A taste of Mmelo's beautiful, whimsical, confectionary evangelism
I sit facing floor-to-ceiling windows in Mmelo Boutique Confections inside the historic Carlile Building, watching the Arena District's slow thaw on a frigid December morning. It's sunny, but otherwise there's nothing but blacktop and ice and construction noise. Inside, the café's on some other latitude entirely, a bright white space running wild with candied art—tiny delicacies rendered as masterpieces in miniature.
Mere weeks after opening, Mmelo has become a cozy, glowing haven. The counter is lined with handmade chocolate bars, tea cakes, brittles, toffees, chocolate jam, butter mints and a shiny espresso machine. The confectionery's namesake sweets are gourmet marshmallows created with fanciful flavors—rose and saffron, cranberry tangerine, gin and tonic. The Pear, Lemon and Fresh Thyme Mmelos ($7.50 for six) are aromatic, and the Apple Butter and Warm Cinnamon ($8 for six) smell deeply like baked pie. The tastes are subtler than the scents suggest, a trick on the senses.
Many of the treats deliver something half expected, half not, like sleight of hand I should've seen coming. An example: the white chocolate buttons infused with curry ($6 for six). An initial burst of curry melts into creamy sweetness before closing with an aftershock of spiciness, not hot but tingly. It makes me pause, wondering why I'm surprised that the candy delivered precisely the flavors it promised.
The chocolate tea cakes ($13 for four)—not to be confused with a bready, English tea cake—blend the decadence of traditional confections with beguiling flavor combinations, covered in an array of vibrant coatings. Some flavors don't fully mesh, like one featuring Earl Grey and lavender ganache on cardamom shortbread, yet the mixture of strong herbal notes with dark chocolate is still intriguing. Others are a revelation. The White Chocolate Lemon Ginger Ganache with Dark Chocolate Shortbread is velvety, citrusy and modestly sweet, striking an impeccable balance that almost redeems substandard white chocolate everywhere.
White chocolate redemption is the personal crusade of owner Michelle Allen, she explains as I drink a superb cortado ($3.25) made with espresso from Westerville's Java Central. A week later, her husband and business partner Paul Freeth expounds on their larger mission: shunning artificial ingredients in favor of natural, unrefined, whole-food options. It feels like another welcome magic trick, creating (somewhat) healthier treats by replacing overpowering synthetic sweetness with rich, surprising flavors.
Mmelo's confections seem perfect for Valentine's Day, equal parts delicious indulgence and elegant artwork, if you can bring yourself to eat something so pretty.