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A Chocolate Wonderland

Chocolate lovers flock to Fairfax for annual festival.

A big weekend in Fairfax is approaching, and not even the Super Bowl is expected stop the crowds from turning out.

The 15th Chocolate Lovers Festival is coming to Old Town Fairfax, Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 3-4. Sunday is the day the Chicago Bears are scheduled to play the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLI, but City Councilmember Gail Lyon said the Super Bowl has coincided with the sugary weekend for the past five years without disruption.

"Some people come and ask to buy a whole cake to take with them to a Super Bowl party," said Beverly Myers, chairwoman of both the Chocolate Lovers Festival Committee and the Friends of Fairfax.

The chocolate festival isn't all about consumption though. While chocolate is the main star that weekend, community togetherness is the main goal. It's a way for the city to continue seasonal activities and tradition throughout the winter months, said Lyon.

"When you're coming off the holidays, it's just a great way for the community to get together again," said Lyon.

FROM TASTES and crafts to demonstrations and contests, the festival has something for everyone. A shuttle bus, "the Chocolate Express," takes visitors from point to point since the festival's events are scattered throughout downtown.

Old Town Hall, at the corner of University Drive and Main Street, is home to the Taste of Chocolate — the place where people can be found dipping and smelling the rich treat. Vendors set up chocolate stands on both floors of the historic building, and guests purchase pogs at the entrance for $1 each. The pogs are then traded in for the sweets, so no money is actually exchanged between the vendors and the customers, said Myers. "It's not your typical taste, where you pay an admission and get a little of everything," she said.

Different vendors offer a huge variety of items, she said, and most of the treats do not cost more than three pogs, or $3. This year, the taste's theme should look like the 1960s, with tie-dyed fabric and smiley faces everywhere.

Vendors include restaurants, pastry chops, bakeries and even a wellness spa. The Melting Pot restaurant usually brings milk chocolate and strawberries for dipping, said Myers. Capitol Chocolate Fountains provides Rice Krispies bars, marshmallows, and of course, chocolate. The Comfort & Joy Wellness Spa offers up something a little different: chocolate bath products and organic chocolates.

"Chocolate sells itself," said Chris Fow, the city's community relations director and a Chocolate Lovers Festival corporate member.

Each vendor— about 20 of them in total— keeps 75 cents of every dollar taken in at their tables. The rest goes to the Friends of Fairfax for contribution to various organizations. The event is not-for-profit, and some recipients of this year's Taste of Chocolate proceeds are the American Heart Association, the Fairfax High School all-night grad party and the Parents of Autistic Children of Northern Virginia.

The Taste of Chocolate is where most of the chocolate consumption occurs at the festival; the rest of the events are more entertainment-oriented, said Myers. One of the festival's highlights is the pancake breakfast sponsored by the Kiwanis Club of Fairfax. On Saturday, Feb. 3, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., guests can enjoy regular or chocolate chip pancakes at Fire Station 3, 4081 University Drive. The cost is $6 for adults and $5 for children ages 6 to 10; children under 6 eat for free.

Another popular event each year is the Chocolate Challenge at City Hall. Mayor Robert Lederer will judge along with Warren Brown, the owner of Washington, D.C.'s CakeLove and Love Cafe, and the host of "Sugar Rush," on the Food Network. The judges will view many professional and amateur chocolate creations and judge them on various criteria. Last year's items included a aquarium, and replicas of both Old Town Hall and the Old Court House— all made entirely out of chocolate.

"I'm going to be looking for quality, taste and the passion that goes into it," said Brown. "I'm expecting to be pleasantly surprised."

The Chocolate Challenge takes place in the City Hall atrium, Saturday, Feb. 3, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, Feb. 4, from 12-4 p.m.

This year's annual Chocolate Lovers Festival grant will go to the Women's Center, in Vienna. The center provides counseling, education and information to women and families, regardless of their ability to pay. About 15 percent of the festival's overall proceeds go directly toward the grant.

"It's one of the most creative festivals I've ever been to, and I'm so tickled that it's in the City of Fairfax," said Lyon.