What is your first chocolate memory?
Mine is of those little Hershey’s bars my great-grandfather Babo always seemed to have around, though they were usually melted, this being in equatorial Colombia. He looked nothing like the bald man logo of the Israeli-born chocolate chain Max Brenner, Chocolate by the Bald Man, which opened in Bethesda on July 31, but both believed in the power of the “chocolate fix.”
Our new local Max Brenner Chocolate Bar focuses entirely on what the company does best: chocolate, with no other distractions.
The chocolate experience begins the moment you walk through the doors. Welcomed by the aroma of chocolate, you pass under “chocolate pipes” that would make Willy Wonka proud. Step up to what looks like a giant candy bar and order your treats. Let yourself be enveloped by one of the “chocolate drop” booths while you wait for the “chocolistas” to bring your dessert, perhaps the crêpe brûlée with its gooey-crunchy filling of chocolate hazelnut spread, bananas, chocolate chunks and crunchy balls with dulce de leche ice cream—or a pure chocolate muffin breakfast or afternoon pick-me-up snack, depending on what time of day it is and what you want to call it.
No time to stay? The “Fast Max” takeout menu includes travel-friendly drinks and pastries in specially-designed packaging.
It’s a real-life chocolate factory, sans golden tickets and creepy Oompa-Loompas.
Founded in Israel, the company is now headquartered in New York and operates four full-service restaurants, which serve both sweet and savory options, in the US as well as over 40 internationally in Israel, across Asia and in Australia, where they outnumber Starbucks!
After a chocolate feast, it’s hard to go home empty-handed. One of the Chocolate Bar’s crown jewels is the praline table displaying the squares of chocolate bonbons, each elegantly adorned with a signature pattern on top. Choose from white, milk and dark chocolate, filled with classic and innovative ganaches from raspberry to my favorite, halva. The pralines are coincidentally, but fittingly, produced in DC’s partnership city of Beit Shemesh.
Colorful gift sets with names like “Chocolate Therapy” and “Happily Ever After” line the shelves, fun packages bearing the bald man logo and offering every sort of sweet remedy imaginable. The unique Max Brenner aesthetic is incorporated into everything from the tins of pralines to the underside of the umbrellas for outdoor seating.
I suspect it will only be a matter of time before one of the adorable serving pieces, like the hot chocolate “Hug Me” mug, which is oval-shaped and fits cozily between two cupped hands, and the tall “Alice” glass, which, inspired by Alice in Wonderland, looks like the Cheshire Cat from above, finds its way home with me.
So far, I have taken home “Addiction” bonbons (milk chocolate cubes filled with hazelnut cream and caramelized pecan bits) and oversized chocolate-filled “syringes,” which were a hit with my out-of-town visitors, who had a blast bringing out their inner Jackson Pollocks on pancakes I made for Sunday brunch.
It wasn’t the most virtuous breakfast, but as the sign on the wall at the Bethesda location reminds you: Chocolate is good for you.
Max Brenner Chocolate Bar, 301-215-8305, 7263 Woodmont Ave., Bethesda, Maryland. Sunday-Thursday, 8:00 am-10:00 pm; Friday and Saturday, 8:00 am-11:00 pm.