American Road Trips: Southbound Sugar Sortie
I'm crazy about sweets, especially homespun varieties that predate the era of high-fructose corn syrup. Last year, on a road trip from New York City to Austin, Texas, my boyfriend, Armando, and I made it a point to visit a number of legendary confectioneries and dessert spots along the way, places where candies, ices, pies, and other treats are made in much the same manner they were a century ago. Our first stop was the Franklin Fountain (116 Market Street, Philadelphia; 215/627-1899), in the Old City neighborhood of Philadelphia. The retro ice cream parlor, with its pressed-tin ceilings and marble countertops, dispenses house-made ice cream in flavors like teaberry gum, licorice, and mint chip, the last of which is run through with whorls of crème de menthe. We adored the phosphates—old-timey hand-mixed sodas with a hint of tanginess thanks to the addition of a few drops of phosphoric acid—especially the Egyptienne Egg Shake, a combination of orange and rose syrups, soda water, Angostura bitters, and a whole egg.
Our next push south and west landed us outside Lexington, Kentucky, where we sought out Ruth Hunt Candy Co. (550 North Maysville Road, Mt. Sterling; 800/927-0302), maker of the storied Blue Monday candy bar. Pulled cream candy, a concoction of heavy cream and butter boiled in copper kettles and then stretched like taffy, is delicious on its own, but covered in chocolate for the Blue Monday it is melt-on-the-tongue transcendent. On a tour of the Ruth Hunt factory, founded in 1921, we observed the making of Bluegrass State specialties like bourbon balls (whiskey-flavored bonbons dipped in chocolate), as they made their way through contraptions that have changed little since the early 20th century.
In Memphis we paid a visit to Dinstuhl's Candies (5280 Pleasant View, Memphis; 901/377-2639) to taste its famous hand-dipped, chocolate-covered Louisiana strawberries and sample the truffles, brandied cherries, pecan brittles, divinities (sweet, vanilla-infused whipped egg whites), and other specialties made on the premises. Dinstuhl's, we were delighted to learn, also sells other confectioners' wares, like the ethereal peppermint straws made by Hammond's, a company based in Denver, Colorado.
Our most belly-filling find was waiting down the road in New Orleans. On the last night of our journey, we discovered the fried "hand pies"—single-serving turnovers in a variety of flavors—made by the Simon Hubig Company (2417 Dauphine Street, New Orleans; 504/945-2181). We were particularly fond of the sweet potato, lemon, and apple versions; like all Hubig's pies, they were deep-fried, slathered in a sugary glaze while still hot, and individually wrapped in waxed paper. In operation since 1922, Hubig's shut down after Hurricane Katrina but, after a painstaking rebuilding, was back in business a few months later; today its pies are once again sold in convenience stores across Louisiana. That such an outstanding version of this classic Southern treat could be found for a mere 99 cents, unceremoniously parked beside the cash register of a gas station, made us admire the manufacturer's perseverance all the more. We felt it only appropriate, then, to have some of Hubig's pies not only for dessert that night but also for breakfast the next morning.