Mondel's has been around since 1943, in the same easy-to-walk-right-by spot in Morningside Heights. Four years in the neighborhood gave me the wrong impression each time—something about it came across as pricey and high-end—but a recent visit to my old stomping grounds gave me the push I needed to get the real story. After all, the letter by the register gave an old endorsement from the Katharine Hepburn, who called Mondel's chocolates "the best in the world."
The shop practically maintains 1946 prices, but the chocolates are equally dated. Service is strange—the store almost feels abandoned—but you can walk out with a handful of truffles for under $5, easily. The display case bears a strange resemblance to the one at Li-lac downtown, and the style of the chocolates is similar. It's not equal to the highly-esteemed lookalike, but for a neighborhood severely lacking in chocolate options outside of grocery aisles, it's not a bad option.
The buttercrunch was different than many others I've had, somewhat lacking in buttery-ness, with a slathering of crushed peanuts around the outside delivering the biggest punch of flavor.
The dark chocolate truffle, professed as the house signature, was unremarkable, with a shell far too thick for its not-smooth-enough filling.
I loved the black forest truffle, though, an improved take on its dark chocolate sibling with a much-needed punch of sweet cherry flavor. Well balanced, and not too sweet, it was a good representation of an often botched flavor pairing.
Molasses chips, a true old-world treat, were unremarkable and lacked the crunch I associate with them. The Li-lac comparison is at its peak with this treat: it's the one thing you shouldn't miss at the downtown lookalike.
Overall, it's a surprisingly inexpensive neighborhood option—by no means a revolutionary chocolatier, but certainly a good option with a dash of vintage flair.