“I hope you’ve saved room for dessert,” says the waiter brightly as he clears away the dinner plates. However, if he trots out another tired pastry tray, chances are the answer is going to be a resounding, “No, thanks.”
Desserts really have to be special to tempt most diners these days. Not something from the bakery down the street or a dollop of Haagen-Dazs. While it’s true only a few local restaurants have in-house pastry chefs, there are certain restaurants that pride themselves on offering distinctive desserts that seamlessly fit their profile.
Trattoria da Luigi, 415 S. Washington, Royal Oak. (248) 542-4444
Take the classic Italian treat Caffe Affogato, for instance. It’s one of the simplest desserts on our list, but it’s perfect for the authentic approach at Trattoria da Luigi. A scoop of gelato is embellished with hot espresso and a flourish of whipped cream and cinnamon, combining a touch of sweetness with the boldness of the rich, black LaVazza coffee, says executive chef Steve Siekierzynski of the romantic little Royal Oak restaurant.
“Like most everything on our menu, the decision to put affogato on was a joint decision,” he says. “We both like it a lot. As you know, Italians are specialists in both gelato and coffee, so this pairing is a natural! Luigi (proprietor Cutraro) recommends it to many, many of our guests.”
Diamond Jim Brady’s Bistro, 43271 Crescent, Novi Town Center, Novi. (248)380-8460
Gelato also comes into play at Diamond Jim Brady’s Bistro in Novi, where a signature dessert, the blondie square, combines a pretzel blondie — a brownie without the cocoa — packed with chocolate chips and crushed pretzels for a salty-sweet effect.
The dessert, by Chef Sharon Juergens, is topped with vanilla gelato from Fennville’s Palazzolo Artisan Gelato & Sorbet, a chocolate-covered pretzel and caramel sauce, something definitely worth saving room for. (Learn more about Chef Juergens in “At Home With Chef ...”)
RedSmoke Barbecue, 573 Monroe, Detroit. (313) 962-2100
RedSmoke Barbecue in Detroit’s menu of smoked brisket and pulled pork calls for a dessert in keeping with the down-to-earth style.
Proprietor Tasso Teftis came up with the idea for bananas Foster bread pudding, a take-off on the much fancier tableside dessert that originated in New Orleans at Brennan’s in 1951. Since he is also one of the owners of the Astoria Bakery, he uses the kitchen there to make it, with Tatjiana Grabocka whipping up the mixture of egg bread, cream and rum topped with sliced bananas and caramel sauce.
Angelina Italian Bistro, 1565 Broadway, Detroit. (313) 962-1355
One restaurant that does have a pastry chef is Angelina Italian Bistro in Detroit, and it came about in an unexpected way when Raed Qahwash was hired as bar manager. Turns out, he studied pastry at Cordon Bleu in Portland, and so he does double duty.
Among his outstanding desserts: apple pecan cake, with his own cinnamon ice cream. He calls it “a simple cake with natural fruit flavors.“
Tre Monti, 1695 E. Big Beaver, Troy (248) 680-1100
Zharko Palushaj, managing partner at Tre Monti, was inspired by berry tea to make a twist on tiramisu he calls Berrymisu. It combines the lighter and less sweet savoiardi (Italian ladyfingers) with Rooibos tea, fresh raspberries, Chambord and mascarpone cheese, and it has become a signature dessert at the elegant Troy restaurant.
Craft Work, 8047 Agnes, Detroit (313) 469-0976
Chef/proprietor Matt Dalton of Craft Work in Detroit decided to riff on a campfire dessert, s’mores, for the West Village restaurant he and Hubert Yaro opened in January. No scorched marshmallows in this dessert, rather meringue as a grown-up substitute for marshmallows along with rich dark chocolate.
“We wanted something American and familiar yet re-imagined for adults,” Yaro says. “People seem to really enjoy it.”
Cork Wine Pub, 23810 Woodward, Pleasant Ridge (248) 544-2675
When pastry chef Tanya Fallon left Cork Wine Pub, the Pleasant Ridge restaurant kept the dish she called butterscotch mousse and credited her for it for quite some time. Recently executive chef Jay Gundy decided to do his own take on the dessert, and his version is butterscotch custard, baked and served in the same dish and embellished with caramelized bananas and dates soaked in Armagnac brandy.
Wolfgang Puck Pizzeria & Cucina, MGM Detroit Grand, 1777 Third, Detroit (313) 465-1646
Vadim Orman is the pastry chef who makes an array of desserts for Wolfgang Puck Pizzeria & Cucina in MGM Grand Detroit. Notably zeppole (Italian donuts) with 10-year chocolate sauce, a rich, bittersweet sauce said to be named because it took trial and error over that many years to come up with what Puck considered the perfect sauce.
Certainly these are not the only great desserts in Metro Detroit, but they typify what restaurants are offering these days.