A little over two years ago, I received a phone call at work while my bosses were at the Dallas Market Center. I was in charge of sales for a tea, coffee, and chocolate shop, and a woman was interested in showing us some chocolates she had made. Her name was Katherine Clapner, former Pastry Chef of Stephan Pyles who was starting a business called Dude, Sweet Chocolate, for which she was making chocolates out of the kitchen at Empire Bakery. When she brought samples about an hour later, my taste for chocolate became eternally altered. She played with flavors like Roast Beet, inspired by the original devil’s food chocolate cake, and Oaxacan dark chocolate mixed with paprika and cocoa nibs. These were the greatest chocolates I had tasted.
On Thursday evening, Clapner and her crew combined the shop’s one year birthday with the Bishop Arts District’s Cinco de Mayo Wine Walk festivities. Her staff was decked out in sombreros and matador garb, while she sported a costume that made her the splitting image of Selena. Buckets of Hornitos mixed with tamarind and infused with cinnamon sticks were available as DJ EZ Eddie spun everything from Curtis Mayfield’s “Superfly” to Porno for Pyros’ “Pets.”
Two risque piñatas hung outside the shop, both filled with exclusive Dude, Sweet confections. The male piñata, Nacho, was filled with large dark truffles infused with Japanese rice, a prime example of how Dude, Sweet uses unusual ingredients to bring out the essence of the cocoa beans they source from around the world. She wore a big grin, in spite of how uncomfortable her costume may have been. It is a rare instance worthy of such a smile when independent spirit and talent receives recognition and success.
The shape and mouth-feel of those first chocolates I tried in 2009 is now a memory, as Clapner’s need to expand her business precluded her from shaping each truffle by hand. She now uses molds that make some of the most attractive and colorful artisan confections I had ever seen on display. Flavors and products vary with months and seasons, but I have yet to taste a Dude, Sweet product that falls short of the quality she made me expect before she even opened her retail shop. One of their best-kept secrets are her Russian style marshmallows, “kefirs,” soft, fluffy, hand-made confections that lend themselves to her playful flavors (one on display Thursday evening had chicory root).
As I review the photographs, I also recall another element of unique accomplishment Dude, Sweet. Characteristic of the Bishop Arts District, her shop is not only a place to take care of your fix, but also a place where you can hang out over a cup of hot chocolate during winter, an ice cream soda during summer, and try something new while you await that corner table at Lucia. In light of recent changes in my life, it remains to be seen if I will be in Dallas at this time next year, and am willing to bet Dude, Sweet’s next anniversary would be worth a trip back, as they are one of a kind.