply served in a tall, clear glass sans sweet toppings like whipped cream and marshmallows. Handcrafted and European-style with shaved semi-sweet chocolate and topped with foam, the frothy beverage is so smooth it’s hard not to gulp it down quickly.
7. Dylan's Candy Bar
If there was a real Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory, Dylan’s Candy Bar would be it. Dylan Lauren’s whimsical sweet shop decorated in bright, kaleidoscope-colors not only sells candy but also creative chilly concoctions called Dylan’s Chillins from The Candy Café. These syrup-based frozen hot cocoas win over the inner child in each of us for their sweetness and whimsy. Also served hot, other options include Birthday Party, Cookie Monstah, Simply Perfect, Peanut Butter Explosion, Enlighten-mint, and Raspberrylicious.
6. Serendipity 3
A trio of friends set up shop in the basement of a tenement building on East 58th Street in 1954, and what soon followed was serendipitous. Lines formed nightly for the coveted 16 seats and four tables. Today, Serendipity 3 is on East 60th Street where there are a few more tables set beneath a hodgepodge of dozens of colorful Tiffany lamps, and the seemingly perennial line is part of the experience. The menu is packed with oversized, gooey desserts, but indulgent drinks like the Frrrozen Hot Chocolate are signature must-try beverages. The famous Frrrozen Hot Chocolate is a blended beverage made with 14 varieties of cocoas and milk and topped with mounds of whipped cream, grated valley orange, cinnamon, and shaved French chocolate. It's no wonder this was Andy Warhol's favorite sweet shop.
5. Max Brenner, Chocolate By the Bald Man
The fictitious Max Brenner crafts a very real chocolate wonderland and chocolate culture at his cafes, which began in Israel with a pair of businessmen, Max Fichtman and Oded Brenner, who combined their names to name the restaurant chain. Max Brenner, Chocolate By the Bald Man is known for its playful full sensory presentations of chocolate concoctions where the presentation is just as delightful as the chocolate. Chocoholics can indulge in creative creations like the signature Italian hot chocolate in a ‘Hug Mug’ (a handless mug cradled between cupped hands) or Sukao, an intense shot of Spanish-style hot chocolate sipped through a metal straw.
4. Jacques Torres
‘Mr. Chocolate’ Jacques Torres turns cocoa beans to chocolate bars and some of that chocolate into hot chocolate at his DUMBO and Hudson Street Jacques Torres chocolate factories. Patrons can peer through the windows to see the chocolatier and his assistants handcrafting bon-bons, chocolate snacks, and chocolate bars in the workshop where every element including the marshmallows is made in-house. Each Jacques Torres location — there are five now in Manhattan and Brooklyn with the opening of the latest location on the Upper East Side plus an ice cream shop — includes the BonBon Counter and Chocolate Bar where guests can order hot chocolate, frozen hot chocolate, and Illy coffee and espresso. The shops, decorated in a palette of cocoa pod colors — deep brown, red, orange, yellow and green — serves classic hot chocolate and Wicked Hot Chocolate, a thick, rich hot chocolate with allspice, cinnamon, ground ancho chili peppers, and smoked, ground chipotle chili peppers.
The gelateria chain from Italy serves a trio of intense and full-bodied hot chocolates which are ladled into a stainless steel pitcher and steamed-to-order. The aromatic milk hot chocolate is made from Columbian Teyuna chocolate and a touch of cream while the dark chocolate, made from Venezuelan Ocumare dark chocolate, whole milk, cocoa powder, and white cane sugar, is more intense. The Bacio (“kiss”), made from the Creole chocolate of the Ocumare Plantation in Venezuela and hazelnuts from the Piedmont region of Italy, is an oldie but goodie. These hot chocolates are so delicious you don’t need whipped cream; however, Grom serves some of the best around. Grom’s whipped cream is made with a planetary mixer which beats air into the cream resulting in whipped cream that is so thick it hardly melts into the hot chocolate and you need a spoon to eat it. For those who can’t resist trying the gelato, Grom also makes its hot chocolates ‘affogato’ (with a scoop of gelato drowned in hot chocolate).
Tucked inside Eataly’s entrance on Fifth Avenue, Caffe Lavassa serves a pre-made dark hot chocolate similar to the one on offer at Brooklyn’s Ample Hills; however, it’s the Neve Sulla Lava (“Snow on Top”) that is most amazing. The espresso-cup-sized drink features a base of rich dark hot chocolate, a shot of espresso, and dollop of cold crème espresso granita. Whipped cream and freshly shaved chocolate top this mini creation that may look small but packs a mighty taste that is delicious year-round. Scooping it up with a spoon is optional.
1. City Bakery
Opened by two-time Emmy Award-winning producer and director Maury Rubin in 1990, City Bakery has become an institution in Union Square. City Bakery serves cold chocolate and hot chocolate, but it’s the hot chocolate that wins. City Bakery has such a cult-like chocoholic following it hosts an annual Hot Chocolate Festival each February when a different specialty flavor like banana peel hot chocolate, creamy stout hot chocolate, and caramel hot chocolate is served each day. Those visiting the rest of the year are treated to piping hot, chocolate-y goodness ladled from a large pot and served with an optional jumbo homemade marshmallows. The result is a beverage so rich, and so creamy that it taste like a melted chocolate bar.