Jun 11, 2012

Visit Romolo's Chocolates in Erie, PA

On a recent trip to Erie, Pennsylvania we stayed at the Sheraton Bayfront Hotel with a panoramic view of Presque Isle and Bay. One night after dinner while enjoying a cocktail in the lounge we chatted with some local people. We told them how much we enjoyed the Maritime Museum which is right next to the Sheraton and mentioned that the next day we were going to explore Presque Isle. They asked, “Have you tried our famous sponge candy?” Sponge candy? We had never even heard about it. They instructed, “On the way to Presque Isle stop at Romolo’s and get some. Try it – you will like it!”

Romolo’s was easy to find. It is a beautiful Tuscan-style building right on the main road. We were surprised by how many cars were in the parking lot in the middle of the morning in the middle of the week. Romolo’s Chocolates is more than a chocolate store. The Tuscan-style building features a theater-style chocolate shop and bakery along with the Cocoa Café, a beautiful outdoor piazza and, the Mercado offering unique gift items.

We were lucky to meet with Mr. Chocolate himself – Mr. Tony Stefanelli in the Cocoa Café. While John sipped his chocolate milk, which he declared the best he ever had, Tony shared his family’s story with us – another American success story. His grandfather, Romolo, came from Italy in 1908 and ended up in Erie making chocolate. Tony is the third generation in the chocolate-making business and his two sons, Anthony and Roman, are now also working in the business. Tony, who opened his store in 1994, is only one of 26 master confectioners in the U.S. Family photos throughout the three shops honor the family that has been hand-making artisan-quality chocolates and confections for more than100 years

Tony explained his success by patterning his business on two successful companies: General Electric and Disney. He treats his workers with the same consideration as General Electric and makes a visit to his shops an experience just like Disney does. To that end he is expanding the Piazza where he often has entertainment.

I asked about the sponge candy mistakenly calling it chocolate. Mr. Chocolate explained that the sponge candy is a confection covered with chocolate. Personally, we just called it “Totally Awesome.” The sponge part, and it does look like a yellowish sponge, tastes a bit like molasses taffy but, as Tony explained, “It is a challenging confection because it requires perfect environmental conditions and dead-on accuracy to make.” It is the crisp texture that melts in the mouth that is so unique and, of course, it is covered in chocolate. And since it is Romolos’s it is only the finest chocolate.

The sponge candy was my favorite but John, ever conscience of chocolate’s health benefits, had his eye on the 72-percent Pure Dark Chocolate Bars made European-style that does not have the bittersweet taste other high-percentage chocolate often has. I had my sponge candy, John had his 72-percent chocolate bar, and we each picked some truffles in our favorite flavors. And, off we went to Presque Isle. Romolo’s Chocolates made our trip around Presque Isle a sweet one. It’s a good thing Romolo’s was on way back to the Sheraton so we didn’t have to go out of our way to replenish our stock for the long ride back to Central New York.