This article is part of a series called Detours designed to take you a little off the beaten path from the beaches and attractions of St. Pete/Clearwater, to discover other, lesser-known local favorites like family-run stores, unique galleries, and tantalizing restaurants. Read on and take a Detour into authentic St. Petersburg and Clearwater, Florida!
World-Famous & Drool-Worthy: William Dean Chocolates
In 10 years, Bill Brown has gone from making cheesecakes for co-workers at a human resources corporation to being ranked the No. 4 chocolatier in the world. His William Dean Chocolates — made and sold in shopping-center space a mile-and-a-half from the Gulf Beaches — has become a thriving mecca for sweet freaks from around the world.
Whoopi Goldberg makes sure to get her order in weekly. William Dean bonbons, macaroons and other confections have been featured in both Hunger Games movies. The shop made a custom order for Pope Benedict XVI when he visited the U.S.
The chocolatier’s small-batch nuggets meet at the corner of art and sweet (with the occasional touch of salt and savory). Not only are they ridiculously delicious, but each bears an elegant design — which are made from colored cocoa butter and painted onto the molds.
They’re almost too pretty to eat. Almost.
Mouth-Watering – and Award-Winning – Sweet Treats
Brown infuses bold flavor combinations into his chocolates — Rosemary Caramel, Raspberry Brule, Pumpkin, Lemongrass & Coconut, Lavender. The store usually carries 36 varieties at a time.
He has a special affinity for Mexican Mango — milk chocolate ganache, filled with a blend of fresh lime juice, mango pate de fruit and green chile-infused sea salt (with just a hint of heat). That ambitious concoction won William Dean a Next Generation Chocolatier award in 2008.
That’s just one of his accolades. In 2014, Brown was named one of the Top 10 Chocolatiers in North America by Dessert Professional (“it’s our James Beard” he says). Last year, a voluminous book called Chocolate—The Reference Standard gave William Dean a 90.18 on a 100-point scale, the fourth highest rating in the world.
Brown’s restless entrepreneurial spirit — he spent years in the dotcom world and with software startups — has driven the expansion of William Dean offerings to include macaroons, gelato, flavored popcorn, candied ginger, chocolate-covered orange peel and other high-end treats.
“These are luxury items,” he says, “really targeted at the top 5 to 10 percent of wage earners. But while only a handful of people can afford to buy a Ferrari, everyone can splurge on artisan chocolates once in awhile.”
A 36-piece assortment, packaged in a striking foldout box, cost $70.
Tasty Ways to Experience William Dean Chocolates When You’re in Town
Brown has also worked to make the store a gathering place for both locals and tourists. William Dean Chocolates offers afternoon tea on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m., featuring teas, finger sandwiches, scones, pastries and, of course, chocolates.
William Dean also holds periodic chocolate classes for amateurs. Those are set to start in May and continue through the summer. Call the store for specifics.
2790 W. Bay Drive, Belleair Bluffs
While you’re in the neighborhood, check out these other local gems:
This mid-county microbrewery’s popularity is really foaming up. The intimate place includes a craft brew tasting room with snacks (no kitchen).
518 W. Bay Drive, Largo
A taste of the Keys and Floribbean cuisine with a laid-back vibe.
2819 W. Bay Drive, Largo
Thirty-two vendors offering an array of decorative vintage, handmade and new items.
607 Clearwater Largo Road, Clearwater