Welcome to Turtle Quest.
But this search for the best of an Elkhart County food will move pretty fast. The winner will be announced by the end of the column.
The day I announced the winner of Rib Quest, readers asked what was next.
I usually take the winter off after searching over a period of months.
But last week, co-workers of my wife, Bethany, suggested Turtle Quest.
They suggested that they get to help find the best turtles. The chocolate ones with nuts and caramel, that is, not the animal that Nick Boyd serves in a soup at South Side Soda Shop.
I knew that The Nut Shoppe and Olympia Candy Kitchen have a long history of making and selling turtles in downtown Goshen. Chocolate Sensations in Bristol and Taste of Heaven in Middlebury have joined the fray in the last couple years.
After chasing down turtles all day Friday and Saturday morning, Bethany and I had a Valentine's taste test.
We tried turtles from the four Elkhart County makers and two from just outside the county who sell here. We didn't try any from South Bend Chocolate Co. after failing to acquire some on short notice.
We didn't consider turtles from outside Elkhart County for the title, but here's what we thought of those:
Naomi's Candies in Milford are available at six locations in the county, including Essenhaus Bakery, Neighbor's Country Store in New Paris and Goshen Farmers Market, where Naomi Privett was selling them Saturday. Her turtles are shaped like the animal and emphasize the chocolate, which is decent. She offers both dark and milk chocolate for about $15 a pound.
Veni's Sweet Shop makes candy in Niles, Mich., and has a store at 101 W. Market St., Nappanee. Its turtles come in dark or milk chocolate with pecans or cashews. The turtles are good, but the chocolate is drier than others and they're more expensive at nearly $20 a pound.
The search for the best of Elkhart County came from the other four producers.
Chocolate Sensations, 110 S. Division St., Bristol, uses raw Georgia pecans, chocolate coating from E & S Sales and caramel Joyce Schrock makes in her candy shop. The chocolate isn't as high quality as the other local locations and the caramel was downright hard in the $14-a-pound turtles. (two out of five turtles)
Taste of Heaven, a new shop at 115 E. Warren St., Middlebury, uses Ambrosia chocolate and whole pecans with a caramel Bobbie Wogoman and Donna Miller make. The turtles are good, but not remarkable and at $15 a pound, are the most expensive of the four local shops. (3 1/2 out of five turtles)
The battle for the best turtle in the county is really between Olympia and The Nut Shoppe, which are just over two blocks from each other on Main Street in Goshen.
Both have been making candy for decades. Both have had their chocolates go all over the world as gifts representing this area. Both have devoted fans. And picking a winner between the two carries some risk.
Olympia Candy Kitchen, 136 N. Main St., Goshen, makes the biggest turtles of any tested. It has a layer of thick Blommer Chocolate around a few nut pieces and a great caramel. The nut flavor gets overshadowed by the chocolate and caramel. But it's a great chocolate candy and is the best pick for a caramel lover. (five out of five turtles)
The Nut Shoppe, 204 S. Main St., makes an unconventional, deconstructed turtle. A layer of chopped pecans is topped with a dollop of caramel and then a layer of E. Guittard chocolate. The chocolate is the best of any we tasted. The three components are equally balanced in terms of flavor. It's a small turtle, but easy to bite, chew and savor. And they cost $12.99 a pound. (five out of five)
"I'd be happy to receive either of these chocolates for Valentine's Day," Bethany said with a smile after our taste test. You could make an argument that either is the best in Elkhart County, but either way, I win because I know better what my chocolate-loving wife prefers after trying a lot of turtles together on Valentine's Day weekend.
She preferred The Nut Shoppe turtle because of the chocolate. I was torn because of Olympia's caramel, but agree that the Nut Shoppe turtle is slightly better because of how it's balanced and because the chocolate is the highest quality.
The Nut Shoppe wins Turtle Quest.
Do you agree? You can taste and let me know by posting feedback on this story on eTruth.com or on The Elkhart Truth's Facebook page. Or use some other means, whether it's a phone call, e-mail or just hollering at me as I walk down the street.
Happy Valentine's Day. Even if it's a day you hate, I hope you enjoy good chocolate today.
* Sauk Trail on 17, the name of the new venture combining Indigo on 17 and Sauk Trail Bar & Grille, will open at 4 p.m. Thursday, according to the sign in front of the restaurant at C.R. 17 and C.R. 14.
* Valentine's Day falling on a Monday is a boon for restaurants. I don't know how many who would normally be closed today to open due to one of the most popular dining holidays, but I know that Kelly Jae's Cafe in Goshen and River Inn in Bristol are doing that. If you're heading out tonight, it's probably good to call first to assure that the place is open and has a table available.
* The blizzard, which resulted in less snow than forecast but still slowed life in Elkhart County, canceled a talk I was to give on Feb. 2 in the Lifelong Learning Institute at Greencroft. The talk titled "Tummy Tales" is rescheduled for 1:30 p.m. March 3 at the Greencroft Goshen Senior Center. The event is free.
* Last week's column raised the question of whether anyone makes gravy from scratch at area restaurants. Randi Yoder, restaurant and bakery manager of Das Dutchman Essenhaus, said they make beef and chicken gravy from scratch. Beef gravy is most popular.
"We will make and serve over 400 gallons per week during the summer," he wrote in an e-mail.
* Reader Mark G. e-mailed after last week's column to say he likes the margherita pizza at Lucchese's, where it's on the menu as Poor Man's Pizza.
"It's really out of this world when the tomatoes are in season," he wrote.
* Stacks Pancake House and Restaurant opened before Christmas in Pine Creek Plaza, 5230 Beck Drive. Hours are 5 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday to Friday and 6 to 3 Saturday and Sunday.
Marshall V. King is news and multimedia editor and food columnist for The Elkhart Truth/eTruth.com. You can reach him at 296-5805, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @hungrymarshall.