A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

Editor’s Note: This story was published in 2022 and updated in 2023. I’m dreaming of hot chocolate. The rich and creamy flavor, the whipped cream dotting my nose, the warmth

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

Editor’s Note: This story was published in 2022 and updated in 2023. I’m dreaming of hot chocolate. The rich and creamy flavor, the whipped cream dotting my nose, the warmth

Hot Cocoa Harbor

Editor’s Note: This story was published in 2022 and updated in 2023.

I’m dreaming of hot chocolate. The rich and creamy flavor, the whipped cream dotting my nose, the warmth of the mug in my hands. I’m walking the streets of downtown Elizabeth City, bundled up in a hat, gloves, scarf, and boots. A brisk wind whips off the Pasquotank River a few blocks away and gains strength as it blows between the historic brick buildings on either side of me. My cheeks are numb. My eyes begin to water. But, oh, how good that first sip will taste. How sweet. How warm.

Elizabeth City is hosting its second annual Hot Cocoa Crawl this winter. Restaurants, cafés, shops, and inns have all come up with a variety of cocoa creations for the occasion. Some will serve classic hot chocolate. Others will mix in flavored syrups and sprinkles of candy. A handful will add splashes of liquor. All of the drinks on the menu will be made with care and consideration — so unlike the hot chocolate of my youth.

• • •

As a kid, making hot chocolate was always a hurried affair. I would scurry inside the house after a long day at school, my arms making a swish, swish, swish sound as they rubbed against the puffy polyester of my down jacket. I’d rip open a box of Swiss Miss, grab a packet of instant cocoa mix, and give it a shake to push the powder to the bottom. A fruitless gesture. When I opened the packet, brown powder still got everywhere, much to my mother’s chagrin. After dumping the cocoa and freeze-dried marshmallows into a mug of steaming water, I’d give it a stir. Powdery clumps of cocoa invariably rose to the surface, so I would stir it a few more times. Still clumpy? Eh, good enough.

The first sip almost always burned the roof of my mouth. The second was cooler and slightly bitter. But it was perfect. Well, actually, it was watered down — with bits of undissolved Swiss Miss crunching between my teeth as I sipped — but the moment that I had created was perfect.

Enjoy hot cocoa on the boardwalk. photograph by Baxter Miller

As I walk to the first stop on the Cocoa Crawl, I smile thinking of the younger me, completely content to drink hot chocolate made with tap water. Because even then, I knew that drinking hot chocolate was about making a memory. A time to pause and appreciate the stillness. To enjoy the middle of winter, when holiday decorations have been packed away, tree limbs are bare, and life seems to have slowed down. To sip and savor something that’s simple to make — whether you’re using water or milk. To sit suspended in that time before the grass turns green again and the world buzzes back to life. I think that’s why, as a child, I breezed through the process of making hot cocoa so quickly. I wanted to live in that moment.

Stepping inside Muddy Waters Coffeehouse on West Main Street, the scent of coffee and baked goods hits me. Ah, yes, finally … warmth. I’d better get started. I’ve got a full day of hot chocolate tasting ahead of me, which means that I’ll have plenty of time to ponder how much better cocoa is when it’s made with care.

At Muddy Waters Coffeehouse you can relax with your hot chocolate at a table next to a mural painted by local artist Holly Cole Luke. photograph by Baxter Miller

Great White Pumpkin or Frosted Gingerbread
Muddy Waters Coffeehouse

This coffee shop has two specialized creations for this year’s crawl: pumpkin pie or frosted gingerbread white hot chocolate. Curl up on one of the coffeehouse’s couches or armchairs and take your time drinking this creamy cup: It’s served in a mug so large that it’s essentially a bowl with a handle.

100 West Main Street
(252) 338-2739

The Dirty Snowman
The Mills Downtown Bistro

Talk about a tall glass of chocolate. The Dirty Snowman is made with chocolate shavings that have been melted in steamed milk, mixed with full-fat vanilla ice cream, Baileys Original Irish Cream, and Godiva Chocolate Liqueur poured into an Irish coffee mug, and crowned with whipped cream and more chocolate shavings. Despite sounding incredibly rich, a sip of this drink won’t leave you feeling bloated. It’s neither too hot nor too cold, and it strikes just the right balance of milk and chocolate.

200 North Poindexter Street
(252) 621-1471

Hot chocolate from The SweetEasy pairs well with the bakery’s pistachio, birthday cake, and lavender macarons. photograph by Baxter Miller

Pleasing Peppermint
The SweetEasy

This French café-themed bakery is keeping its hot chocolate offerings sweet and simple for the Cocoa Crawl, with peppermint hot chocolate that can be topped with whipped cream and marshmallows. Part of owner Casey Heard’s philosophy is to offer a wide range of drinks and other goodies, including cannoli and macarons.

507 East Main Street Suite C
(252) 698-0109

For a more potent brew, try Ghost Harbor’s House of the Maker stout. photograph by Baxter Miller

House of the Maker Stout
Ghost Harbor Brewing Company

This mocha vanilla latte stout looks striking: dark as night in a chilled Belgian beer glass. Bring it close, and the robust scent of coffee emanates from its caramel-colored foam. The drink’s base is a traditional American stout, made with roasted malt and hops. The smooth, sweet flavor twist comes from the addition of vanilla, cocoa nibs, and cold-brew coffee made by Muddy Waters Coffeehouse.

602 East Colonial Avenue
(252) 340-4643

Almost everything at Paradiso Roma Ristorante is made from scratch — even the hot cocoa. Try it with a shot of bourbon. photograph by Baxter Miller

Wells of Fancy
Paradiso Roma Ristorante

Cozy up with a mug of hot cocoa and a view of the Pasquotank River at this waterside Italian restaurant. For the Wells of Fancy, creamy hot cocoa is mixed with a splash of bourbon to give this toasty drink some added oomph.

35 Camden Causeway
(252) 333-1575

Red Wine Hot Chocolate
2 Souls Wine Bar

Wine and chocolate make for a classic pairing, but at 2 Souls Wine Bar, a third component is necessary to whip up this hot and chocolaty red wine beverage. The Mr. Coffee-brand Cocomotion that sits prominently on the counter is what co-owner Mel Martine uses to gently mix and heat a blend of chocolate milk and red wine. (Don’t worry: It tastes better than it sounds.) Martine borrowed her kids’ cocoa-making machine to devise a drink that tastes like a warm cherry cordial. Making beverages with booze isn’t exactly in the Cocomotion’s job description, though, so Martine is careful not to overwork the mixer.

512 East Main Street
(252) 679-7223

Elizabeth City’s Hot Cocoa Crawl takes place through January 7, 2024.

Get your chocolate fix


Big Boss Burritos

Enjoy a traditionally made Mexican hot chocolate infused with cinnamon and served with a churro.

110 North Poindexter Street
(252) 202-7155

Coastal Purl

Knit or crochet a rug for your mug (included in the kit!) with one of this yarn shop’s “Mug Rug” kits.

106A Capital Trace
(252) 548-4801

Copper Canyon Soap Company

Fill up a mug of hot chocolate and shop for cocoa-inspired bath bombs, lip balm, soaps, and candles.

507 East Main Street
(252) 621-1472

Cypress Creek Grill

Try their “Snowy Creek” house-made white chocolate hot cocoa, spiked option available.

113 South Water Street
(252) 334-9915


Montero’s Restaurant, Bar, and Catering

Order a hot cocoa inspired by the tropics — “Christmas in Malibu” is made with house-made hot cocoa, spiked with rum, and topped with whipped cream and toasted coconut.

414 McArthur Drive
(252) 331-1067


To see a full list of Hot Cocoa Crawl participants, go to hotcocoacapital.com.

This story was published on Dec 28, 2022

Chloe Klingstedt

Chloe Klingstedt is an assistant editor at Our State magazine, a Texan by birth, and a North Carolinian at heart.