After Hours: Travel Tip, Book It! and Time Travel Tickets, Part II (Old-Fashioned Candy)

Kathy Biehl is the food writer for Diversion magazine and the longtime former dining critic for the Houston Business Journal. She has reviewed restaurants as well for the Houston Press, Time Out New York, My Table and the TONY guide Eating & Drinking 2000. Her food writing has received awards from the Association of Food Journalists and the Houston Press Club. She also is the author of the Research RoundUp and Web Critic columns, co-author of The Lawyer’s Guide to Internet Research , and an attorney admitted to practice in Texas and New Jersey.

Travel Tip: DC, Miami and NYC

Brasserie Les Halles is once again celebrating the restaurant’s affinities to the U.S. and France with a Liberty Festival from the Fourth of July to Bastille Day, July 4-14. During the festival’s run, the restaurant’s D.C., Miami and downtown NYC locations will sponsor trivia contests and other entertainment, as well as a special menu of red, white and blue foods. (The festival menu I sampled in NYC two years ago arranged the colored components into depictions of flags, an invention that succeeded visually and gastronomically, and how.) Each location will also have a day of Bastille Races, in which runners negotiate a course while balancing a loaded serving tray in one hand. The main competition is for waiters and waitresses, but there are special races as well for chefs, children and other guests, not to mention scores of other diversions throughout the day. The Bastille Races take place on the afternoon of Friday, July 9 at Les Halles D.C. (1201 Pennsylvania Ave.), Saturday, July 10 at Les Halles Miami (2415 Ponce de Leon Blvd. in Coral Gables), and Wednesday, July 14 at Les Halles Downtown in New York City (15 John St.) For phone numbers, race times and registration forms, and more information, visit the Les Halles website .

Book It!

The release of the latest “Stepford Wives” movie put the source text at the top of my summer reading list. The 1973 film may have inspired some indelible catch phrases (not to mention no end of mockery in my adolescent circle of friends), but the novel The Stepford Wives is no campy time capsule. It’s a quick, engaging and sobering read, and the story is genuinely creepy. Author Ira Levin, who also wrote such fonts of solace as Rosemary’s Baby , The Boys From Brazil and Deathtrap , is sparse and matter-of-fact in both his choice of language and storytelling technique, which sets the stage for action and then lets most of it occur outside the narrative. As the dots connected in my mind, I felt chills. Really. For someone who came of age in the 1970s, when the push for women’s rights stirred up such responses as Marabel Morgan’s “The Total Woman” and a movement that espoused wife-beating as Biblical prerogative, the protracted political statement in this novel is not all that far from reality. Unfortunately, it doesn’t strain credulity too terribly these days, either.

Time Travel Tickets – Part II: Old-Fashioned Candy

The candy we cherished as children has hold on us that defies rational thought. No matter how refined our taste buds have since become, the treasures of youth enjoy a place of sanctity in our memory. Mention the subject of old-fashioned candy to just about anyone and sit back for a reverie about that person’s favorite, from how it tasted to what the packaging looked like to descriptions of events and rituals forever linked with it. In a way, our relationship with candy was a forerunner to romance. Whether our loyalties ran to Nik-L-Nips, Lemonheads, Pixie Sticks or some other archly sugared treat, each of us has tales of what we loved, how we stalked it and how we gave in to it, secretly as well as in public view. And if a beloved has since become hard to find, why, just as with humans, unattainability has not merely heightened the allure, but elevated it to mystical proportions.

These days, a lot of our early objects of desire are no longer obscure. They’re popping back into circulation, thanks to nostalgia-baiting shows like the Food Network’s “Unwrapped” – and, of course, the Internet. Here are some places to go trolling for long lost loves.

Vermont Country Store is chock full of goodies that were popular well before the Baby Boom began. The inventory includes gum (Blackjack, Beemans and Clove), Walnettos, black taffy, licorice scotties and laces, French chews (a substitute for Bonomo Turkish Taffy, R.I.P.) and a 19th century breath freshener called Sen-Sen. Return to this site after temperatures cool to view the catalog of old-time chocolates, which comes down during the summer. Or order the print catalog, for total nostalgia immersion.

One of the most extensive collections appears in The Candy Store at Hometown Favorites . True, it lacks the full-tilt sensory experience of wandering through a physical shop (see Field Trip, below), but this deficit may actually slow the wallet-draining bug that’s so easy to catch in places like this. Then again, it might not, if the mere sight of an old pal (Black Crows! Idaho Spud! Bubble gum cigars!) sets your mouse a-clicking. The aisles are arranged by type of candy (chocolate, classic, taffy), by bulk or party pack availability and by decade (50s through 80s). Hometown Favorites has assembled a classic collection for each of the 50s, 60s and 70s ($39.99), which combines a trove of candies with a handful of other foods (Maypo for the 50s, Jiffy Pop for the 60s) and little games.

Remember chewy jelly candies that look like raspberries and blackberries? Or pillow-shaped buttermints, which had a knack for showing up right after dinner? Both are a sideline at The Chocolate Vault , a chocolatier and ice cream shop that occupies a turn-of-the-last century building in Tecumseh, MI. The candy berries are $6.90 a pound, buttermints $4.90.

Pez hasn’t always been a fruit-flavored tablet that pops out of a plastic dispenser with a favorite character’s head. The candy began in the late 1920s as a peppermint lozenge. (The name is an unconventional abbreviation of PfeffErminZ, the German word for the flavor.) Dispensers didn’t appear until the 1950s. They were simple boxes at first, but soon acquired heads, which have become the candy’s signature and catapulted dispensers into the realm of hot collectible.

The latest heads (and then some) are available directly from the manufacturer, Pez Candy, Inc. The catalog of themed packs lurks under Interactive Classics. A couple of SpongeBobs, Patrick and Squidward go for $6.95, while a six-member Peanuts gang runs $8.95. The site offers an array of candy-dispensing wedding favors (Bunch o’ Brides, $99.95), telephones, body parts, magic tricks and jungle mission survival kits. It also sells “misfits,” like a red-faced snowman (#415, $4.95) or black-trunked pink elephant (#419, also $4.95), which have the wrong colors due to factory mistakes. (Look for them under the tab “Interactive Classics.”) For a mind boggling assortment of dispensers and knickknacks, visit the Burlingame Museum of Pez Memorabilia (1-650-347-2301), which co-exists with a computer store in the San Francisco area. If you can’t make it to the actual museum, view the photo and inventory of its exhibit online . The gift shop teems with dispensers shaped like objects (car, $6.50; Fantasy Time Dispenser (a.k.a. clock), $24.95), as well as objects shaped like dispensers (flashlights, $15.00 for three characters). European-issue heads abound; a set of four Nintendo characters costs $28. The shop also offers the Ultimate Fantasy Dispenser ($14.95), which is topped with a clear plastic frame that holds the 2″ x 1.5″ photo of your choice.

Field Trip: Economy Candy

Economy Candy is an honest-to-goodness old-fashioned candy store, which has operated on Manhattan’s Lower East Side since 1937. The founder’s son, Jerry Cohen, now runs it with his wife Ilene and their son Mitchell.

The shop is a wonderland of floor-to-ceiling industrial shelving crammed with boxes of chocolates and enormous plastic bags of lollipops and candy bars; of opened cardboard boxes, haphazardly stacked below the cash register and teeming with wax lips, rainbow-colored conical pops and white drawstring bags of bubble gum “gold;” and a back wall altar of wide-mouthed jars filled with an encyclopedic array of candies by the pound. A glance in any direction lands upon a marvel — wild cherry Scottie dogs, spearmint leaves, Bazooka bubble gum with Hebrew wrappers, gallon jugs of Fox’s U-Bet Syrup.

It’s the type of spread that inspires a check-out line nine customers long at 3:30 on a weekday afternoon. My first-time reaction was utter intoxication, pushed along by the sound of Louis Prima whipping up a frenzy on the CD the store was playing.

“We’re low on stock right now; we’re between holidays,” Cohen called out to me from the cash register. “That’s why you can walk through the aisles.” Barely. To wander Economy Candy’s aisles without bumping elbows, surf to .

ã Kathy Biehl 2004

Posted in: After Hours, Food