This time of year used to really get under my skin. Maybe it was growing up Jewish and feeling overwhelmed by how intricately Christmas laces its fingers around the season’s neck, that and the incessant bombardment of American consumerism. The crappy movies about people suddenly having goodness in their heart for a few weeks out of the year ate at me, too. I was a Scrooge, alright.
But now I see the holiday season in a new light, in part because I’m old enough to dictate my own involvement with it. And as far as I’m concerned, and many of you are as well, one of the defining characteristics of this season is the chow, one of the best and most interesting elements of culture.
We’re talking about desserts in particular, and not just the bland chocolate that is handed out as Hanukkah gelt or stale Christmas cookies I’ve encountered in hotel lobbies. In Brian Clarey’s family, they make gingerbread, snickerdoodle cookies and toffee. Our art director Jorge Maturino’s parents spend a day making a huge load of buñuelos, or Mexican elephant ears. And in my family, I can’t get enough of my mom’s peppermint bark, made with white and dark chocolate and smashed up candy canes. I’m zoning out just thinking about it.
These are some of the things holidays are made of, as are the seemingly countless array of desserts produced by the Triad’s fantastic connoisseurs of sweets. For those not gifted in the kitchen, far from home, looking for a break or curious to explore, this extensive — though not exhaustive — collection of desserts delivers way more than you can handle.
That’s the whole idea.
Cheesecake is not for rookies. One deviation from the recipe – cold cream cheese, say – can affect the texture or make the surface crack. Alex Amoroso has been practicing the art and science of the cheesecake for more than a decade on South Elm Street, with more than 20 varieties. But the crème brulee is still the best. Cheesecakes by Alex, 315 S. Elm St., cheesecakesbyalex.com.
Started about a year ago in Allison Royal’s kitchen, Wallflour has grown to be a formidable supplier of gluten-free, vegan treats that taste good enough that even people without dietary restrictions love them. Her desserts are available at several restaurants in town, but find her at the Corner Market in Sticks & Stones’ parking lot on Saturday mornings. There will be more than enough to choose from. Wallflour, wallflourbakery.com.
There are so many delicious baked goods at Mercadito #2 El Buen Gusto that it would be dishonest to try and recommend one over the rest. We’re talking all sorts of cookies and doughnuts, but there’s cake as well. At the back of this restaurant, meat market and grocery stands a bakery, superior to the better known Mercadito over on Muirs Chapel and West Market. Walking towards the back of this place, the smell of fresh goods is enveloping. The price is remarkably low, too. Mercadito #2, 3821 High Point Road.
There are a variety of choices on Undercurrent’s dessert menu, and they even have a selection of dessert wines to boot. Try the chocolate cranberry cupcake, eggnog crème caramel or bourbon fig sweet potato bread pudding. Undercurrent, 327 Battleground Ave,. undercurrentrestaurant.com.
Loco for Coco is not a chocolate factory, but they get that all the time. What they sell is a curated collection of truffles, all made by hand with American chocolate, and attendant lines of toffees, fudge and more. But they made their rep on the truffles, particularly the one with coarse sea salt, caramel and dark chocolate. Loco for Coco, 2415-C Lawndale Drive, locoforcocochocolate.com.
There are more than 300 varieties of pound cakes at the Sweet Shop in downtown. Three hundred. Wow. Order a full cake or come in for a slice. Try the rum cake, red velvet or a pound cake based on any candy bar. The Sweet Shop, 631 S. Elm St., sweetshopnow.com.
All serious dessert eaters know that pie trumps cake, just as they know that any pie that isn’t homemade suffers a taste disadvantage from the outset. But if real pie’s the thing you crave, the Cherry Pit can deliver. Specializing in all manner of pies, with a rotating cast of dozens on hand in the shop, it’s the only true pie shop in the Triad. Cherry Pit Café & Pie Shop, 411 Pisgah Church Road, cherrypitcafe.com.
When Donut World came on the scene a few years ago it very quickly accomplished the unthinkable: It made Krispy Kreme obsolete. Donut world’s yeast doughnuts are the best in town. But the big gun is the apple fritter, which will make t=you question every piece of pastry you’ve ever eaten. Donut World, 5561 W. Market St., 2509 Battleground Ave.
You can’t go wrong with Table 16’s dessert menus, even though they change. Why not go for the gold with the Four Dessert Flight including a mini crème brulee, or try the chocolate croissant and bread pudding. Table 16, 600 S. Elm St., table16restaurant.com.
Some people really dislike the word “moist,” but there’s no other way to describe the cakes at Delicious Bakery, which also have a pleasant density to them. And it’s possible that they look even better than they taste. Delicious Bakery, 3700 Lawndale Drive, delicious-cakes.com.
Everything at Beef Burger is unhealthy enough to qualify as dessert, but give the funnel cake fries a shot and add a milkshake if you’re trying to go all the way. Beef Burger, 1040 W. Lee St., biff-burger.com/beefburger.htm.
The best chocolate chip cookies in town may be at First Carolina Delicatessen, and they’re bite-sized, too. The gooey cookies and chunks of chocolate make these morsels hard to resist, and there are several other cookie options right by the register. First Carolina Deli, 1635 Spring Garden St., firstcarolinadeli.com.
You can talk smack about their hot dogs all day long, but the other offering at Yum Yum’s Better Ice Cream really is a solid choice. It’s made in house in small batches — somehow it tastes like the 1950s. And the reason why they won’t mix flavors — for anyone — is one of the great culinary mysteries of the Triad. Yum Yum’s Better Ice Cream, 1219 Spring Garden St.
Before cakes became fodder for reality TV shows, Maxie B’s was making innovations in the Triad culinary scene with beautiful, handmade creations. It’s the grandmother of all modern Triad bakeries. Try the Brown Stone Front cake, three layers of chocolate with caramel frosting. Maxie B’s Bakery & Dessert Café, 2403 Battleground Ave., maxieb.com
The tahini cookie from Spring Garden Bakery — a toasty, chewy concoction based on seeds and grains that may actually be healthy for you — is available at coffee shops all over Greensboro, but the freshest ones from from the source. Spring Garden Bakery, 1932 Spring Garden St., springgardenbakery.com.
Gnam Gnam made their name with it house line of gelato, somewhat more dense than ice cream and in a remarkable palette of flavors. Now they’ve got a full–on café rolling in this spot, but it’s always a good call to save room for dessert. Gnam Gnam Gelato & Bistro, 3712 Lawndale Ave., gnamgnamgelato.com
There is a bounty of choices at Black Mountain Chocolate’s new factory and store, enough that this is the type of place to bring back goodies rather than just polishing off a meal. Try the sea salt dark chocolate bar — the others are great too, but it’s the one you’ll lust after once it’s gone. Black Mountain Chocolate, 732 N. Trade St. or blackmountainchocolate.com.
Dewey’s created the standard for the Moravian sugar cake almost 85 years ago, along with a line of Moravian Christmas cookies and cheese straws. If you’re looking for an indigenous holiday food to give as a gift or bring to a party, this is the one. Dewey’s Bakery, holiday store locations across the Triad, deweys.com.
The menu at the boutique Tart Sweets is always changing, requiring a willingness to explore or a careful eye on its Facebook feed. The Ardmore neighborhood spot recently rolled out raspberry almond crumb bars with layers of shortbread, raspberry jam and butter almond streusel. The other choices sound just as good. Tart Sweets, 1318 S. Hawthorne Road, tartsweets.com.
The Tavern in Old Salem keeps to the old ways, which means its signature dessert, the gingerbread with lemon-vanilla ice cream, tastes the same as it did 100 years ago. The bourbon-pecan pie isn’t bad, either. The Tavern in Old Salem, 736 S. Main St., oldsalem.org.
It’s a food-writer’s rule that if a place is named for a dish, then you had better order that dish. So it only makes sense that Sweet Potatoes has the best sweet-potato pie in town, and also the best sweet-potato cheesecake and sweet-potato spice cake. Sweet Potatoes, 529 N. Trade St., sweetpotatoes.ws.
We’ve mentioned Zack’s Frozen Yogurt before because it’s an institution, and how many froyo places have a drive thru? Besides the staple flavors, try one of the seasonal or occasional offerings. Zack’s Famous Frozen Yogurt, 305 Jonestown Road, Facebook.
Camino Bakery started in the basement of Krankies Coffee and has grown to become a downtown magnet for the Winston-Salem culturati. It’s not just about the pedigree or the location. Camino makes a full slate of pastries every day, the best of which may be the chocolate éclair, which looks for all the world like a knuckle sandwich. Camino Bakery, 310 W. Fourth St., caminobakery.com
While it may not be of truly Willy Wonkian proportions, Elasya B’s Candy Tree is a genuine, bona fide candy store with an assortment of hand-dipped goods alongside a wide array of candy bars and classic items like wax bottles and candy apples. Elasya B’s Candy Tree, 500 W. Fourth St., elasyabcandytree.com.
Though Midtown Café & Dessertery serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, they’re not fooling anybody: The whole place is dedicated to dessert. It’s in the name! They have a small slate of cakes, pies and cookies with a few seasonal variations, which means it’s virtually impossible to go wrong. But give consideration to the Italian cream cake. Midtown Café & Dessertery, 151 S. Stratford Road, midtowncafews.com.
Graze is easily one of the Triad’s best restaurants, and the desserts are on the verge of notoriety. Right now on the menu, there’s a pumpkin cheesecake, carrot cake and triple-chocolate mousse cake, among other choices. Graze, 425 N. Cherry St., grazews.com.
Finish off a barbecue lunch at Little Richard’s with a Styrofoam cupful of banana pudding, as filling and as Southern as you can imagine. Little Richard’s, 4885 Country Club Road, eatmopig.com.
Chef Tim Grandinetti is one of the most exciting in the Triad. The menu at his Spring House Restaurant changes with the seasons and the creative whims of the chef, but anything on the dessert menu — anytime — is a good call. Spring House Restaurant, Kitchen & Bar, 450 N. Spring St., springhousenc.com.
Pane e Vino has a number of great things on its menu, including the homemade pasta, but don’t miss the tiramisu and other desserts at this Reynolda Village staple. Pane e Vino, 122 Renolda Village, diolis.com/pane-e-vino/ or Facebook.
C’est L’amour, the French macaroon company run by Phou Moncus, provides numerous fantastic flavors including salted pistachio butter cream, Nutella hazelnut, bourbon Madagascar vanilla bean, dulce de leche, Thai tea, lychee rose and guava. The High Point home-based business delivers “within the Greensboro & High Point area,” and it’s well worth it. C’est L’amour, cestlamourmacarons.com, 336.686.8414.
It’s called the Chocolate Triad, for cryin’ out loud. Just read this: “Three layers of dark, moist chocolate cake sandwiched with silky smooth chocolate mousse and butter cream finished with elegant dark chocolate ganache over a Ghirardelli white chocolate sauce and topped with sliced strawberries and toasted coconut.” Apparently Sammy G’s doesn’t play around — the Tavern Brownie with chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream and candied pecans sounds equally decadent and delectable. Sammy G’s Tavern, 3800 Tinsley Drive, sammygtavern.com.
Miro Buzov keeps it simple at the Penny Path — the only creperie in the entire Triad, it’s worth noting. The menu generally consists of what he has on hand to put in his crepes, usually Nutella, fresh fruit and whatever else he comes up with. The crepe Suzette, with butter, lemon juice and confectioner’s sugar is a classic. Also recommended is a concoction of brie, walnuts and jalapeno jelly that straddles the sweet/savory line. Penny Path Café & Creperie, 104 E. Kivett Drive.
Blue Water Grille anchors Chef Paul Riggan’s azure-themed culinary interests in the city, his fanciest and oldest eatery. The fried banana-caramel cheesecake, wrapped in a tortilla before it hits the fryer, has been around about as long as he has. Blue Water Grille, 126 E. State Ave., bluewatergrillenc.net.
by Jordan Green
The peanut-butter cookie cream sandwich @ Sweet Josephine’s, 2209 N. Centennial St. (HP)
Sweet Josephine’s shimmered like a mirage in the gathering dusk near at the intersection of Eastchester Drive and Centennial Street, drawing me in after a day of running the streets of High Point. The car lights blinked as they crawled along the streets outside this sanctuary of saccharine pleasures.
The display case presented a modest array of offerings, all striking in their own way. Death by Chocolate, a formidable artisanal chocolate cupcake looked alluring, and the hand-dipped Oreos charmed, but I was drawn immediately to the peanut-butter cookie cream sandwich. Two sugared, soft peanut-butter cookies sandwiched handmade chocolate buttercream rimmed with sprinkles. The shop drew in steady foot traffic of admiring patrons, most of whom selected sweets to take out for either their spouses or themselves.
I picked up the sandwich and examined it like a fine, silver heirloom bracelet and nibbled at the edges. I wanted to take it slow with this one, partly because it’s so rich and partly because the filling would tend to squeeze out the sides if I attacked it with too much gusto. Like an Oreo, the creamy core is satisfying on its own, or consumed with the cookie. I felt somewhat guilty taking down the whole thing in one sitting, so I carried it on a small paper plate into the car with me. And despite my half-hearted intentions to take the remainder home to share, it was gone in about 10 minutes of furtive nibbles.
A French classic
by Brian Clarey
Chocolate Mousse @ Print Works Bistro, 702 Green Valley Road (GSO), printworksbistro.com
I’ll be honest: We came for the cake, that dense, flourless, chocolate job at Print Works that tastes like it’s made out of four kinds of whipped fudge.
And we got the cake. And it was fabulous.
But along with it, almost as an afterthought, we ordered a small portion of chocolate mousse.
Chocolate mousse… the most basic and clichéd of the French desserts. Nowadays it’s reduced to a supporting role, used to fill cupcakes and piled atop cakes. But chocolate mousse, along with escargot and soufflés, was a rising star back around 1950, when GIs returning from the European front brought back a taste for French culture.
Every fancy restaurant worth its salt had chocolate mousse on the dessert menu until the 1990s, when fusion cooking made it seem as old-fashioned as Jell-O salad.
But Print Works Chef Leigh Hesling has respect for tradition, at least in regards to his chocolate mousse.
It’s light, of course, as all good mousse should be, and somehow manages to retain the texture of soft velvet. The chocolate flavor is deep and bittersweet, nuanced, a grown-up chocolate with a level of sweetness appropriate to discerning palates looking to properly cap off a meal.
It was the sweetness — or relative lack of it — that made this small cup of chocolate mousse the center of attention, while the signature cake had to wait its turn.
Banana-bread pudding: A survivor
by Brian Clarey
White-chocolate banana-bread pudding @ Reel Seafood Grill, 2002 New Garden Road (GSO), reelseafoodgrill.com
At one time it may have been the best dessert in town. That was back around the turn of the century, when the Greensboro restaurant Bert’s Seafood Grille spun off into a place called Mosaic. It was the culmination of a dream for owners Drew and Mary Lacklen: a real foodie restaurant with global influences. And it turned out to be a decade or so ahead of its time around here — Mosaic became the new Bert’s, which closed a few years later.
One of the dishes that survived the transition was the white-chocolate bread pudding, constructed from house-made banana bread and with a caramel semi-fredo — basically a frozen sauce — melting atop it.
The secret is in the banana bread, giving the dish a unique texture and flavor. But the sauce didn’t hurt.
When I waited tables at Mosaic and, later, Bert’s, I sold the ever-loving crap out of the banana-bread pudding using a couple of time-tested techniques. I’d always mention it up front, as I greeted my tables, advising them to save room for it. Then, when I was running one out to the floor, I’d make sure everyone at my tables got a good look.
And though Bert’s is no more, the dish lives on at Reel Seafood Grill, Drew’s New Garden Road restaurant, which draws heavily from its predecessors.
The banana-bread pudding, I imagine, is still an easy sell.