Daytripping: Chocolate fans stampede to tiny Clements
It's amazing, the delightful delicacies and treasures you stumble across when you aren't looking.
On a recent weekend, we motored north on back roads to escape the hustle and bustle of city life. (OK, I live in Oakdale, so the hustle-and-bustle argument is debatable, but traveling up Jack Tone Road was pleasant, nonetheless.)
Soon, having paralleled Highway 99 but free of the semis and 75-mph SUVs, we arrived in Lockeford and linked up with Highway 88, a few miles from our destination, home of the Clements Stampede. More important to me, though, is the hamlet's newest attraction: chocolate.
Sitting in this quiet town making chocolate in every size, shape, texture and taste, including molded chocolate, chocolate sauces and even chocolate pasta, is Chocoholics Divine Desserts.
The business, owned by Schenone Specialty Foods, moved its manufacturing facility from Stockton to Clements in 2004 and now occupies two buildings.
One of the structures is 20,000 square feet and makes up the company's production and warehousing. The other building is one-sixth that size, was made of bricks in 1917 and is the town's former Odd Fellows Hall. It houses the Chocoholics store. A self-guided tour follows each step as thechocolate is processed.
Visitors stroll the path serenaded by music from the film "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" — the 1971 Gene Wilder version, not the 2005 Johnny Depp update. Additional music is a rendition of Sammy Davis Jr.'s hit "The Candy Man."
Large windows let visitors see the creamy rich chocolate stirred, molded, boxed and packaged. The factory offers its best viewing weekdays when the plant is completely operational. Guided tours are available to parties of 12 or more. Some tours include box lunches and desserts. Contact the company to make arrangements.
After touring Chocoholics, visitors invariably treat themselves to a stop at the retail shop. Also on the grounds is a landscaped plaza where you can sit and savor your chocolate purchases.
If you are looking for a rest after all the sweets, take Mackville Road north to Stillman Magee Park. This San Joaquin County park is 20 acres of beautiful foliage complete with shoreline access to the Mokelumne River. After picnicking amid the gurgling of the gently flowing river, naptime doesn't get any better.
Round out your day at Biglieri Farms. You can't miss this roadside fruit stop — it's inside a big red barn on the outskirts of town. Owners Steve and Petre Biglieri offer locally grown veggies and fruits along with homemade desserts and ravioli. (The red bell peppers were delicious; for dessert, we chose German peach-topped kuchen.)
Clements, whose population is listed at only 242, is truly much larger when it comes to chocolate, character and charm.