Editor's note: In "Fast Food International," Krista Garcia will take us around New York to the many international fast food chains that have landed in the five boroughs. She blogs at goodiesfirst.com.
Country of origin: Israel
Locations worldwide: About 30 in Australia, Israel, the Philippines, Singapore, and the US
NYC locations: One, near Union Square
Like Willy Wonka, Max Brenner is whimsical fictional character—the main difference being that Roald Dahl's creation is a household name and the bald man behind this Israeli chocolate empire isn't. Lack of familiarity doesn't prevent sugar-seeking hordes from filling up the noisy, bi-level restaurant, though.
At 10pm on a weeknight, the front gift shop and lobby was packed with groups of young adults. Open till 2am on weekends, Max Brenner appears to fill a void in Manhattan's late-night sweet treat scene.
It's easy to see why; it's a place of fun and excess. The presentations are stylish and interactive, though geared more toward a milk chocolate than a 98% cacao audience. This is not the place for cerebral confections--no tarragon-infused chantilly, cracked black pepper or yuzu agar agar--it's about indulgence.
One classic vehicle for mainlining sugar and fat is the ice cream sundae ($12.95), and there's no more American combo than peanut butter and chocolate. Under those whipped cream peaks sit scoops of both peanut butter chocolate and dulce de leche ice cream, interspersed with milk chocolate chunks and toffee-coated pieces of banana. The ceramic dishes of peanut butter sauce and chocolate ganache supplement the gooey striations already present in the glass goblet. If you don't care for an upfront blast of sugar (I do), these desserts can overwhelm after the first few bites.
The crepe filled with white chocolate cheesecake ($12.95) provides a break from all the milk chocolate tyranny, but not from the sweetness. The little scoop of dulce de leche ice cream sprinkled with hazelnuts added more creaminess while a glass beaker of lemony sauce and the orange and mint salad perk up the dish with citrus.
The melting chocolate truffle heart cake ($13.25) provided the requisite level of gooiness, but I could wait another twenty years before seeing another molten cake. They're popular for a reason, though, and if you love oozing rivers of warm chocolate you will not be disappointed by this rendition. Of course, there's also a shrunken chocolate shake and a cocktail shaker of chocolate sauce, because there is no such thing as too much chocolate in Max Brenner's world.
In addition to Max Brenner's raison d'être, there is also a full menu of savory food and drinks. Mojitos and burgers just don't seem appropriate, but if you're in the mood for something stiff, a marshmallow-garnished White Russian—with pour-your-own cream, of course—fits in just fine with the theme.
Even though New York lost its East Village location last year (frankly, it would've been more successful in a neighborhood like Times Square) the chain has started to spread to other parts of the country. Philadelphia and Las Vegas each have one and a Boston branch will be opening next year. America's sweet tooth is slowly being satiated one city at a time.
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