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Specialty Foods from Trade Shows

The Happy Foodie perennially sends a representative to the to-the-trade-only Summer Fancy Food Shows at the Javits Center in NYC to seek some excellent and distinctive items to recommend to our readers. Herewith, a few of the ones that actually managed to make an impression in the incredible variety of items sampled, read about, or (occasionally) sadly contemplated from the vantage point of a hopelessly full stomach.

Best Chocolates:

A crowded field. HF admits to a bias towards the more exotic and unusual in general, which is only sharpened by the palate fatigue caused by sampling dozens of chocolates in a few hours. That said:

Hauser Chocolatier makes delicious and very intriguing truffles, including standard flavors but also cinnamon, apricot mousse, Williams Pear, and Burning Passion, and many more. Check their website for a full catalogue. Nice option: you can call in an order to pack a box with any customized selection for about a buck per truffle, plus shipping.

Chocolat Moderne blew me away with their beautifully decorated Avante Garde Bars, especially the Blood Orange Bergamot.

Sin in a Tin lives up to its inspired name with a five-ingredient chocolate pate that's good cold alone, served with fruit or ice cream or sauces, or brought to room temperature and used as a fondue, if you can keep it around that long. They also have a new Lemon Lust, apparently lemon curd, like the inside of a lemon meringue pie. Trust me, not a bad thing.

Vosges remains a perennial favorite for their many great exotic varieties, including the Guajillo & Chipotle Chili Super Dark, and particularly the infamous Bacon Chocolate, which comes in both milk and dark. Milk's better.

Best Liqueur-Infused Cakes: Beatrice Bakery makes a line called Grandma's, which includes their original Fruit & Nut cake (with touches of bourbon, rum, & brandy, & a happy lack of candied citron), Chocolate Rum, and Golden Amaretto. Not one of them would embarrass any grandma I ever met.

Best Hot & Runny Cakes: English toffee pudding & English lemon pudding from the Sticky Toffee Pudding Co. are mindblowing. I'd be willing to bet their sticky ginger pudding and molten-chocolate baby cakes would be too. Available at Whole Foods, many specialty food markets, and some Costco stores, as well as by mail order.

Best Cookies: a massive tie, really, but Dancing Deer doesn't make a bad one. The Molasses Clove is particularly fine. I don't know how they manage their delightfully chewy-crisp texture and perfectly cracked tops, but it's all good.

Also the Outrageous Cookie Dough, fka Fatboy Cookie Company makes an aptly named Outrageous Cookie Dough, from which we tasted the oatmeal raisin, cranberry walnut, white chocolate macadamia, and chocolate chunk varieties (after they'd been baked). A two-pound box of this stuff makes 27 cookies, retails for around $15, and would be well worth it if you want to knock people's socks off with your apparent baking skills.

Best Nondairy Cookies: NoMoo Cookies makes some seriously wonderful nondairy cookies like Almond Oy! and Flyin' Hawaiian--and they're kosher, too!

Best Juices : Ceres bills itself as "Nature's perfect juice", with no added sugars or preservatives. I've tried their Passionfruit, Youngberry, Mango, and Pomegranate & Lime. All are wonderful, so it's safe to guess the whole line rocks.

Best Chai: David Rio makes a massively impressive Toucan Mango chai and Tiger Spice chai. Runner up: Rishi Tea has an intense Indian-spiced Masala Chai, available at Whole Foods.

Best Prepared Entrees:

Tandoor Chef makes dynamite Channa Masala (a vegan dish of chickpeas with onions, tomatoes, peppers, and spices) Chicken Tikka Masala in a creamy sauce, Palak Paneer (spinach with cheese) and Samosa that were all incredibly hard to stop eating, even when I knew I was filling up space that could be spent at a hundred other booths. Worth seeking out. Email through their site to find a store near you.

Honorable mention:Suji's Taste of Korea for a wide variety of good Korean rice bowls with spicy pork, beef, or chicken, and prepared bibimbap, one of my favorite things to eat in a restaurant that I will never make because it's so time-consuming. (They also sell sauces and marinades.) Very happy to see Korean food and Korean flavors getting their due.

Best Artisanal Meats and Pates: D'Artagnan, Fabrique Delices, and Trois Petits Cochons are long-running favorites, and deservedly so.

Best Ice Creams:

Little Baby's for Smoked Cinnamon and also Vanilla Cardamom Cream.

CoolHaus (cool.haus) for Bananas Foster, Salted Caramel, and unique Balsamic Fig & Mascarpone. Their only two stores are in southern California, so many of their most intriguing flavors are unavailable to most of us, but the prepacked pints of their most popular flavors are available in over 4000 retail outlets, and good news: they have a handful of food trucks in LA, Dallas, & NYC now.

Honorable mention: LaLoo's for Vanilla Snowflake, because you have to hand it to anyone who can make plain vanilla taste that good. The inevitable salted caramel is good too.

Best Gelato: Ciao Bella pistachio. Period.

Best Nondairy Frozen Dessert: Coconut Bliss for Cinnamon Chocolate Fusion, Cherry Amaretto, Salted Caramel & Chocolate, Chocolate Walnut Brownie, Chocolate Chip Cookie w/hemp seeds. The execution is almost good enough to make you glad you're lactose intolerant. Available at Whole Foods, Westside Market, Fairway, and Stop n Shop.

Best Hot Sauces: Sweet Sunshine Chili Sauces offers thick, sweet BBQ-style sauces from sweet and faintly spicy, to Roasted Shallot & Garlic with medium spice, to Jamaican Jerk, to Hot and Atomic. Someone else will have to vouch for the Atomic as we were too chicken to try it, but the medium ones have excellent taste and texture to go along with the heat. We've been eating these with steamed vegetables and using them for cooking with great enjoyment. Peps up most anything.

Best Dips and Sauces: Taste Weavers (888-810-8365) has wonderful artichoke parmesan, tuscan olive, chipotle cheese, and buffalo horseradish sauces, as well as delicious sweet dips in pina colada, white chocolate peanut butter, key lime cheesecake, & peppermint pattie flavors. I don't even like peppermint, but I liked theirs. This is a company to watch.

Honorable mention in the dips and sauces category goes to Original Juan's, which features Pain is Good sauces, Diva salsas, Fiesta dips (artichoke/spinach and smoked jalapeno), among many.

Best Snacks or Party Fare:

GimMe Health makes GimMe chips out of rice, seaweed, lentils, and sesame seeds, with a nice umami tang. Teriyaki and wasabi and sriracha flavors are all mildly addictive. (They're also orgamnix, gluten free, non-GMO verified, and vegan, if you care.)

Cornelia Confections Brittle Crunch sports unusual pecan chipotle, coconut ginger, and pumpkin spice flavors, all of which we loved.

Creative Snacks Organic Coconut Snacks are made in two varieties, both with toasted coconut and chia seeds, plus sunflower & pumpkin seeds OR cranberries, cashews & almonds. We highly recommend both.

Ass Kickin' Peanuts from Southwest Specialty Food Inc, which also makes hot sauces and even a chocolate chip cookie mix seasoned with Habanero Pepper.

And last, but not least,

Cheese deserves its own whole separate discussion. Please click on the link to read.