My weakness for sugar often compels me to end every restaurant meal with dessert. But as a food critic who regularly dines out, I must exercise restraint. On the rare occasion when I don't, I often find myself marveling at the desserts at Spoon and Stable, Mara and Khâluna, if I haven't already filled my quota of pastries from Marc Heu and Patisserie 46's John Kraus, chefs who surely run the finest pastry programs in the Midwest.
Are dessert programs receding across restaurant kitchens, though? Certainly, the glut of run-of-the-mill chocolate puddings, cheesecakes and a recent rhubarb panna cotta pointed me to this conclusion. But look closer: There are several restaurants that remain serious about their pastry craft, encouraging you to reconnect; to linger; to sate your sweet cravings. In no particular order, here are five of my favorites.
Banana Cream Pie at Revival
There is no shortage of great pies in the Twin Cities, even at restaurants that don't lavish much attention on their desserts. But newcomers continue to delight, including Karyn Tomlinson's lard-encrusted apple pie at Myriel, and the brimming raspberry pie at Murray's — both adored. The banana cream pie at Revival deserves your attention, too.
It may not look as sculpted, nor Instagram-friendly, as the one Tara Coleman makes at Hot Hands Pie & Biscuit, but Revival's more classic rendition really delivers: a golden ratio of crust (thin but sturdy graham), vanilla cream (rich but not heavy), bananas (justly ripe; sliced thin) and enough whipped cream (a mousse-like, lightly sweetened Chantilly, fortified with mascarpone) to fill a cloud. There are no shortcuts here, only a hardworking recipe gifted by Tess Bouska, Revival's former pastry chef. It was $4.50 a slice when it debuted seven years ago; today it remains a bargain at $6. Worth every penny — and then some.
Available at all three Revival locations: 4537 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls., 612-236-4101; 525 Selby Av., St. Paul, 651-340-2355; 8028 Minnetonka Blvd., St. Louis Park, 952-303-4125; revivalrestaurants.com
Green tea tiramisu at Zenbox Izakaya
There are enough staples at Zenbox to span several meals; the ramen alone is two, maybe three. You can enjoy the green tea tiramisu ($9.50) at Zenbox over a few sittings given its deceptive size, but I ate mine all in one sitting. Likely because the mascarpone is plush yet light, like whipped tofu eclipsing the ladyfinger sponge. And because it tastes clean and barely sweet, allowing the grassiness of matcha to shine but not eclipse. It all goes down as easily as a Sinatra tune. You won't even notice the unceremonious plastic box it's served in.
602 Washington Av. S., Mpls., 612-332-3936, zenbox.com
Churros at Colita
How to elevate churros to a stand-alone dessert and charge $12 for it? By turning it into art. And like art, there are multiple ways to interpret the churros dessert at Colita, Daniel del Prado's clubby ode to Oaxacan flavors. Does it resemble the inner rings of an onion? Is it a cinnamon roll, fried then flattened? The cross-section of a tree bark in the form of a palmier? In more technical terms, they are palmiers — crisp and flaky, humming with cinnamon sugar and fryer oil. There are three of them, arranged atop dulce de leche and a loosely whipped cream tinged with more dulce de leche, then dusted with more cinnamon sugar. You must have a sweet tooth to enjoy this dessert; it can get cloying.
Among the many desserts at del Prado's restaurants, his churros remain uncontested, rivaled maybe by the panqueque at Martina. There's a recurring theme here: Elevate breakfast staples and street snacks to desserts that are so good, so well-conceived, that no one will notice.
5400 Penn Av. S., Mpls., 612-886-1606, colitampls.com
Torta Gianduja at Terzo
Yes, there may be a better way to present a mousse cake than in a dark, austere slab. But pay attention to the details: the mirror glaze, coating each bite with an underbelly of chocolate; the sea-salt flecks, arranged suspiciously in a line, enabling at least one speckle to temper each bite; on the bottom, a cradle of hazelnut crumb, thin but potent enough to give the classic Piedmontese cake ($11) its signature nuttiness. And that mousse! Volumized with egg white and chocolate spread — like Nutella, whipped up by your discerning Nonna. Go for the pastas and the unrivaled wine program at Terzo, sister to the equally terrific Broder's Pasta Bar, and stay for this dessert.
2221 W. 50th St., Mpls., 612-925-0330, terzompls.com
Tres Leches Cake at 112 Eatery
Of all of Isaac Becker's restaurants, his first one, 112 Eatery, has the finest desserts. There are six of them, not including the housemade ice creams and cheese plate. The butterscotch budino still is a marvel, yes, but the tres leches ($13) takes the cake.
It's veiled with a white, glossy pompadour, as if embraced by marshmallow fluff. Slide your fork in, and the fluff collapses into each bite of a moist cake steeped in paralyzing amounts of evaporated, condensed and whole milk; then swirl a piece of the cake in the pool of tres leches cream. A warning is affixed to this dessert. Something along the lines of "eat it slowly" or "best to share." I did neither of those, nor will you.
112 N. 3rd St., Mpls., 612-343-7696, 112eatery.com
Jon Cheng is the Star Tribune's restaurant critic. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at @intrepid_glutton.