Dessert First at Pizzeria Bianco in Metro Phoenix

Categories: Dessert First

Jenny Zink
Mesquite cake.
Decisions, decisions. The waitress stood there, smiling politely. It's hard enough to choose an entree at the world-famous Pizzeria Bianco -- but dessert? I pondered the decision way too long. The options: Flourless chocolate cake (waitress recommended), the seasonal dessert of mesquite cake, or grapefruit curd. I couldn't make up my mind so I did what any self-respecting dessert writer would do. I ordered two out of the three.

I had to show some kind of restraint.

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Dessert First at Pars Persian Cuisine in North Scottsdale

Categories: Dessert First

Jenny Zink
Persian desserts first: Bamieh and Zoolbia.
Have you ever mixed up your night out on the town and started with dessert instead of appetizers? Some of the very best things happen at the beginning, appetizers, and the ending, desserts, so why not try the ending first?

Chow Bella is bringing back a favorite column, "Dessert First," with just that in mind. And we begin with a little trip to Persia.

Pars Persian Cuisine is an intimate little spot in Scottsdale. Tucked into a strip mall on Frank Lloyd Wright just south of Via Linda. It is the ideal little date night restaurant as we found out last Saturday, Valentine's Day, when we mistakenly thought we could walk right up and get a table for dinner.

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10 Crazy Ice Creams Made by Small-Batch U.S. Artisans

Humphry Slocombe (Facebook)
We're pretty sure this isn't really how it's made . . .

Only five years ago, now-commonplace ice cream flavors like sweet corn or craft beer would have caught anyone off guard. But with the introduction of bacon to the dessert course a few years ago, the line separating sweet and savory was forever demolished. These 10 ice creameries craft artisanal versions of classics like chocolate and vanilla, but they also offer wacky one-of-a-kind flavors that will leave chefs and home cooks alike with a dose of inspiration.

Lucky for us, two of these 10 unusual ice creams were brainstormed right here in Arizona, specifically in Scottsdale and Gilbert. A Maine specialty is re-created locally in Phoenix, but only in July; the rest of the time, it has to be ordered straight from the source.

See also:
- Tell Your Ice Cream Story, Win a Tour of Blue Bell's Creamery
- Carl's Jr. Introduces the Strawberry Pop-Tart Ice Cream Sandwich

Humphry Slocombe Prosciutto

Surely, you've heard of bacon ice cream by now. Bacon desserts make a weird amount of sense since most Americans grew up eating thick, greasy slabs of it alongside buttery pancakes smothered in maple syrup, but this drier cured pork product is another story. The meaty ice cream was invented when a bag of prosciutto bones was dropped off at this San Francisco scoop shop by Cris Cosentino of Boccalone, and the ensuing experiment was meant to be a singular batch. However, it was such a hit that the prosciutto creation -- made by steeping the roasted pig bones in milk then seasoning with fennel and black pepper -- has been kept in regular rotation for four years and counting.

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9 Best Desserts in Metro Phoenix

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Dayvid LeMmon
One of Pomegranate Cafe's many delectable (and health-conscious) desserts

As author of Chow Bella's "Dessert First" column, I tasted my share of sweet in this city. (To say photographer Dayvid LeMmon and I enjoyed the research is an understatement.) What follows is the absolute best of the best.

Restaurants change their dessert menus on a regular basis -- seasonally or even weekly -- so it's nearly impossible to round up a list of current favorites guaranteed to be on the menu. If these exact dishes aren't available when you stop by, we bet you'll get your pick of exciting new offerings that our favorite sugar wizards are whipping up in the kitchen.

Pomegranate Chocolate Cake at Pomegranate Café

This Ahwatukee eatery's menu is full of fresh, locally produced ingredients, so it's always a good idea to get a salad, wrap, or daily special. What you might not expect from such a health-focused establishment is that the desserts are some of the best in the Valley -- and they're vegan, too. The raw, cheese-less cheesecakes are creamy and packed with fresh fruit flavor, and the handmade candy bars are delicious. But our fave is the signature layer cake made from spelt flour and organic cocoa. There's just enough tart pomegranate flavor without overpowering the chocolate. Stop in for a slice, or pre-order a whole cake for your special occasion.

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Moroccan Mint Cashew Chocolate from Stone Grindz, Scottsdale's Bean-to-Bar Producers

Categories: Dessert First

Stone Grindz
Moroccan Mint Cashew chocolate - a fast favorite that defies expectations

In the past few years, the selection of readily available chocolate has grown considerably beyond Hershey's and Ghiradelli to include artisanal bars sourced both nationwide and globally. Thanks to a few homegrown companies like family-operated Stone Grindz, you can even get chocolate that has been transformed from cacao bean to yummy bar right here in Arizona. (FYI, Glendale's Ceretta Candy Company uses an exclusive blend by Guittard.)

See also:
- Mesquite Chocolate Chip Cookies from Super Chunk Sweets & Treats
- 5 Desserts That Pastry Chef Rachel Miller is Totally Over

What truly makes Stone Grindz chocolate unique, aside from being 100% raw and organic, is the texture. As the name implies, the company's entire product line, including coconut butter and superfood bars, is made using a stone grinder. This gives the chocolate a rough, sandy texture like that of traditional Mexican chocolate, and it means that mix-ins like nuts and fruit are ground into fine pieces along with the beans to be strewn evenly throughout the bars.

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Otro Café's Postre de Coco

Categories: Dessert First

Dominique Chatterjee
Postre de coco, a creamy coconut pudding with dark chocolate

In a brief description of the only dessert on the menu at Doug Robson's newest venture, Otro Café, food critic Laura Hahnefeld said, "It's pretty much the best Mounds bar you've had in a glass." And -- despite living in Brooklyn these days -- I knew from those few words that I had to have a taste.

See also:
- Oh, Oh, Otro Café!
- 10 Things in New York City the Phoenix Food Scene Will Never Have

While her observation was spot-on, what Hahnefeld didn't say is that this coconut pudding is simpler yet more indulgent than the candy bar, without the super-sweetness of corn syrup or the regret-inducing heaviness of so much processed junk (what, pray tell, is the ingredient called PGPR?). So, yes, this dessert is like a Mounds bar, but infinitely better.

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Sun City's New York West Bakery Has the Old-Fashioned Touch

Categories: Dessert First

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Dominique Chatterjee
Raisin roll from New York West Bakery.
Sun City is pretty much the last place anyone would think to look when scouring the Phoenix area for good eats. The West Valley's local-food scene is pretty slow in general -- let's just say there's lots of opportunity for growth -- and, if that's not reason enough to overlook it, Sun City is the haven for the Valley's retirees. But don't forget that some of those old folks know a thing or two about how food was prepared back in the day. To recapture the sweet memories of the neighborhood bakery their parents treated them to when they were youngsters, they need only visit New York West Pastry & Bake Shop off Grand and 101st avenues.

See also:
- Dessert First: Mesquite Chocolate Chip Cookie
- Amuse Bouche is a Pleasant Surprise -- in Suprise

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Mesquite Chocolate Chip Cookies from Super Chunk Sweets & Treats

Categories: Dessert First

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Dominique Chatterjee
This cookie disappeared lickety split.

National Geographic honored local sugar purveyors Super Chunk Sweets & Treats -- the passion-fueled side venture of Cowboy Ciao/Kazimierz pastry chef Country Velador and her husband, Sergio -- earlier this year by including their chocolate chip cookie as one of 10 in the United States worth traveling for. I took that to heart, making a special trip to the Old Town Scottsdale Farmers Market to nab one.

See also:
- Last Night's Scottsdale Culinary Event: The Chocolate and Wine "Experience"
- Cobbler on Quack at Cowboy Ciao

One thing makes this cookie stand out from the traditional chocolate chip variety: mesquite flour. This one special ingredient transforms it into a unique treat, and the result is certainly a deviation from the soft, Nestle Tollhouse style that defines the classic American cookie. The mesquite flour adds a rich taste of caramel that makes the smooth dark chocolate sing. The distinctive flavor is a teeny bit smoky, but not in the heavy way that mesquite wood lends flavor to smoked meats.

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Maple-Rye Crème Brûlée at Market Street Kitchen

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New Times
Robert McGrath and Matt Taylor
While it's true that Market Street Kitchen at DC Ranch is best classified as a neighborhood restaurant, it's a neighborhood restaurant aimed at a pretty sophisticated audience.

See also:
Rich Heider Whips Up Heavenly Hot Chocolate Cocktails at Market Street Kitchen

How else to explain a legit cocktail program (with one of the city's best bartenders running it); an upscale menu that includes suckling pig, air-dried duckling and sashimi-grade ahi; and not one but two major talents in the kitchen? MSK's head honcho is James Beard award winner and Check Please! host Robert McGrath , the guy who put his indelible imprint on Modern Western Cuisine and made campfire cooking cool.

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Pear Buckle at Lux Central

Categories: Dessert First

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Dominique Chatterjee
Pear buckle with coffee-flavored whipped cream
Primarily known as a coffee shop -- and a pretty good one, at that -- Lux Central also dishes up food for every moment of the day. Want quiche for breakfast? Lux has that. Mac n' cheese for lunch? That too. A fresh baked cookie to go with your afternoon tea? Yep, several varieties. A steak for dinner followed by a fancy dessert? You betcha.

See also:
- Beaver Supreme at Beaver Choice
- Cannoli Clash: DeFalco's Italian Deli vs. Something Sweet Bakery

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