The Chocolate Cure

Sick and tired of the heat, Ian heads to Bissinger’s.

"So, Ian, tell me what's bothering you this week."

It's the heat, Doc. It's killing me.

"It is hot."

I'm hot. Like, all the time.

"You should go somewhere it's not hot."

That's the problem, Doc. I can't go anywhere else. I have to stay in St. Louis and review restaurants.

"I find that small, light meals are best during this time of the year."

That's all well and good when you can eat at home. But I have to visit actual restaurants, you know? Like, appetizer-salad-entrée-dessert restaurants. I would love to review ice cream parlors all summer, but it's not practical. "Sorbet is light and refreshing." You try stretching that to 1,200 words.

"We're not here to talk about me."

It's hard to enjoy a meal when it's 105 degrees. Sure, the restaurants are air-conditioned, but the moment you step back outside, your stomach bloats to twice its normal size. You don't want to touch a piece of food for days. I guess it's my fault, though. No one forced me to review a soup joint a couple of weeks ago. Soup! In August! The week before that, a churrascaria. Endless meat! What the hell was I thinking?

"You're too quick to blame yourself."

At any rate, Doc, the point is: It's too hot to enjoy eating.

"Come on, Ian. There must be something you've enjoyed lately."



There's this one place.

"Tell me about it."

It's called Bissinger's: A Chocolate Experience

"Sounds pretentious."

The name's a little pretentious, I agree. But this is Bissinger's, a St. Louis institution. A few months ago it moved from its old Central West End location by the antique shops on McPherson to the redeveloped Maryland Plaza.

"Still the Bissinger's we all know and love, though, right?"

Actually, it's gotten a makeover. The dining room is very sleek and modern. There aren't tables, exactly. You sit in upholstered seats on either side of these funky coffee table-like things. On the other side of the dining room is a display counter with Bissinger's goodies.

"Sounds like a great space."

It is a great space. Small, but there's patio seating. You can sit outside and watch drunken college kids get soaked when they stumble too close to the Maryland Plaza fountain.

The restrooms, though.

"What's wrong?"

They might be in a different zip code. It's one of those setups where you have to leave the actual restaurant and enter the building in which it's located. Then you have to find your way around a few corners and down a couple of hallways to the restrooms. A sign directing you would be helpful. But yeah, otherwise, the space is great.

"So you order a few truffles or filled chocolates and eat them at the funky coffee tables?"

Well, you could do that, I guess. But there's a menu of desserts developed by "chocolate sommelier" Gretchen Morfogen. It's organized from light- to medium- to full-bodied, so you can gauge how filling your dessert will be. It's a nice touch, especially since you're probably going to eat here after lunch or dinner somewhere else. That's what I did both times I visited.

"I hope you ordered something from the light-bodied menu, given how hot it's been. Especially if you'd already eaten dinner."

You'd think so, Doc, but everything on the menu sounded so delicious, I kind of lost my head for a second there and ordered the chocolate cheesecake, made with Bissinger's 60 Dark Chocolate. Oh man, was it tasty. Rich, moist, with just a slight tang from the cream cheese.

"This was a full-bodied dessert, I assume."

Scarily enough, no. The cheesecake was medium-bodied. So was the chocolate pot de crème. This was like the silkiest custard you've ever eaten, and it was served with two chocolate truffles as dense as neutron stars.

Wait. Damn it. I used that neutron star simile too soon. Because a couple of the full-bodied desserts were even denser than those truffles. The mascarpone "brique" almost was a brick: this block of rum-soaked chocolate cake and cream cheese. Just fantastic. Nothing I ate at Bissinger's was cloyingly sweet, but this was especially subtle.

And then there was the chocolate terrine, a "pâté" of chocolate. It was smooth, but so incredibly thick and deeply flavored I imagined I was eating the purest, partly melted chocolate. Four of us shared this, and we couldn't finish it.

Can I tell you something, though?

"Of course."

You know which full-bodied dessert most impressed me? The flourless chocolate cake. I mean, here's a dessert you've been able to find just about everywhere for years. At this point, when it's good, it's boring, and when it's bad, it's like eating compressed cocoa powder. But Bissinger's flourless chocolate cake not only managed to be rich and dense, but also incredibly moist — like a really great brownie.

Can I tell you something else?


Now, this is Bissinger's, right? The chocolate is impeccable. I mean, how many times have I said "rich" during this session? And milk chocolate is so unfashionable these days. In most supermarkets you'll find gourmet chocolate bars with labels bragging how much real cacao they contain.

But my favorite dessert at Bissinger's was the milk chocolate semifreddo, topped with chantilly crème and a sprinkling of crumbled nuts. The ideal summer chocolate dessert: smooth, cooling, with a lovely chocolate flavor — but not too rich.

That's a light-bodied dessert.

"But what if I want something very light? A nosh?"

No problem. There are biscotti, shortbread cookies, bowls of nuts to share. Or you can order one of the confection flights: three small Bissinger's chocolates with very similar flavors. I tried the "French Riviera" flight: a pecan nut ball, a Champagne truffle and a "quadruple chocolate" petit fours. Our server didn't tell us which was which, or what the exact flavor profile we were studying was, but all three chocolates were excellent. The Champagne truffle was downright heavenly.

"How's the service?"

Very good. Friendly — and since this is just a dessert bar — relatively prompt. Not at all rushed, though.

And there were many small touches I liked. Several of the desserts were served with this crisp lattice of chocolate. Scrumptious. And when I ordered decaf coffee on one visit, it was served in a French press, not that thermos with the orange top that's been hanging around for who knows how many hours.

"Lots of coffee drinks, I suppose?"

Yeah. But there's also a short but fairly good wine list — with a few dessert wines, even. There are also several liqueurs available, either mixed into coffee drinks or as shots that are served in — get this! — a cup made out of chocolate.

Really, Bissinger's is a wonderful dessert bar. Unless you don't like chocolate. In which case, I don't know what to tell you.

"A person who doesn't like chocolate? Even I couldn't help someone like that."