A Sweet Spot In East Pilsen: Chocolat Uzma Sharif
By Anthony Todd in Food on Nov 16, 2012 5:00PM
Good things sometimes come from surprising places. Walking from the Halsted Orange line stop north through the east side of Pilsen, the last thing we would have expected to find was a fine chocolate shop. Luckily, we knew where we were headed: Chocolat Uzma Sharif, a gem of a store in the Chicago Art District on Halsted. Sharif sells truffles, chocolate bars and other goodies, hosts classes and will be exhibiting at the Chicago Fine Chocolate Show, starting today.
Why pick such an out of the way spot for a fancy chocolate shop? Sharif explains: "I lived down the street for about five years. I really liked the industrial side of the neighborhood, and having grown up on the north side, it's so congested over there now and i wanted something different. While I was living down here I noticed how close it was to the highways, how there are no meters in this area and how easy it is to get around." Sharif has a few big clients downtown—you can find her products at FoodEase market, for instance—and the location makes it much easier to make deliveries.
Walking into her small storefront, our eyes were drawn immediately to her chocolate case, filled with delicious goodies. She sells truffles like milk chocolate and Italian espresso, dark chocolate with chai and cardamom and raspberry bonbons made with pure raspberry puree. When we were there, seasonal marzipan pumpkins, perfectly airbrushed, laid next to tiny pink and blue butterflies made of solid milk and dark chocolate. She makes them for the kids who visit ("Kids don't like stuff in their chocolate") and the airbrushing lets her get out of mixing chocolate and into painting. "I have a very artistic side to me, and I like to showcase that in my product and packaging. I do it because I know that whenever someone walks in, their eye goes to color."
After a quick tour of the truffles, we got to work. Sharif taught us to make what turned out to be our favorite out of all of her products, a milk chocolate mendiant with candied rose petals and cacao nibs. She filled a squeeze bottle with milk chocolate and, carefully guiding the nozzle with her other hand, poured out a perfect disk of shiny chocolate. Then, a quick tap of the baking sheet on the counter to get rid of bubbles. Before it set, she sprinkled it with cacao nibs and carefully spooned on the (very expensive) candied rose petals. The finished product tastes like Valentine's day - as if someone you love gave you flowers and chocolates and you somehow ate both of them at the same time.
If you're not a truffle fan, no problem. She also makes candy bars and fruit and nut barks, and she sells some truffle-making supplies. It's nice for students who take her classes to be able to buy some products to use at home or you can just buy fancy chocolate chips and snack on them. Something there will appeal to everyone, no matter what form you prefer your chocolate to take.
We have a soft spot for all small food businesses, but Sharif is a cut above the average entrepreneur. She's not just putting interesting products out there and hoping they'll sell—she is going that extra mile. For instance, the candy bars. Not all chocolatiers make them, because it's one more product to produce, package and get onto the shelves. But for Sharif, it's all about fitting the needs of the client. "The reason I make the bars is that I like to give my clients options. If I were to just sell truffles, two out of three of my clients wouldn't be able to sell any of my products, because they wouldn't be able to store them properly and the shelf life is too short. I have to consider where they are putting it, what kind of light is hitting it." She also doesn't sell all that many products. For customers used to mass-market chocolate stores filled with 200 flavors of truffles, her selection may seem sparse. She has about 12 flavors at a time. "It's quality versus quantity. If you're trying to keep up with too many flavors, you can't keep up the quality."
She's certainly keeping up the quality. Check out her chocolates in the photo gallery, visit her shop and stop in and say hi at the Chicago Fine Chocolate Show this weekend. Tickets are still available, so if you want to stuff yourself with all the chocolate you can stand, buy now.
Chocolat Uzma Sharif is located at 1823 S. Halsted St.