Austin as a city doesn’t take itself too seriously (see also: its annual celebration of Eeyore’s birthday and the Cathedral of Junk). Dessert at its top restaurants is no exception. Here, several local pastry chefs reveal how they’ve put their creative stamp on these decadent desserts. If you score a reservation during South By Southwest, you won’t want to skip ‘em.
S’mores Tartufo at L’oca D’oro, North Central Austin
In the S’mores Tartufo, a summer camp staple gets a sophisticated upgrade with hazelnut caramel, graham cracker, chocolate, and malted barley gelato that would make your grade-school self swoon. General manager Adam Orman says this dessert is typically shared “unless you are an ambitious seven-year-old.” Make a reservation at L’oca D’oro.
Tiramisu Pops at Sophia’s, Downtown Austin
Tiramisu’s classic combination of mascarpone, coffee, and lady fingers delights diners. But when it’s served as a push pop, like at Sophia’s, you know you’re in for an extra special treat. “Tiramisu is such a traditional Italian dish that we knew we wanted to have it on the menu, but the challenge was figuring out how to make ours unique,” says pastry chef Allie Oliva. “Initially, it was suggested we make a cake pop with the traditional flavors of Tiramisu, but I wanted to take the concept even further. I’ve always loved to indulge my inner child with my pastry work, so I let my mind run a bit and came up with this whimsical presentation of the dish.” Make a reservation at Sophia’s.
Mel i Mato at Barlata Tapas Bar, Downtown Austin
Necessity is the mother of invention, and this dessert proves that point. “Mel i Mato is a traditional dessert from Catalonia dating back to the Middle Ages, when cows’ milk was too expensive to use so instead they would use goats’ milk,” explains co-owner Vanessa Jerez. “Daniel [the chef and Jerez’s husband] has many fond memories of this dessert growing up in his hometown of Villa Franca Del Penedes. It is a perfect balance of savory, sweet, and crunchy. The cheese is smooth and creamy while the honey adds sweetness and the nuts a fantastic crunchy texture.” Make a reservation at Barlata Tapas Bar.
Clementine Cake at Café No Se, Downtown Austin
Café No Sé’s executive pastry chef Amanda Rockman says her inspiration for this cake came from the Heritgage at Home food blog. “I saw a post about a cake that tasted like sunshine, so I had to try it,” she says. “What I loved so much about this cake is that you boil clementines for two hours and then blend it to a smooth-as-a-baby’s butt purée and add that to the cake batter.” Candied cranberries and green tea almondine ice cream complement the cake’s sweet, citrusy tang. “I love teaching my cooks new techniques, and the idea of using the entire fruit instead of just the juice or the zest allows them to gravitate to the idea that we don’t waste anything — even in pastries,” Rockman adds. Make a reservation at Café No Se.
Raspberry PB&J at Eberly Restaurant, Downtown Austin
A relative newcomer to Austin, Eberly has already established itself as a dining destination with its ornate wooden bar (salvaged from the historic Cedar Tavern bar in Greenwich Village), classic cocktails and homemade desserts. This sweet treat riffs on a childhood favorite with peanut butter mousse, raspberry beet sorbet, Cracker Jacks, brown butter crumble, raspberry Lambic gel, and raspberry caviar and foam. “I took the elements of a classic sandwich but presented them in a more elegant and modern way,” says executive pastry chef Natalie Gazaui. “I wanted this to be a dessert that had depth of flavor but that still evoked that nostalgia and whimsy that I love adding to my dishes.” Make a reservation at Eberly Restaurant.
Milk + Honey at Juniper, East Austin
This rustic, chic restaurant serves up beautifully plated Northern Italy fare made with local ingredients. The stuffed quail or pappardelle with oxtail ragù and extensive wine list may be tempting, but save room for the Milk + Honey, a creamy, soft-as-clouds dessert made using milk mousse and local honey. “The idea … was to create a dish with familiar flavors and virtuous technique,” says executive chef Nic Yanes. “The end result was a honeycomb pattern atop a white chocolate semifreddo, featuring little pockets of honey in each comb, served alongside our chamomile toasted oats and a small scoop of milk ice cream – decadent yet simple.” Make a reservation at Juniper.
Honey Hand Pies at Boiler Nine Bar + Grill, Downtown Austin
Housed in a former power plant, Boiler Nine boasts breathtaking sunset views through its expansive windows and a menu filled with local ingredients—and its desserts are no exception. The Honey Hand Pies pair three honey puff pastries with lavender ice cream and rosemary for a sweet and savory mix. “The inspiration was to incorporate bees and flowers together as a dessert,” says executive chef Jason Stude. “In support of the American Bumblebee that just hit the endangered list and our local purveyors, we were inspired to bring honey into more dishes. This dessert uses Austin-based GoodFlow Honey and Texas rosemary and lavender.” Make a reservation at Boiler Nine Bar + Grill.
Boca Negra at La Condesa, Central Austin
This flourless chocolate cake is in some respects a microcosm for the restaurant’s own approach to elevating Mexican street food. “It’s a twist on something traditional with modern techniques,” says executive chef Rick Lopez. “The dish is similar to a molten cake and has a deep fudge center that is baked and served warm. We top it with caramelized bananas and a brown sugar and banana ice cream.” Heat from chile de arbol and ancho contrast the sweetness of fudge and brown sugar. Make a reservation at La Condesa.
Susan Johnston Taylor is an Austin-based freelance writer who’s covered food and business for publications including The Boston Globe, Civil Eats, Entrepreneur, Fast Company, Fresh Cup, and Pizza Today. Follow her @UrbanMuseWriter.