I’ve mentioned this before, but there is certainly no shortage of surprising, unique, and often unexpected food findings for anyone who likes to go digging around Arkansas for such experiences. I’ve recently puzzled over why there aren’t any local, small-batch chocolatiers in central Arkansas. Ever since the departure of Carmen Portillo’s Cocoa Belle, the River Market chocolate shop selling hand-crafted treats, central Arkansas has been a dearth of fine chocolates. While one can only hope that this will be remedied in the near future, I’ve been searching for an adequate, locally-produced substitute for some time now. It was suggested to me, by my friend Kevin of The Mighty Rib, that I take a peek in the Crown Shop just off Rodney Parham Rd (near Whole Foods) in West Little Rock. I had (wrongly) assumed that the Crown Shop was simply a branch of the Hallmark greeting cards franchise, and I was skeptical. Turns out the Crown Shop is a locally owned gift shop that’s been in business over 40 years, selling everything from jewelry to cutlery to sports paraphernalia and stationary. But Kevin happened to spot a display case full of hand-made fudge within the store, and it was not long before I made my way there to bask in the sugary glow of the sweet handiwork of some of the wonderful women behind the fudge operation of the Crown Shop.
All of the fudge the store sells is made on-site in a basement kitchen. While not made on a daily basis (the large batches don’t sell that quickly for now), the friendly staff keep a regularly rotating stock of fudge on hand at all times, frequently changing up the flavors and coming up with new creations all the time. They’re even utilizing local, seasonal ingredients when possible. Clearly, this is not your average card shop.
Unless for some reason this is your first time at a fudge purveyor, you’re probably familiar with the set-up. A well-lit, long display case houses long blocks of house-made fudge, all sold by weight, coming in around $12 per pound. The ladies behind the counter are happy to slice you off a tiny sample of whatever flavor you’d like to taste, and a few pre-cut samples rest on the counter-top as well. There’s a half-dozen daily flavors to choose from—chocolate-based, vanilla or white chocolate-based, and fruit flavors such as strawberry or orange cream. Many are loaded with nuts—pecans being a clear favorite in most flavors—which I’m quite happy about, being a big supporter of nuts in all their splendor.
I was partial to their caramel praline fudge which was a thick, nutty, praline-flavored fudge with a gooey, sticky ribbon of caramel running through the center. It’s sweet, very sweet, and eating a large helping at one time is rather difficult, but it makes for a great nibble throughout the day. Their maple nut fudge is also a thing of beauty, but I could love practically anything flavored with maple. The peanut butter fudge was simply done, little more than a block of peanut-flavored sugar, but it was lovely in its simplicity—smooth, soft, and creamy. They also do a nice orange and cream swirl that’s reminiscent of an Orange Julius or Creamsicle. It’s got a nice citrus note which works well with the creamy vanilla-flavored sugar.
On a return visit, I was graced with a new batch of fudge with even greater variety of flavors, all were great but some were especially good. Their blueberry cheesecake fudge was something special. Here a top sheet of bright purple-blue fudge, speckled with blueberry sat on a base of fudge flavored with cream cheese. It was lovely and bright and tasted like summer. The strawberry was equally great—made with real strawberries, this fudge was lighter than the others, but refreshing and sweet. Their toffee flavor should not be missed either and I’d say it was the best of the non-fruit fudges. The entire thing is flaked with toffee bits, with faint butter undertones and rich caramel notes throughout.
Little Rock continues to surprise me with its wonderful hidden gems, and the fudge shop inside the Crown Shop is no exception. Besides their housemade fudge, they’re selling a variety of other gifts and boxed chocolates for anyone with a sweet tooth including Sweet Shop USA’s truffles and brittle (which I reported on previously) and an assortment of Godiva products. It’s a small shop that’s probably not on most people’s radar for delightful sweet treats, but I’d definitely check them out next time you’ve got a hankering for fudge.
The Crown Shop: 10700 N Rodney Parham Rd, Little Rock. Monday-Saturday 10:00 am to 6:00 pm, Sunday 12:30 pm to 5:00 pm.