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Bread & Brew: Candy stores make life a little sweeter

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Its the week before Halloween, what better time to check out some candy stores? Some fine shops have opened in Portland, namely Candy Babel, Hatties Sweet Shop and Quin.What was the first thing you ever bought for yourself?

I’m guessing it was candy. And that there were pennies involved.

I’ve been thinking about the hold that candy has on our memories, especially at this time of year. And as I’ve been checking out some of Portland’s newer and more unique candy shops, I’m noticing that, different as they are, they all tap that sense of nostalgia.

Friendly and photogenic, Candy Babel opened about a year and a half ago on Northeast Alberta Street. Owner Amani Greer says she was inspired by the candy shops of Europe, and especially Denmark, and she’s passionate about serving candy “as innocent as the person devouring it.”

When it comes to dyes, GMOs and lead contamination in food, Europe is much stricter than the United States, so Greer imports her candy from overseas, even when she’s stocking familiar brands like Haribou and Cadbury. And her Swedish fish really do come from Sweden.

The shop offers a vast array of bulk candy (at $10 a pound), in pretty glass jars labeled with ingredient information for vegans. On sunny weekends, Greer fires up the cotton candy machine. She uses fair trade vegan sugar as a base for unusual cotton candy flavors including cucumber, Earl Grey, peach-habanero, cardamom, and, coming up for Halloween, pumpkin pie.

Despite these innovations, the shop is adorably old-fashioned. The candy is arranged enticingly alongside antique cookie and candy tins and other vintage candy paraphernalia. Where else can you buy a genuine English toffee hammer?

I used a wooden-handled scoop to collect an assortment of giant malt balls, flavored chocolate, mint, and best of all, lemon meringue.

Nostalgia takes a different path at Hattie’s Sweet Shop, which opened on Northeast

Fremont Street just under a year ago. Here you can re-live the Oregon coast experience with freshly made fudge in a variety of flavors, from plain chocolate and rocky road to a seasonal pumpkin-flavored fudge to something called tiger butter fudge. It’s a mixture of chocolate, vanilla and peanut butter, swirled into a tiger-stripe pattern, and it’s a top seller at the shop, although it was too sweet for me.

There’s a great selection of harder-to-find classic candies like Chick-O-Sticks, Ice Cubes, and Abba-Zaba and U-No bars, and a wealth of options for lovers of black licorice. Chocolates come from a variety of places, with a focus on Seattle Chocolates, and there’s a glowing, rainbow-colored wall of bulk candy for $8.99 a pound.

Hattie was the name of owner Tricia Leahy’s grandmother. This is her second shop — she also owns Sweets Etc., in Multnomah Village, which she is planning to convert to a Hattie’s in the near future.

Portland newest and most grown-up candy store is Quin, a tiny shop in downtown’s new Union Way corridor, which connects Southwest Stark and West Burnside streets. The store is a spinoff of St. Cupcake, but the look is very different: spare, modern and heavily branded, with the yellow and black Quin logo repeated over and over.

This is artisan candy — glossy hand-wrapped chocolate chews, house-made marshmallows sold in foot-long curls, and lollipops flavored with real fruit. The candies are all proprietary, except for the chocolate bars, which come from a small cadre of craft chocolate-makers.

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Quin, on Southwest Stark Street in downtown Portland, offers artisan candy - classic candy with a home-made spin. Its much tastier than the normal candy, but it can be spendy.The idea here is to take classic candies and give them a local, hand-made spin. And that can get expensive. I enjoyed the fresh taste and pretty pink color of an Oregon strawberry lollipop, but when I realized I had spent more than $10 on three lollipops and 10 gumdrops, I felt rather dismayed.

That was before I tasted the gumdrops, though. They really are exponentially better than regular gumdrops. You can actually see little bits of real fruit glinting in the translucent, two-tone blackberry-tangerine version. Their bounce and chew is extremely fresh and satisfying, and the gel is bright and citrusy, leaving the real sweetness to a delicate frosty coating of sugar.

Another thing about Quin — those pennies you’ve been clutching in your hot little hand aren’t going to do you any good. They only take plastic.

Candy Babel, noon-6:30 p.m. daily, 1237 N.E. Alberta St., 503-867-0591, www.candybabel.com

Hattie’s Sweet Shop, 11 a.m.-7:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, noon-5 p.m. Sunday, 4815 N.E. Fremont St., 503-477-0497, www.hattiessweets.com

Quin, noon-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday, closed Sunday, 1025 S.W. Stark St., 971-300-8395

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