The Austin Chronicle

Day Trips

By Gerald E. McLeod, May 6, 2011, Columns

Dude, Sweet Chocolate in the Bishop Arts District of South Dallas isn't your typical neighborhood candy store. If life is like a box of chocolates and you never know what you will get, then this artisanal confectionery has made the uncertainty of life a little spicier.

The basic ingredient in all of the handmade chocolates at Dude, Sweet Chocolate is dark chocolate – a rich blend that is more cocoa than pure cane sugar. "Chocolate is resilient as hell," says shop owner and candy chef Katherine Clapner. "You can throw anything at it, subtle or hardcore, and chocolate can take it and make it better."

Clapner opened the little shop in Dallas in December 2009 and quickly became the city's favorite chocolatier. There is no telling what she will pair chocolate with next, either in little bite-sized morsels or in thick slabs. It might be apricots, beets, curry, or orange peels.

In a blind taste test of three samples, I selected a piece that was nothing like any piece of chocolate I had ever had before. It turned out to be a truffle with yerba maté tea. "That was our first truffle recipe," Clapner says. "It's my Tom Hanks of recipes; it can do anything and never lets me down."

Moving into chocolates seemed like a natural progression for Clapner, who spent more than 20 years as a pastry chef, including working with celebrity chef Stephen Pyles. Austinites might recognize her as the former pastry chef at the Downtown Austin Hilton and as being on the executive staff of Central Market. She has been involved with the Texas Hill Country Wine and Food Festival in some capacity since the event began.

Moving into the candy business had its risks for Clapner. "There is no master plan," she says. "Every day is an experiment." She says she gets inspiration from a multitude of places, including the Internet. For every three recipes she tries, at least one will bomb. She is an artist; her canvas is chocolate, and her color palette is anything that will complement it. "It's all about balance," she says.

Clapner says the best quality chocolates come from Colombia, Hawaii, Venezuela, Africa, the Ivory Coast, and Italy. Which is the best-tasting is a matter of personal choice. She is a chef who rarely eats out and a candy maker who only occasionally eats sweets. Why does she eat chocolate? "Because I like it," she says. What other reason does there need to be?

Dude, Sweet Chocolate is at 408 W. Eighth St. in Dallas, a half block off of Bishop Avenue. The chocolate shop can be reached at 214/943-5943 or at The Bishop Arts District is a cluster of one-of-a-kind boutiques, excellent restaurants, and locally owned shops that can be a lot of fun to explore, especially while munching on some of Clapner's chocolates.

1,033rd in a series. Collect them all. Day Trips, Vol. 2, a book of "Day Trips" 101-200, is available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, PO Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704.

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