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Sweet Surrender

Side Dish: Say it with sugar

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Tired of sending in a gourmet teddy bear to broker the peace? The latest trend in deliverable gifts is a lush bouquet of . . . fruit. At least that's what the owners of South Burlington's new Edible Arrangements are hoping. Though Edible Arrangements boasts over 800 locations in the U.S. and Canada, the Dorset Street shop, owned by Alison Estey, is the sole Green Mountain locale. It specializes in placing pieces of cut fruit - some of which can be dipped in chocolate - in decorative displays. Imagine, for example, an oversized ceramic tennis ball with spears of crinkle-cut cantaloupe, honeydew, grapes, strawberries and daisy-shaped pieces of pineapple sprouting from the top. The "Sweet Serve" runs between $61 to $71.

Not a tennis fan? There are fruit assortments tailor-made for your favorite SpongeBob fanatic, duck lover or compulsive gambler, aka the "Juicy Jackpot."

"In the front cooler we usually have one or two arrangements that were made fresh that day," explains Manager Karen Socinski. But most of the store's business comes from special orders that arrive via phone and Internet. The gifts range in price from $15 for a box of dipped fruit to $250 for a party-sized edition.

The biz offers delivery in the greater Burlington area, for $12. Longer, in-state trips carry a $20 surcharge. Wanna send some strawberries to Saskatchewan? The Vermont store will contact an Edible Arrangements franchise near the recipient.

Ambiance with that? For five days each in January, February, March and April, Mary's Restaurant at the Inn at Baldwin Creek in Bristol rolls out an all-you-can-eat chocolate buffet. The sugary spread includes unusual items such as Aztec crème brulee and chocolate chestnut cheesecake, alongside standard cacao-based delights such as fondue, mousse and truffle varieties.

"That's the tip of the iceberg. There are at least 12 to 14 different things on there," reports Mary's Chef-Owner Doug Mack, who dreamed up the buffet 20 years ago as a way to "give people some pleasure and get them out of the house in the wintertime," he relates.

Whether you dig into the desserts before or after dinner - Mack's ever-popular creamy garlic soup is a must-have - the self-serve buffet is only $8.95. Keep in mind, though, that you can't fill your pockets or wrap up a piece of devil's food to go: It's an eat-it-or-leave-it deal. The chocolate buffet runs March 26-30 and April 23-27.

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