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Cold day, warm drink

We've already got our first dusting of snow and it feels like it might only be a matter of time before we're in full-blown, snow-to-your-knees winter.

Once winter hits, a steaming mug of hot chocolate is perfect to warm your hands up, and I decided to find out who serves it up best in Anchorage.

My first stop was Middleway Cafe (1200 W. Northern Lights Blvd.). I loved the restaurant's hippy, cool kid vibe and asked barista Rosie Klouda what makes their hot chocolate so special.

She said it's the Ghirardelli chocolate, fresh whipped cream and choice of milk.

I went with a 16-ounce cup ($2.75) with whole milk. Other dairy options include skim, 2 percent or a mix of the two. Sizes range from 8 ounces ($1.75) to 20 ounces ($3.25).

Klouda steamed the milk to a piping 140 degrees and the machine hissed as the liquid swirled into a steaming froth. A spoonful of powdered Ghirardelli was tossed in and then it was smothered in a fresh whipped cream the cafe makes every morning with a just a hint of French vanilla.

It's the final touches that sell this drink. It's drizzled with Ghirardelli syrup and sprinkled with a generous helping of crushed chocolate chunks. It was beautiful and decadent. My first sip started out rich and silky. It was light, despite the heavy whipped cream. The dark chocolate chunks melted quickly when smooshed with my tongue.

For my second trip I headed to Modern Dwellers Chocolate Lounge (751 E. 36th Ave.). You can choose between silky dark and spicy Mayan. The offerings come in three sizes and are a bit pricier: eight-ounce ($4.50), 12-ounce ($5.25) or a 16-ounce mug ($6).

I tend to like things with a kick, so I picked the Mayan.

Baristas Aunna Giampaoli and Jessica Knueppel told me you can't get a hot chocolate like theirs anywhere else in town because they use liquid chocolate, which you can also order as a three-ounce shot for $4.25. Whipped cream is also made fresh in-house.

When I stepped outside, my hair caught in a whoosh of nippy wind and I took a sip. My eyes watered as flavors of ancho, chipotle, cayenne and cinnamon hit my tongue. It burned pleasantly as it went down.

Later in the week I was looking for white chocolate and headed to Superstar Pastry Design (3020 Minnesota Drive).

As owner Kory Joyner heaped white chocolate Ghirardelli powder and whole milk together, I asked her if she uses fresh whipped cream.

"Of course, we're a bakery first," she said, "so we use all real stuff. Butter, lots of fat. You know, tasty stuff."

I couldn't agree more. As I took my first sip my lips pursed. This drink is definitely sweet, but the whipped cream helps calm some of its intensity. I did wish it was just a little bit hotter. I ordered a 12-ounce ($2), but you can also order a 16-ounce ($2.50) and 20-ounce ($3).

Finally, it seemed appropriate to head to a restaurant with a name that honors the upcoming season -- Snow City Cafe (1034 W. Fourth Ave.).

It was the most traditional hot chocolate I found, a simple Ghirardelli powder, 2 percent milk and whipped cream steamed to piping perfection.

It's available as a 12-ounce ($2.75), a 16-ounce ($3.25) and a 20-ounce ($3.75).

It was by far the hottest drink I was served, possibly because of the seemingly constant use of the espresso machine.

I asked barista Coleman Alguire why so many people seemed to be ordering hot chocolate.

"Because we make it with love," he said.

That and maybe a great espresso machine. Either way I enjoyed having a drink hot enough I had to blow on it or risk burning my tongue.

Next time you head outside, and you feel like winter is getting the upper hand, grab a cup of hot chocolate. Whether it's decadent, spicy, exotic or traditional, you'll enjoy the sweet pleasures of warming up.

• Got a restaurant tip, a new menu, a favorite dish or a chef change? Send an e-mail to play@adn.com.

Middleway Cafe

Location: Suite G, 1200 W. Northern Lights Blvd.

Phone: 272-6433

Hours: 7 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Modern Dwellers Chocolate Lounge

Location: 751 E. 36th Ave.

Phone: 677-9985

Hours: Monday 11 a.m.-6 p.m.; Tuesday-Thursday 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Closed Sunday.

Web: moderndwellers.com

Superstar Pastry Design

Location: 3020 Minnesota Drive, Unit 1A

Phone: 336-7827

Hours: Monday-Friday 8:30 a.m.-8 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

Web: spdak.com

Snow City Cafe

Location: 1034 W. Fourth Ave.

Phone: 272-2489

Hours: 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday through Friday (Espresso counter open until 4 p.m.), 7 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

Web: snowcitycafe.com

By Rebecca Palsha

Daily News correspondent

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