8301 Main St, Williamsville, NY 14221
Web: Alethea's Chocolates
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Bourbon Cherries Candy Desserts Sponge Candy Williamsville
"Pricing is our only real issue at Alethea's; from the candy store to the ice cream shop, it's hard to leave without spending more than you would elsewhere."
While we may have other local favorite locations for cakes, cannolis, and ice cream sundaes, Alethea's is quite possibly the best old-fashioned candy store in all of Western New York. Located on Main Street in Clarence, just past Transit Road and some of the area's best-known car dealerships, Alethea's looks like a mansion that's been split into two halves: one a traditional ice cream parlor, and the other packed from wall to wall with jars and boxes of candy. But there's a lot more to this apparently little local candy shop: in addition to finding its chocolates in other stores, notably including the Buffalo/Niagara International Airport's gift shop, you can order all but its very best candies online. And the most notably missing items from its web site - its boxed, blue foil-wrapped Kentucky Bourbon Cherries - have been amongst several big Buffalo draws for years.
The Story: In Roald Dahl's book and the subsequent movie adaptations, Willy Wonka's mythical chocolate factory was a mammoth complex, obviously producing great candies inside. You'd never know as much from a quick glance at Alethea's; walking in, you might think that it was someone's house, immaculately clean but from a long-gone era. A quick left turn into the single-room candy shop reveals friendly ladies, who always emerge from behind the counter to offer free samples of fudge, and a visually overwhelming collection of bite-sized desserts. Obviously, the candy inside Alethea's - especially given that it's sold in the company's packages elsewhere in Buffalo, and shipped outside - has to come from somewhere, but there are no Oompa-Loompas, no traces of molds or machines, and no evidence of the operation that ships candies from Buffalo to destinations unknown. As it turns out, the building hides an out-of-sight candy factory that makes and ships almost all of Alethea's chocolates anywhere in the United States.
Highs: Alethea's Bourbon Cherries, individually wrapped in rich blue foil, are without question the highlight of its candy assortment. Unlike typical chocolate-covered cherries, these are filled with a decidedly alcoholic, tongue-titillating glaze that is more habit-forming than the bottle it came from, covered by just enough dark chocolate to keep the liquid from spilling out. They're sold in boxes, and having given and received them as gifts, we know from experience that the boxes never last long enough and always generate requests for more.
The Bourbon Cherries shouldn't be confused with the Cherry Cordials, which are wrapped in gold foil and lack for the addictive flavoring of their cousins, but are still quite good. Alethea's also sells truffles, marzipan, chocolate-covered potato chips, delicious but less distinctive fudges, as well as small bags of sponge candy that are authentic, but expensive relative to other options. We recently paid almost a dollar a piece for individual pieces; if you're at the Airport and looking for a gift or a snack, expect to find this brand of sponge candy as your only option.
Alethea's ice cream and dessert parlor has a smattering of small white tables, a short ordering counter, and a glass display case with appealing slices of cake inside. Milk shakes and ice cream sodas are also available; otherwise, a tray with small plastic cups of water is left out to help you wash down most of the treats. There's also an outdoor deck with additional seating.
Lows: Pricing is our only real issue at Alethea's; from the candy store to the ice cream shop, it's hard to leave without spending more than you would elsewhere. Expect to spend around a dollar per small piece of chocolate, give or take, depending on what strikes your fancy. Similarly, while the ice cream sundaes are tasty, they aren't big or otherwise memorable enough to justify the shop's steep (~$6) asking prices unless your only frame of reference is Starbucks. Ours have arrived with more bulk from whipped cream than ice cream, but otherwise enjoyable. You can do just as well or better at a Dairy Queen, Cold Store Creamery, or Anderson's for less, though you won't have the old time ambience that Alethea's offers.
Verdict: If you're looking for a local gift or a luxurious chocolate treat, and you're willing to spend a little bit too much to buy it, Alethea's should be at or near the top of your list. Though the candy store sells many novel and traditional chocolates, you can't go wrong with the Bourbon Cherries, or really anything else that might appeal to you on perusal of the counters and shelves. That said, other local places offer far stronger competition in the dessert arena, especially if price is a major concern.