Brasserie Provence’s tarte Tropèzienne, a classic, rich dessert of the French Riviera, hit the spot during our 2018 review.

Eat dessert first? Maybe

By Robin Garr

Who doesn’t love dessert? It’s a perfect ending to a wonderful meal, especially when you’re enjoying a chef-created wonder in a favorite restaurant.

Unfortunately, quite a few of us fear that we love dessert but dessert doesn’t love us. So many calories! So much addictive sugar! So much seductive dairy! Take a bite of that attractive treat and feel the fat piling on our waiting flesh. What’s more, it’s delicious, but it adds to the cost of the meal.

Dessert. It’s a blessing, and it’s a curse. Can’t live with it, but for most of us, we definitely can’t live without it … at least as a special treat. And sometimes the crave is so strong that you’ve just got to eat dessert first.

Let’s take a deeper dive this week into this treat that sometimes worries us. Where did our ancestors get the not exactly logical idea of finishing a luxurious meal with something rich and sweet? What does the name “dessert” even mean? What are some of the reasons we muster to make the “yes, please,” or “sorry, no” decision.

And then we’ll take a quick, tempting look at a number of desserts at local restaurants that have pleased my critical palate – and the palates of friends – over recent years.

So where did this idea of dessert come from, anyway? It goes back a very long way. The ancient Greeks and Romans served nuts, fruit, and honey at the end of banquets, perhaps to save the luxurious tastes for last.

Our word “dessert” in English traces back to 1600, the magisterial Oxford English Dictionary tells us, when William Vaughan, a writer and promoter of colonization in Newfoundland, described it as “a service of fruits and sweets at the close of a meal.” He took the word from the older French word “dessert”which mashed together the words “des-“ (removal) and “servir” (to serve),” to get across the idea of clearing the table to make way for a final course: literally, “removal of what has been served.”

Aren’t words fun? And dessert, too. Dessert is fun. Many of us – including me – skip it sometimes, either for fear of overconsumption or concern about the price of our meal. In my quick social-media poll with 36 responses, exactly half said the get dessert only sometimes while dining out, and another 14 claimed that they never or almost never finish with a sweet treat. That left just four happy diners who said they usually or always order dessert to conclude their meal.

If you’re going for dessert on your next dinner out, you might want to consider the tarte Tropèzienne (currently $14) at Brasserie Provence. (It’s pictured at the top of the page, )The restaurant menu describes it laconically as “brioche bun and cream,” but this trademark dish of Saint-Tropez on the French Riviera is so much more. I described the Brasserie Provence version in glowing terms after a 2018 visit:

“Tarte Tropèzienne, a classic, rich dessert of the French Riviera, made a decadent finish that was impossible to pass up. A round of sugar brioche was split and filled with a sweet. creamy butter-and-sugar filling, topped with powdered sugar and served with raspberries. What’s the French word for ‘yum?”

Meesh Meesh, Chef Noam Bilitzer’s fancy Levantine spot in Nulu, is justly popular, and the seductive chocolate babka ($9, shipped in from Brooklyn’s famous Greens Bakery) ended our meal on a high note. Babka, an Eastern European pastry that’s hugely popular in Israel, showed a pretty striped pattern from its many thin layers of rich brioche-type pastry and dark chocolate. It was served with tangy, vanilla-scented whipped labneh, a mild Levantine yogurt cheese.

Is it breakfast pancakes or anytime dessert? Sweet, fluffy Tres Leches pancakes fit both categories at Con Huevos.
Is it breakfast pancakes or anytime dessert? Sweet, fluffy Tres Leches pancakes fit both categories at Con Huevos.

Con Huevos is not only my favorite Mexican spot for breakfast, it may be one of my favorite spots to get breakfast, period. You could enjoy their sweet, fluffy, and feather-light cornmeal-scented Tres Leches pancakes ($11.99) as brunch or as dessert, or better. yet, both!

I don’t see chocolate lazy cake ($5) on the menu at Aladdin’s in New Albany any more, and that’s a shame. This Jordanian specialty made a memorable finish to an excellent meal there in 2018. It was a thick slice from a simple refrigerator cookie made of chocolate morsels, Marie cookies or tea biscuits, and milk, and I’d like to have another one right now.

Who could resist this molten chocolate and loaded bombe dessert to a 2017 meal at The Blackstone Grille in Prospect? Not me!
Who could resist this molten chocolate and loaded bombe dessert to a 2017 meal at The Blackstone Grille in Prospect? Not me!

I haven’t been to the comfortably upscale Blackstone Grille in Prospect for a while, and thinking about the molten chocolate bombe that wrapped up our 2017 visit, I’d like to go back right now. A luscious dome of mini chocolate cake filled with warm melted chocolate contrasted beautifully with an ice-cold scoop of vanilla ice cream alongside. It’s currently $8, or you can add a buck to get it “loaded” with peanut butter, whipped cream, and, um, bacon.

Wrapping up this sweet journey, I’ve got to emote about two desserts at memorable restaurants that sadly aren’t with us any more, but the memories linger.

Pastry Chef Emie Dunnagan’s cookies and ice cream ($6) made an amazing finish to a splendid 2019 meal at Chef Ming Hsuan Pu’s sadly closed 502 Bar & Bistro in Norton Commons. The name might not sound enticing, but this was an amazing, palate-teasing construction of two crisp, not-too-sweet cornmeal cookies topped with a lavender scoop of blueberry-maple ice cream, surrounded by salted corn nuts and fresh blueberries.

Finally, I still think about a pair of delicious desserts from a 2019 visit to the no longer extant Las Margaritas in Middletown: Corn flan ($5.99) added yellow niblets to the traditional creamy Mexican custard, and their subtle flavor addition made a great Mexican dessert even better. Chocolate tres leches cake ($5.99), light but rich, was an airy, subtly cocoa-flavored treat topped with whipped cream.

I don’t know about you, but after all that, tonight I am definitely having dessert first.