by Emily Kovach
A few bites of a well-composed, balanced, exciting dessert is how all dinners should end.
Sadly, lots of restaurants phone in an obligatory dessert menu with a smattering of mundane items that make it all too easy to say, “No, really, I shouldn’t.” We want desserts whose siren song is impossible to turn down, desserts that seduce and then fully keep their promise of pleasure. Here’s where to find them.
110 S. 13th St.
Home to arguably the most hyped dessert in Philadelphia—the salted caramel budino, essentially rich pudding with chocolate crust and caramel sauce served in a cute little jar—there are more stunning sweets to be found at Barbuzzo. Chef Marcie Blaine has her own line of artisanal chocolates, which are available here as a tasting flight, and the interestingly flavored housemade gelato and sorbetto are superb as well.
1030 N. 2nd St.
Bar Ferdinand, a Spanish tapas bar in Northern Liberties, is one of those places that transports you to a different time and place. Details like lighting, murals and tiling help create an atmosphere that, along with the food, earn it authenticity. This theme carries right through to dessert, with custardy flan, flaky churros, brandied cherry-topped rice pudding and other Latin delights.
231 S. 15th St.
There’s something about a baked Alaska: Its kitschy throwback factor is high, but the combination of a brownie, ice cream and caramelized meringue is so good, we’re not sure why it ever went out of style. There aren’t many places to find this retro treat, but Fine Palate, open in Center City since October of last year, does it with finesse.
1927 E. Passyunk Ave.
Proving that Italian desserts go way beyond tiramisu, the dolci section of the menu at this East Passyunk slice of Abruzzo features wildly delicious bocconcini di tartufi (chocolate semifreddo bon bons), torta di mirtillo (blueberry olive oil cake) and a handful of other wondrous treats you won’t find in any old red gravy joint.
The Pickled Heron
2218 Frankford Ave.
If Frenchie delights with a cheffy twist are your thing, this quaint BYOB has got your number. Think: Lillet crème brûlée, chocolate chiffon cake with lilac ice cream, hazelnut tart with whipped mascarpone and coffee ice cream, and Nutella ice cream with strawberries from Sunny Harvest Farms. Then think: How fast can I get to Fishtown?
Vernick Food & Drink
2031 Walnut St.
This dessert menu, crafted by pastry chef Jennifer Sokoloff, delivers just a handful of dignified options. Light-as-air pistachio pavlova with pistachio crème and sweet tart caramel-rhubarb sorbet is a sharp contrast to the sumptuous chocolate layer cake, gilded with espresso caramel and malted milk ice cream. But both—and all—show a refinement of technique and a clarity of vision that makes this one of the oft-cited “Best in the City” restaurants.