Hot chocolate at SagTown Coffee. KIM COVELL
Hot chocolate at Candy Kitchen in Bridgehampton. KIM COVELL
Hot chocolate at Hampton Coffee
Hot chocolate at Golden Pear. KIM COVELL
Pouring milk into hot chocolate. KIM COVELL
Hot chocolate at For Five in Hampton Bays. KIM COVELL
Steaming hot chocolate. KIM COVELL
Adding whipped cream to hot chocolate. KIM COVELL
Hot chocolate at Silver Lining Diner. KIM COVELL
Hot Chocolate, as prepared by Chef Michael Rozzi at the 1770 House in East Hampton, New York, photographed on October 29, 2019
There are certain flavors and aromas that have the power to transport you back to a specific place and time, where sense memory demands you revisit a moment, even if it felt small and, perhaps, insignificant at the time.
As a time steeped in tradition, the holidays, especially around Christmas and Hanukkah, are particularly evocative — familiar scents of foods, beverages and décor abound — whether it’s an old family recipe or the fragrance of pine, orange-clove or peppermint at homes or businesses in preparation for the celebrations ahead.
Making my Grandma Marjorie’s German egg pancakes on Christmas Eve morning – my children delighting in whipping egg whites into lofty, white towers — the flavor of my Grandmother Mary’s honeyed carrots and the way my kitchen smells when my husband has completed a round of masterful Christmas cookies are traditions that transport me through memories that run back decades through my life. And the deepest, richest chocolate you can imagine will always remind me of my daughter, Ella, and for more than the insatiable sweet tooth she has had her entire life — a memory formed in a restaurant in East Hampton just days before Christmas.
The brunch was lovely enough — a cozy table in a familiar place that felt almost like a second home at the time, flaky pastries slathered in creamy butter, savory breakfast treats, hot coffee for my husband, bright orange juice for the rest of the table. But my daughter still demanded something sweet. A lover of all things dessert, especially chocolate, she wanted something warm and sweet on this cold, winter afternoon, and so we decided to take Michael Rozzi, the celebrated chef of the 1770 House in East Hampton, up on his offer for a specially made mug of hot chocolate. But this was no ordinary hot chocolate, and this was not a meal enjoyed last year, or even the year before.
It was a decade ago, when Chef Rozzi could be found at Della Femina, a space now home to the East Hampton Grill on North Main Street. And I was there, just days away from not only Christmas, but also my due date — nine months pregnant with my future sweet tooth.
The wait was longer than usual for your standard hot chocolate — perhaps 15 minutes — but well worth it. Made with melted down chocolate blended with milk and holiday spices, it was rich and decadent, almost intoxicating. I savored it, offering my husband a few sips so he too could share in the delight of a simple beverage elevated. To this day, we joke it was that moment that turned our sweet girl into a lifelong lover of all things chocolate. We have yet to replicate even close to a similar version of her favorite wintertime treat in our own kitchen.
But still, as lesser versions of milk and chocolate bubble on my stove, I think of her and of that morning in an East Hampton restaurant where a favorite chef showed me — as he has often — that great food can create lasting memories, and memories you might find yourself talking about for decades to come.
Chef Rozzi isn’t alone in his ability to craft a memorable beverage — here are some more of our favorites to enjoy during a holiday season that Ella would remind you should always come with at least a couple sides of chocolate.
Shane Dyckman lights up when you ask how many ways he makes hot chocolate at his café on Main Street in Sag Harbor. “The world is your oyster nowadays,” he says. “Almond milk, oat milk, soy milk, hazelnut, vanilla, white mocha …”
He’s cut off as his barista begins steaming 12 ounces of oat milk with 4 teaspoons of Ghirardelli sweet ground chocolate and cocoa. A half-ounce of Monin sirop de hazelnut and a half-ounce of Ghirardelli caramel is added to the bottom of a large cup and then topped with the hot oak milk and chocolate. They add a generous serving of homemade whipped cream (this stuff is seriously amazing, a major step above canned whipped cream), a sprinkle of cocoa powder and some more caramel drizzle. Need we say more?
Southampton & East Hampton
The rich flavor of Ghirardelli chocolate was obvious in the delicious cup of hot chocolate served at Golden Pear. The steamed milk lightened up the thick concoction and the combination was a home run all around. At this place, you’ll have to request whipped cream if you want it, and the same goes for a dusting of cocoa powder, cinnamon or nutmeg.
Since 1925, this coffee shop on the corner of Main and School streets has been serving up pancakes and eggs, coffee, grilled cheese, turkey clubs and all the basics that are the hallmark of coffee shop fare. No doubt, the stainless steel box that dispenses the hot chocolate is a relative newcomer here, but don’t let the source fool you into thinking it won’t be delicious. Delivered at the perfect temperature with a crown of whipped goodness from a can, this cup of hot chocolate was a bit on the sweet side, but still satisfying, much like those cups you had as a kid that your mom made after a cold day outdoors building a snowman.
Hampton Coffee Company
Water Mill, Southampton, Westhampton Beach & Aquebogue
Hampton Coffee Company’s hot cocoa has been made the same way since it opened its first location in Water Mill 25 years ago. Fresh milk and chocolate syrup made with real cocoa — no artificial flavors — are the base for the velvety warmth of this drink. The milk is steamed by hand with the café’s espresso machine, until it’s light and fluffy and the perfect temperature, which we hear means it should be “hot but not too hot,” then combined with the thick chocolate syrup. Get a taste at any of the four locations and, more than likely, you’ll also find the Hampton Coffee Company truck at one or more of the public holiday festivities in our area.
Silver Lining Diner
You know you’re in for something good when the server making a cup of hot chocolate pumps a river of chocolate syrup into a cup and pulls out a cold jug of whole milk and pours that into a stainless steel cup. The milk is then patiently steamed and — when at just the right frothiness — gently combined with the chocolate syrup. The whipped cream, we were happy to note, is just heavy cream with a tiny bit of vanilla, coming from a chilled stainless whipper.
The front room of the former Hamptons Standard and now Salvatore’s, owned by the people who brought us Centro, is a small coffee shop run by a national chain called For Five. We must admit that when we included them in our roundup, we were unaware there are locations throughout the U.S., but nowhere near the scale of Starbucks. That said, the young lady who made a delicious cup of hot chocolate gave us the “local” feel. Made from fresh, dark chocolate syrup, cocoa powder and steamed milk, the sweet designs she made in the froth warmed our hearts, just as the delicious hot cocoa warmed our belly.
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