After Hours: Fancy Foods Are Alive and Well

Every year a theme runs through the Summer Fancy Food Show, usually unintentionally. One year it was celebrity chefs, another time enhanced waters, still another jungle ingredients with alleged superpowers, to name a few from recent years. This year's theme? The sheer number of people at the Show.

Anyone who's worried about the economy should have tried to push through the throngs

at the opening day of The 2009 Summer Fancy Food Show, which ran June 28-30 in New York City. At 24,000 visitors over three days, attendance set a record for the decade. The aisles simulated Times Square after the matinees let out.

The exhibits did not disappoint. The first table I visited, in fact, made the entire day worthwhile, maddening (not madding) crowd and all. By the far wall on the second floor of the Javits Convention Center I came into possession of a secret weapon in gender relations. The key to a man's heart, in fact (and no, you can't have mine): Bacon-flavored chapstick, by J&D's BaconSalt, the twisted but successful geniuses behind bacon-flavored salts and Baconnaise, which is what the name suggests, but with less fat and calories than ordinary mayo.

Only one item topped that novelty, but many items grabbed attention in their own ways. Here's a shortlist of extraordinary new products to look for on the shelves of your local specialty food stores.

Beverages

Specialty waters continue to be the rage. The most assertive are MetroMint's new flavors, chocolate mint and cherry mint. Each is fiercely refreshing, thanks to the not-so-secret ingredient of essential oils. An affiliated drink, Metroelectro, adds unflavored zinc, antioxidants and electrolytes to purified water; think Gatorade without the trappings (and aftertaste).

Numi Tea has entered the ready to drink market with six flavors, including a light peach nectar, made with pureed fruit, agave and honey, and no oils, and a subtle Moroccan Mint. For an interesting turn on brewing tea, it offers pressed tea bricks like a bar of baking chocolate, which you break off by serving size.

Honest Beverages' bottled mango green tea greets you pleasantly with the taste of the fruit. The company has also released a line of smooth, unsweetened mates, including the aptly-named sublime, which is infused with lime and ginger.

Inko's bottled white teas now come in unsweetened original and lemon, which is slightly tart and gingery with no cloying aftertaste.

Republic of Tea has been pressing chocolate into service in its new brewables, which include double dark chocolate mate (blended with cocoa powder) and strawberry chocolate, both in tea bag form. Its rooibos-based Little Citizens' Herb Teas come in cherry apple, strawberry vanilla and tangerine, smartly formulated flavors that appeal to adults as well as their target audience.

Produce

Keep a lookout for micro-vegetables from the Long Island farm of Koppert Cress. They're herbs and vegetables in the tiny and powerfully flavorful first stages of growth. One of them beat the bacon chapstick in novelty (and all naturally at that!): Sechuan buttons, which create the palpable buzz you'd expect from touching your tongue to a live 9-volt battery. Talk about waking the palate; the effect stays for a good two minutes, at least.

Also new in the produce aisles are fermented and smoked black garlic, to be added as a finishing touch like truffle shaving, and shashito peppers for accompanying sushi. They're available from Melissa's Produce, which has expanded its line of peeled and cooked items to steamed chestnuts, steamed fava beans and, coming in December, blackeyed peas. Pepperheads take note: Melissa's is now trafficking in two killer peppers, red savina ruby hots, which pack Scovell heat units from 300,000 to 500,000, and a ghost chili that hits one million units. Dynamite in a bag, Melissa's marketing guru Robert Schueller called it, warning, "It makes mace spray feel like a body mist." Proceed at your own risk.

Snacks

Raincoast Crisps are the missing link between toast and crackers. They're exceedingly thin planks of engaging flavors -- fig and olive, rosemary raisin pecan, cranberry hazelnut and salty date and almond -- that pair well with soft cheese, tapenades and smoked fish.

Veggie Krinkle Sticks are the latest snacking alternative from Lesser Evil. Cut like crinkle fries, these are made with potato, corn, broccoli, spinach and seven whole grains and are baked instead of fried. Beware: The nutritional counts of Lesser Evil's products may indeed be virtuous, but these snacks are still the stuff of addiction.

Sweet Treats

Salem Baking Company, known for exquisitely thin Moravian cookies, has hit the mark again with thin, crispy coconut wafers.

Savannah Bee Co. is branching out into blended honeys for use in grilling tea and cheese. The tea blend is mild, to let the beverage's flavor emerge.

Harvest Song's exquisite artisanal preserves now include a tingly wild black currant and a cherry berry, which combines sour cherries, fresh blackberries and wild strawberries. Both beg to be dabbed onto crusty buttered bread or soft white cheeses.

Chocolate

Chocolate hit, unbelievably, new heights of pleasure and delight. Green & Blacks Organic achieved two of them, with a dark chocolate mint bar best described as to die for, and a smooth, crunchy toffee bar that provided my seeing God moment of the show.

Amella claims its artisan caramels are the first to be made with cocoa butter. The ingredient alters the texture into something closer to a ganache. Fittingly, the caramels come in three cake-inspired flavors. carrot cake, which is like moist chewy cake. Black Forest, with fresh berries and 70% dark chocolate, a passionfruit. Distribution is in women's clothing stores and wine shops.

Sweet Bliss shows no signs of pulling back on its signature whimsy. The Poppin Bubble Bar has pop rocks inside the chocolate. Kaplunks are Belgian chocolate shells that release a marshmallow when put in hot chocolate. And the Peppermint Paw is v like a peppermint pattie only shaped like a ... you know.

Gluten-Free

For the special diet crowd, Conte's Pasta includes a ravioli on the soft and gummy side, but still acceptable in texture and not obviously flour-free. Solterra boasts a feather light fettucine, slightly gummy but not bad, and a thick, robust pizza crust that approaches flat bread. Coco Mira is pitching its toffee as gluten-free. The confection is soft and sweeter than you might expect.

Temptations

Products worth paying for shipping: Rogue Creamery's naturally rinded, unfathomably creamy caveman blue cheese, so zingy that it tingles, like fireworks going off. And if you have not encountered the marvel of the Cajun tur-duc-hen -- a hen inside a duck inside a turkey, French Market Foods will drop ship you one.