Once a humble, orange gourd best known for adorning dining room tables and decorating doorsteps, pumpkin has become a divisive element of the fall culinary landscape. Each year, pumpkin in all forms appears in coffee shops, grocery stores, and restaurants across the country, to the delight of some and exhaustion of others. We’re taking a stance, though, however controversial: we love pumpkin. Whether it be the ubiquitous pumpkin spice latte, a creamy, comforting bowl of soup, or a hot-from-the-oven bread, we’re all in. However, pumpkin desserts reign supreme in our diets. From tiramisu to fritters to the most distinctly autumn ice cream sandwich, check out how chefs from around the country do justice to our favorite fall flavors.
Ginger Snap Cookie and Pumpkin Ice Cream Sandwich, CBD Provisions, Dallas, Texas
This modern-yet-inviting brasserie in the heart of downtown Dallas is open all day, but make sure to stop in for lunch or dinner for a taste of fall on a plate. Executive pastry chef Keith Cedotal combined two of the season’s best, most quintessential flavors in his Gingersnap Cookie Pumpkin Ice Cream Sandwich with housemade cookies and a coating of pumpkin seeds for a little added texture. If we could dole these out to trick-or-treaters on Halloween, we’d officially be the most popular house on the block. Make a reservation at CBD Provisions.
Pumpkin Spice Gelato, Alla Spina, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Among the many reasons to love chef Marc Vetri’s Italian gastropub is the extensive beer selection (including the Victory Verde, a saison made exclusively for the Vetri family restaurants,) the comforting yet impressive, pork-centric menu, and, not least, the soft serve gelato. Flavors change seasonally, but this fall enjoy a Pumpkin Spice swirl in a cup, on a cone, or, for a little pick me up, an affogato with a shot of espresso. Make a reservation at Alla Spina.
Pumpkin Basque Cake, The Bristol, Chicago, Illinois
Renowned chef Grant Achatz has called the Basque cake at this beloved American restaurant in Chicago’s Bucktown neighborhood one of his favorite desserts in the city. A staple on the menu, pastry chef Amanda Rockman has given the cake an autumn spin, adding pumpkin marmalade — made from scratch by cooking a mixture of small diced pumpkin tossed in maple sugar and lemon zest — and a garnish of candied sage, spiced pumpkin seeds, and maple chantilly to the classic Spanish dessert. “If you can find them, the best pumpkin for marmalade that I have found is called a Long Island Cheese Squash,” asserts Chef Rockman. “Odd name, but great pumpkin.” Make a reservation at The Bristol.
Tiramisu’ Alla Zucca, Lago, Las Vegas, Nevada
At this stylish spot in the Bellagio, get a front row seat to the resort’s famous fountain show while enjoying plates like crudo, small pizzas, and focaccia. And for those celebrating Thanksgiving in town, don’t miss the seasonal spin on the traditional Italian dessert. Tiramusu’ Alla Zucca layers pumpkin mascarpone mousse onto espresso-soaked lady fingers in an indulgent, impressive — and appropriately Vegas — presentation. Make a reservation at Lago.
Pumpkin Cake in a Box, BOA Steakhouse, Santa Monica, California
The classic steakhouse gets an L.A. twist at this perpetually buzzing Santa Monica hot spot. After treating yourself to a juicy steak — the 40-day, dry-aged New York Strip or bone-in Kansas City filet mignon are among the many menu heavy-hitters — the Cake in a Box is an apt ending. With moist, spiced pumpkin cake, vanilla cream cheese icing, anisette cream, and candied pecans, the “box” aspect of this dessert means taking it to go is just as easy as diving in on site. Make a reservation at BOA Steakhouse.
Baked Pumpkin Cinnamon Sugar Doughnuts, Taste on Melrose, West Hollywood, California
Paired with a hot coffee at brunch or saved for dessert at lunch or dinnertime, the Baked Pumpkin Cinnamon Sugar Doughnut — made with a soft pumpkin brioche, drenched in butter, and covered in cinnamon and sugar — makes for a perfectly autumn indulgence at this warm little neighborhood spot. Or, opt for the spicy Pumpkin Crumb Cake, topped with an almond nutmeg crumb layer. With ample outdoor seating for L.A.’s 364 days of sunshine, enjoy either one of executive pastry chef Katie Shyne’s house-baked creations and win fall. Make a reservation at Taste on Melrose.
Sweet Potato Pumpkin Pie, Crave Fishbar, New York, New York
Known for serving sustainably-sourced seafood in a chic space, this eco-conscious restaurant and bar in Manhattan’s Midtown East neighborhood is also a prime spot for an excellent slice of pie. A definitive upgrade to the Thanksgiving staple, their Sweet Potato Pumpkin Pie is served with a brown butter toffee sauce and white chocolate pear ice cream. Fair warning: it may ruin you for Mom’s version. Make a reservation at Crave Fishbar.
Pumpkin White Chocolate Gelato, Siena Tavern, Chicago, Illinois
Come to Fabio Viviani’s River North Italian spot for inventive pizza and a dedicated mozzarella bar, but stay for pastry chef Amy Arnold’s made-from-scratch gelato. This season, she starts with the straightforward (and craveable) pumpkin spice base, created with cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ginger, and cloves, and then mixes in chunks of white chocolate for a distinctly different take on the fall flavor. Make a reservation at Siena Tavern.
Pumpkin Fritters, Roku, Los Angeles, California
This sleek sushi bar in West Hollywood also specializes in Japanese Wagyu and features a Teppanyaki room for lively Hibachi dining, but try hard to save room for dessert. New for fall, the Pumpkin Fritters are hot, perfectly spiced and fried, and covered with milk chocolate ice cream and chopped toasted hazelnuts. Incidentally, they’re also perfect for sharing. Make a reservation at Roku.
Los Picarones, Tanta, Chicago, Illinois
Fried dough gets a deliciously exotic upgrade at this vibrant Peruvian spot in Chicago’s River North. Picarones are a popular Peruvian dessert, and these pumpkin and sweet potato fritters are paired with a traditional spiced chancaca syrup, made with pressed cane sugar stalks simmered in cloves, cinnamon, star anise, figs, and orange peel, served warm for dipping or drizzling. Make a reservation at Tanta.
Pumpkin Parfait, Crossroads, Los Angeles, CA
A haven for plant-based dining on L.A.’s Melrose Avenue, Crossroads also happens to appeal to anyone who appreciates delicious, expertly prepared dishes. This autumn, chef Tal Ronnen has added a Pumpkin Parfait to the menu, layered with spice cake, ginger syrup, and pumpkin mousse, and topped with coconut whipped cream and a crunchy blend of pumpkin seeds, almonds, cinnamon, and nutmeg. All the best flavors of fall in one convenient, tasty glass. Make a reservation at Crossroads.
Pumpkin Crostata and Pumpkin Cheesecake, Oceana, New York, New York
New York City’s midtown seafood mecca specializes in fresh fish, oysters, and over-the-top seafood towers. Have 5-8 friends? With colossal shrimp, crab, and Maine lobster, the Poseidon will have your meal off to a stellar start. And this fall, the Pumpkin Crostata or Pumpkin Cheesecake will make for an especially sweet ending. The baked tart is stuffed with pureed pumpkin, topped with a pistachio crumble, and rests atop a pool of bourbon caramel, while whipped mascarpone and candied lemons add a creamy and bright finish. Alternatively, the smooth pumpkin cheesecake features a pecan and graham cracker crust, fresh whipped cream, a rum caramel sauce, and candied pepitas for added sweet crunch. Choices are hard, so we suggest you order both. Make a reservation at Oceana.
Regan Stephens lives in Brooklyn, New York, and when she’s not writing about food or beer, you might find her taking in all the great things about the city (restaurants, museums, plays!), reading on her Kindle, or eating ice cream. Probably the last thing. Say hi on twitter @reganstephens.
Photo credits: Lisa Romerein (Crossroads); Oceana (Oceana).