The dessert menu is a restaurant’s curtain call, a chance for a standing ovation before a satisfied exit. The stakes are high today, where every impression is lasting, every touchpoint critical.
“Wow!” factor is increasingly important, with brands understanding the importance of Instagram-worthiness.
Dough, a bakeshop in Tampa, Fla., and a Datz Restaurant Group concept, menus an eye-popping ice cream, leveraging Pantone’s 2018 Color of the Year: Ultra Violet. It also delivers the brand promise of creative, fun flavor combinations. “Our Ultra Violet Ice Cream is pomegranate-green tea flavor, with all-natural blue dye for that out-of-this-world intense ultra-violet hue,” says Alicia Wolding, Dough’s pastry chef. “I love the subtle earthiness that green tea lends to sweets, and pomegranate is both sweet and floral. Pomegranate-green tea flavor just seemed like a great idea.”
A Bit of Sizzle
With pie firmly in the top-five ranking of most menued desserts, according to Datassential, signaturizing this popular item is a deft move.
The apple pie at Cantina Laredo, a modern Mexican multi-unit headquartered in Dallas, stands out with its theatrical presentation and unique flavor narrative. The pie is presented on a hot skillet. Tableside, it’s topped with cinnamon ice cream and surrounded by Mexican brandy butter. “The brandy butter is what makes the dessert unique,” says Ruben Lozano, executive chef. “When it hits the hot skillet, the aroma fills the dining room and all of the senses are rewarded.”
Interactive, surprising, signature and sweet? That’s a recipe for Instagrammability. At Geraldine’s, a new American restaurant in Austin, Texas, Executive Pastry Chef Yolanda Diaz menus a sweet-savory dessert called The Apple Business, which is shaped like an apple and made with a caramelized white chocolate magic shell that’s coated with red apple-cider mirror glaze, topped with a sour-apple leaf and stem made of pulled sugar.
“Cut the apple open and you’ll find a savory apple-blossom butter core,” she says. The “apple” sits atop an apple-raisin chutney and a sharp cheddar cheese sable for a striking contrast of flavors.
Meanwhile, Uncle Julio’s, a Tex-Mex chain, presents its now-signature Chocolate Piñata, stuffed with fruit and mini churros and served along with a wooden hammer for cracking it open and dipping sauces for interactive enjoyment.
The Sweet Side of Brunch
Brunch always straddles both sides of the menu, knowing that some diners want sweet and some savory. To make a sweet offering a signature at brunch, looking to the doughnut, a morning staple for many Americans, makes a lot of sense.
At The Mockingbird, a modern diner in Nashville, Tenn., the Donut Sandwich stands out, capturing a playfulness that is now a hallmark of memorable brunch spots. “This iteration of the sandwich is the Vanilla Bean Homer Simpson Donut with sprinkles, sliced open and filled with vanilla ice cream that has dark chocolate and Snickers chunks, topped off with hot fudge,” says Brian Riggenbach, executive chef/partner.
“We put it on the menu for brunch to maximize our pastry-basket selections and offer a multitude of ways one item can be utilized on our menu. We make our cinnamon rolls, babka, doughnuts and scones in house and have found ways to reimagine each of these items—for instance: a babka-cinnamon bread pudding as a dinner dessert special.”
For the Donut Sandwich, he features the “flavor of the week” doughnut. “The flavors are always fun and ever changing,” he says, describing a bananas Foster doughnut stuffed with rum-peanut ice cream as an example. “The toppings are literally ‘over-the-top’ and our guests find them totally Insta-worthy.”
The Italian affogato marries today’s coffee culture with dessert, “drowning” a scoop of gelato or ice cream with hot espresso. Datassential reports that it’s up 13 percent on menus over the last year.
“You can look for general coffee trends, like cold brew, to show up in affogatos this year,” says Mike Kostyo, senior publications manager at Datassential.
A few indicators signal continued opportunity here: Starbucks Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room is helping demystify the dessert by serving its Classic Affogato.
And in San Francisco, Affogato Bar recently opened, specializing in customizable ice cream topped with espresso. Offerings include Colombia La Siberia espresso poured over Sea Salt with Caramel Ribbons ice cream and Blood Orange-Olive Oil ice cream paired with Rwanda Mwasa espresso. Both the variety of pairings and the potential tableside entertainment helps propel affogato into a serious dessert contender.
On The Menu
- Turkish Coffee Affogato: Mascarpone and cardamom ice cream, almonds, dark chocolate sauce, spiced lace cookies, Turkish coffee
- Affogato with green tea ice cream and a shot of espresso
—Prawn & Basil, Thousand Oaks, Calif.
- Affogato Special Donut Espresso Utopia: Geddes Bakery doughnut topped
with ice cream, maple syrup, bacon and a shot of espresso
—Recess Coffee, Syracuse, N.Y.