Image: Karen Brooks
Alma Chocolate’s peanut butter chocolate chunk cookies, chocolate peanut butter brownie, and chocolate coconut cookies

What does a chocolate chip cookie packing dark rocks of Dominican chocolate have in common with hot chocolate that sips like a stairway to heaven, with hand-shaken whipped cream and devilish swirls of homemade caramel-habanero sauce? Or, for the matter, ridiculously good ice cream chunked with a chocolatier’s Salted Peanut Butter Cups, nutty, spicy and complex. They’re all the handiwork  of Portland's Alma Chocolate—and you’ve never heard of them.

But you will. Alma chocolates are signatures of Portland's artisan food love. But the shop’s baked gems, inventive hot chocolates, and nano-batch ice creams have long been known mostly to insiders, flagged only by tiny blackboard notes or hidden in corner nooks.
 
Now, after a short hiatus, the ingenious little bon bon shop (140 NE 28th Ave) has rebooted as a showcase for all things Alma. Now there’s no missing a collection of, arguably, Portland’s best cookies, the handiwork of Ruth Fox, Alma’s longtime manager and oven wizard. They’re all good, but right now I’m fixated on the peanut butter beauties, judiciously balanced between crisp, soft, and brown-sugar goodness. Each nugget is a puff of salted, roasted nuts pebbled with robust Felchlin chocolate. Fox uses the good stuff and it shows. Her cookies sport 74 percent, take-no-wimps Dominican chocolate. The lovable Peanut Butter Brownies exude the elegant intensity of Valrhona chocolate.
 
But the real excitement may be Alma’s new “Thai Coconut Cup” drinking chocolate, a food obsessive’s hot chocolate ($3.75). Think Alma’s legendary Thai Peanut Butter Cup (minus the nut butter) reborn in liquid form: a mug of chocolate decadence edged with the same alchemy of chiles, lime, ginger, and coconut milk that makes those Thai peanut butter cups taste like magic. The potent aroma positively fills the entire room.
 
I already miss the charmed Mexican flea market meets funky art gallery vibe. In its new iteration, Alma is more grown-up, a pleasantly chic cantina, laid out with clean lines, putty-colored walls, and a bit of gleam to match a pair of cool old chandeliers, fresh flowers, and the piped-in trill and strum of Spanish guitars.  
 
The tradeoff is more space and an expanded identity, with an up-front pastry case broadcasting your next addictions alongside a chocolate case and espresso counter. Add to this seating, at last—a collection of benches and old wood stools tucked around window counters. Soon, an ice cream freezer will hold a small, changing repertoire of pints to go. This is ice cream you dream about.  
 
As part of a creative and wholesale account ramp-up, Alma has branched into a 1,500-square-foot production and event space in the American Brush Building (116 NE Sixth Ave). Ideas are just winding up. Collaborative chocolate dinners with adventurous Portland chefs are now underway (dates are spontaneous.) Last week’s kickoff with Ned Ludd’s Jason French gave a taste of what’s to come:  urban winery pairings and the likes of arugula, preserved ham, pickled salt plums, and cocoa nibs.
 
It’s a new beginning and looking like a very sweet year.
 
Alma Chocolate
140 NE 28th Ave
Mon-Thur 11 am-6 pm
Fri-Sat 11 am-7 pm
Sun noon-5 pm
503-517-0262

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