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Mar 2, 2009 11:15 AM

Any candy or sweets unique to DC?

I'm wondering if there are any sorts of candies or sweets that are either unique to DC or originated there. I'm trying to find something to send to a friend in another city that's representative of DC, to the extent possible.


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  1. Gifford's, Avignon Freres, YWCA chocolate chip cookies, Velati's, Reeve's, Brenner's Bakery and the Unversity Pastry Shop are all gone. If you had mentioned Baltimore or even Ocean City I could mention a number of "institutions" that have become synonimous with those cities. D. C. is another matter. Certainly not Cakelove. This thread from '04 which reappeared in '07 had 68 responses. You may find it timely and interesting: It may also be worth reintroducing now for updates. One of the responses was from the "new" owner of Velati's insisting that the caramels were still available-then.

    5 Replies
    1. re: Joe H

      Thanks for that! The caramels sound like the only thing that can actually be shipped - I'll check those out.

      1. re: Joe H

        I'm sure that the owners of the current incarnation of Giffords would disagree that it is gone.

        1. re: skipper

          They bought the name not the base which was made by Shenandoah Dairy although in the '50's and '60's Gifford's made their own base. York Castle, which was opened by the man who was Gifford's plant manager when it closed, used the exact same base. They also made their own Swiss chocolate identical to Gifford's while peach, pumpkin and other seasonal flavors were identical. Sodas were made the same way, real whipped cream used, etc. He opened York Castle two miles up Georgia a couple of months or so after Gifford's closed. I have no idea if he still owns it or one of its outposts today. I also have not been in the Montgomery Hills York Castle in several years. But because he did not buy the name he could not claim that it was the same ice cream or the same Swiss chocolate or fudge. But he made it the exact same way, using the exact same suppliers that he used for the ten + years that he made it for Gifford's. I should also note that it was AFTER he opened York Castle that the Gifford family sold the name. By then York Castle was an established name which featured Tropical flavors downplaying any possible connection to the original Gifford's. Still, there are differences in the two Gifford's: the original Gifford's used more Hydrox cookies in their oreo ice cream to the point that the color was much darker than the flecked vanilla color of the "new" Gifford's. I say all of this because the "new" Gifford's is quite good but it is NOT the original although they would like people to believe it, especially now that over a quarter century or so has passed since Gifford's closed. I was in the Silver Spring Gifford's their last day and I was in York Castle their first day. My wife grew up with the Arlington and Falls Church Gifford's, I grew up with the Silver Spring store with both of us first tasting their ice cream and candy in the '50's. I gained far too much weight when I was young bicycling between the Little Tavern on Ripley and Gifford's at Georgia and Sligo.

          It was only after they closed that I lost it!!!!

          1. re: Joe H

            My recollection is that the Hunt brothers bought the name from the Gifford's bankrupt entity, but their mother already owned the recipe which she purchased directly from the Gifford family. Subsequently, the Hunt family sold Giffford's to its current owners and operators. While the Hunt brothers owned Gifford's, the recipes were unchanged, as I recall. Whether the current owners changed it, I cannot say.

            1. re: skipper

              Skipper, I'm not trying to be disagreeable but I was probably Gifford's best customer for 30 years. It is in large part because of growing up with the Silver Spring store that I am still obsessed with ice cream: But the actual ice cream itself, for at least four flavors is different. The base for this may indeed be the same. But what is/was added to this is different for at least these flavors: Oreo (cookies and cream), butter pecan, french almond and coconut. In addition to this is the ambience of the store itself along with the presentation of the ice cream. Gifford's-then-was just an entirely different experience from Gifford's now. Frankly, even with the same ice cream flavors and recipe, it is also an entirely different experience from York Castle! Several of the Graeter's stores in Cincinnati remind me of the original Gifford's experience. But the combination of that "experience" along with excellent ice cream is superior to anything available in the D. C. area today. I will also add that the link above is my recipe for pecan caramel ice cream made in a White Mountain freezer with rock salt and ice using Lewes Dairy heavy cream, good butter and caramel made from scratch. It blows away any Gifford's ever. Or any other commercially made ice cream anywhere.

              Still, I probably never would have tried to make it or any other flavor if my parents hadn't first taken me to Gifford's when I was seven or eight years old. I was spoiled for life.

              While Gifford's is really long gone, making ice cream with a hand cranked freezer, rock salt and ice and real cream is an almost lost art.

      2. Giffords is, hereditarily speaking, a D.C. institution. But, the ice cream isn't what it used to be when I was a little kid. Still, it's not bad.

        If you're looking for some truly unusual D.C. ice cream, there's York Castle Ice Cream on Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring. It's a Jamaican-owned micro-creamery that makes some truly rare island flavors that you've never seen anywhere. Fruit flavors like soursop, guava, pineapple, coconut, and mango are great. They also make an unlikely flavor called GrapeNuts (as in the cereal). Try it. It's awesome!

        Max's Ice Cream in Georgetown is also a great little micro-creamery.

        I'm sorry to say that we don't have many unique sweets in D.C.. There are some great ones, but few that are uniquely D.C. The only dessert place in the area that I would call somewhat unique and worth the trouble is Vaccaro's - the Italian pastry shop. But, the local shops in Union Station and near George Washington University are not as fresh. (I think they truck them in.) To get the real thing, you have to go to Little Italy, in Baltimore.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Sean D

          Max's first opened as Bob's and York Castle's "non tropical" flavors are the original Gifford's. Try a Swiss Sundae there sometime or pumpkin or peach in season.

        2. Cupcakes, it seems, based on the number of cupcake shops in town, and the number of Chowhounds who have their favorites and least-favorites. I don't get the phenomenon myself, but they sure seem popular and polarized.

          7 Replies
          1. re: MikeR

            DC was, as often the case, a johnny-come-lately to the cupcake craze. That started in New York or LA years ago and picked up steam with Sex and the City IIRC.
            Now we've finally caught up.

            They were long available at Reeves downtown but nobody made a big deal out of it.
            And of course we all baked thousands of them over the years for bake sales and our kids' school classes when you were still allowed to bring home baked treats.
            Everything old is again - they just figure out a way to charge more for it.

            1. re: MakingSense

              Strawberry pie played a role in Reeves' reputation also along with their chicken salad. Somebody needs to rediscover the YWCA chocolate chip cookies.

              1. re: Joe H

                Wasn't it that Strawberry Shortcake? The 10 inch high pile of whipped cream? I could never finish that.
                We always ordered the office birthday cakes from there and got a big box of their donuts at least once a week for the coffee room. They disappeared fast.
                Hated to see Reeves go. A remnant of a completely different Washington when the First Lady could wander over for lunch at a coffee shop with her daughter...

                1. re: MakingSense

                  They had strawberry shortcake but they were known for their strawberry pie which were whole strawberries, glazed, on a pie crust topped with real whipped cream. Hot Shoppes had this, too, in season but their's wasn't as good. Do you remember Hofberg's strawberry shortcake on Eastern Avenue? GREAT strawberry shortcake. Actually both Reeves and Hofberg's are memories of a D. C. from another time. (Not necessarily a better D. C. I might add....) Last, I'm going back a LONG way but do you remember Stephenson's in Anacostia with the black and white checkerboard boxes where people would line up on a Sunday morning, 100+ deep, to buy pies and cakes for the week? I remember my parents going there every Sunday morning when I was really young in the '50's (I'm 62 now); it was a tradition to leave Stephenson's with boxes tied together with string. They later opened in Langley Park around 1960 or so but it was never the same. There was an aura about the Anacostia Stephenson's that Langley Park never acquired.

                  Of course Langley Park had its own aura: Weile's. And "The Washington Monument." Weile's, like Wheaton's Jerry's Sub Shoppe, had moved from Kennedy street, N. W. to the suburbs. Jerry's to University Blvd. in Wheaton and Weile's to Langley Park. I always thought Weile's had fantastic sundaes but they used Breyer's ice cream and I never liked this as much as Gifford's. Or Reindeer frozen custard on Colesville road (exactly where the Metro is today-across from Sears...).

                  1. re: MakingSense

                    Okay, I gotta ask: which First Lady?

                    1. re: Mawrter

                      Bess Truman was a regular and often brought back a sandwich for Harry to eat at his desk.
                      Once upon a time, the First Families could move about DC with much greater freedom - and it wasn't that long ago!
                      Lady Bird Johnson went to Reeves as well, taking her daughters there for lunch.
                      They had lived in Washington a long time while LBJ had been in the House and Senate, and then as VP. They were very much a part of the local community, shopping at local stores, the daughters had always gone to local schools, etc.
                      Truman had also spent a long time in the Senate and as VP.

                      At that time, there wasn't an official residence for the VP, so they were much more a part of the local community than VPs have been since the Naval Observatory House was designated while Nelson Rockefeller was VP, except for the ones who have served in Congress or as part of previous administrations. It think the Johnsons lived in Spring Valley.

                      1. re: MakingSense

                        Love it - I knew you had something specific & interesting in mind!

            2. If they used to hang out at Ocean City or Rehoboth Beach, Dolle's Salt Water Taffy can be ordered.


              2 Replies
              1. re: wayne keyser

                There's also a Wackenfuss (sp?) outlet at the Columbia Mall if you are talking about the OC boardwalk.

                1. re: skipper

                  Fisher's popcorn hasn't changed on the lower end of the Boardwalk while the Alaska Stand has little in common with what it once was. Sort of like Kohr Bros. where only the original in Seaside Heights still uses a 40's era ElectroFreeze frozen custard machine and all the others taste a little bit "different." (Carl's in Fredericksburg and Klein's in Harrisonburg, to the best of my knowledge are the only two surviving ElectroFreeze machines from the '40's and '50's in VA.) Still, Fisher's in O. C. has GREAT popcorn!!!

              2. Chocolate-covered bulls#!+ maybe?

                1 Reply
                1. re: Stiles

                  Well...I was thinking chocolate covered Virginia peanuts.