On the Road Eats: Comforting Desserts
Skip straight to dessert with these Food Network-approved sweet spots around the country.
Nothing satisfies a sweet tooth quite like a warm fudgy brownie or gooey fireside s'more, so we've collected the country's most-comforting desserts to help you find a sweet fix no matter where your travels lead you. Take your pick of these top-notch treats, from buttercream-capped cupcakes to glossy glazed doughnuts, and hit the road to try them.
VeryVera — Augusta, Ga.
Bobby Flay faced a formidable opponent during his carrot cake throwdown: a sassy Southern baker named Vera. The owner of a mail-order baking business, Vera is known for her classic carrot cake, which has catapulted her store to fame across the country. Her wildly popular recipe delivers familiar flavor with fresh coconut, pineapple and local pecans in the batter. To keep her cake extra-spongy and moist, she glazes each layer with simple syrup and frosts the cake with a traditional cream cheese icing. With its combination of classic ingredients and Southern charm, Vera's carrot cake succeeded in transporting Bobby "back to childhood" and will turn even the most-dedicated chocoholic into a loyal carrot lover for life.
Lloyd's Carrot Cake — Bronx
After 25 successful years using the same basic recipe, Lloyd's has carrot cake down to a science. In fact, a perfect batch of Lloyd's cake batter always weighs the same exact amount, and brims with freshly grated carrots and carrot juice, which lead to an extra-tender crumb. With just the right hint of spice, plus walnuts and raisins for texture, Lloyd's signature dessert has won over a loyal crowd of fans, including Alex Guarnaschelli. On The Best Thing I Ever Ate, she called this cake "the Katharine Hepburn of desserts" due to its all-American star quality. The bakery's cream cheese frosting is the perfect partner in crime for this cake, capping off each movie star-worthy slice with a little tang.
Baked — Brooklyn
Nestled in the far reaches of Red Hook in Brooklyn, this off-the-beaten-path bakery defines itself with classic American desserts. A couple of "dessert archaeologists," the owners love to take old-fashioned recipes and breathe new life into them, which led to the creation of their much-beloved Sweet and Salty Brownie. Claire Robinson claimed that this brownie will "ruin all other brownies for you" thanks to its sweet oozing center of homemade sea salt caramel. Sandwiched between soft chocolate brownie layers, the "lava-like" caramel makes this treat well worth the trek, and you'll find it nearly impossible to share even the smallest bite.
Porto's Bakery — Burbank, Calif.
Officially the world's largest Cuban bakery at 20,000 square feet, Porto's is famous for its authentic spread of cakes, pastries and colorful confections. It's been open since the 1960s and can only be described as a "palace of sweets," with a kaleidoscope of different cakes on display as you enter the door. One of the most popular is the dulce de leche Bundt cake, a vanilla sponge cake filled with caramel and topped with a dulce de leche glaze. In addition to the towering cakes, Porto's dishes out an overwhelming variety of sweet specialties like flan, fruit tarts, florentines and creme brulee, plus every flavor of cheesecake under the sun. You could easily dedicate a full day to sampling this shop's indulgent delicacies, so be sure to save double the room for dessert during your visit.
Garrison Confections — Central Falls, R.I.
Chocoholics will discover a cocoa paradise inside this gourmet sweets shop that was featured on FoodNation. During his visit, Bobby Flay learned the secrets behind the chocolate nougat bars, which are known for their intricate edible designs. To craft these layered treats, the chocolatiers make a fluffy chocolate nougat (by hand) that is studded with roasted nuts, covered with caramel and cloaked in melted chocolate. Completing these mini masterpieces is a colorful cocoa butter design that's applied to the top of each bar. Every chocolate here is a labor of love, and with their rich flavor and dazzling designs, Bobby suggests that you "run, don't walk" to this confectionery to try them firsthand.
Ann Sather — Chicago
A Chicago fixture since 1945, this popular spot is known for its doubly decadent, giant cinnamon rolls — each one is practically a meal on its own. These buttery buns are packed with cinnamon and brown sugar and smothered in a thick vanilla frosting while still warm from the oven. The dry mix for the dough is so secret that even the bakers don't know the formula, which means these sweet rolls can't be re-created at home. On The Best Thing I Ever Ate, Ted Allen compared them to a "big hug from Grandma," and clearly all of Chicago agrees, as the bakery sells thousands of the hubcap-sized sweets on a daily basis. You'll know you've found the right spot when you start to notice the cinnamon-y scent of freshly baked rolls from blocks away.
Sugardaddy's Sumptuous Sweeties — Columbus, Ohio
The owners of this brownie-centric bakery believe that "blondes really do have more fun," especially when referring to the eatery's tropical Tahiti Blondie. Featured on Throwdown, this brown sugar blondie stands apart from other bars with its delicious additions of crushed pineapple, shredded coconut and toasted cashews. Tasting like "an island in a brownie," the gourmet treat is both nutty and buttery, and packs a wow factor when wrapped up in the bakery's signature silk bag. As an added perk, the blondies are also edgeless, as the owners know that the best part of a brownie is the chewy center, so they use biscuit cutters to shape their bars into circles for a perfect bite every time.
Tillman's Roadhouse — Fort Worth, Texas
You'll definitely want to order dessert first when you see this joint's specialty Tableside S'mores. The Texas-style twist on the toasty campfire treat is completely handmade, right down to the graham crackers, which are kicked up with molasses and spackled with cinnamon sugar. For the fillings, the kitchen cuts homemade chocolate bark into squares and hand-pipes three flavors of fresh marshmallows, including orange, coffee and maple. The marshmallows alone are "holy-cow good," as Duff Goldman discovered on Sugar High, but when combined with crispy graham crackers and smooth milk chocolate over a tableside flame, they elevate standard s'mores to gourmet heights. Duff called the grown-up treats "s'mores on steroids," and praised them as the best he'd ever had.
Chambers Cakes & Cookies — Kansas City, Mo.
Life is a cakewalk at this Kansas bakery, where the owner creates a caramel pecan pound cake so memorable that the Neelys called it a "slice of heaven." As a "pound cake connoisseur," Gina was beyond impressed with this buttermilk-based Bundt that's speckled with pecans and slathered in hot caramel. The buttery interior is melt-in-your-mouth tender and begs for a glass of milk to wash it down, as any good pound cake should. Plus, with a host of other delectable cakes on the menu, like red velvet, chocolate silk and pineapple upside-down cake, the Neelys promise, "You won't leave this place without your belly full."
Christopher Elbow's Artisan Chocolates — Kansas City, Mo.
It might seem impossible to harvest the big, bold flavor of bananas Foster inside a tiny chocolate, but this Kansas City sweet spot is doing just that and more. On Road Tasted with the Neelys, Pat and Gina took a tour of the stunning chocolate art being produced here, all of which is "worth hanging on the wall." Each molded chocolate is specially designed and airbrushed with edible paint, and no two treats look alike. All of the fillings use fresh ingredients, including the bananas Foster chocolates, which are hand-piped with a flambeed banana-rum filling to capture the authentic flavor of the dessert. Among the other infused flavors are champagne, rosemary caramel and whiskey-aged maple, all captured inside bite-size gourmet chocolates that can be shipped all over the world.
Cake Flour — Louisville, Ky.
You might be surprised to learn that one of Cake Flour's signature desserts is a "flourless" chocolate cake, but this dense, dark slice is positively sinful, even without the bakery's namesake ingredient. On The Best Thing I Ever Ate, Aarón Sánchez described the cake as "pure chocolate goodness," and it achieves that intense flavor with 60 percent cacao dark chocolate, a rich chocolate ganache and a series of secret spices that you can only guess at. Secret recipe aside, this cake is so crave-worthy that Aarón took a plane ride to Louisville solely to snag a slice. During your visit, you'll want to check out the bakery's full scope of other cake flavors, too, from lemon chiffon sunshine to bourbon chocolate caramel and beyond.
Butter Lane Cupcakes — New York
As Ted Allen said on The Best Thing I Ever Ate, "It's hard to be unhappy when you're holding a cupcake." With that statement in mind, there's no better place to be than this whimsical cupcakery that's churning out tons of homemade classics. They offer three traditional cake flavors — chocolate, vanilla and banana — and each flavor can be mixed and matched with the frosting of your choice. Butter Lane specializes in whipped French buttercream (which is lighter and fluffier than the standard) and flavors it with creative combinations like maple pecan, apple spice and sea salt chocolate. With so many options for building the perfect sweet snack, it's clear why Ted calls these cupcakes "the ultimate American dessert."
Doughnut Plant — New York
It's hip to be square at this Lower East Side shop, where they forgo the standard round for a doughnut with four sweet corners instead. Invented to keep cream and jam filling from escaping, this square-shaped doughnut is a favorite among doughnut aficionados, including the Neelys. They raved about their favorite flavor, the peanut butter and jelly doughnut, on The Best Thing I Ever Ate. Doughnut Plant was the first shop to deliver this iconic flavor combo in doughnut form, and the Neelys loved the sweet mix of roasted peanut butter glaze and fresh blackberry jam filling. With one bite of this sweet treat, they were transported "right back to childhood," and there are plenty more flavors to keep this edible joyride rolling, from fruity seasonal cake doughnuts to glazed yeast-raised squares.
Fenton's Creamery — Oakland, Calif.
Nothing beats a classic banana split, unless it's the "best of the best" Banana Special served at this California creamery. This supersized sweet is built with multiple bananas and three pounds of homemade chocolate, vanilla and strawberry ice creams, which are topped with pineapple sauce, chocolate fudge and almonds. Constructed the same way since 1894, the "jaw-dropping" dessert made Duff feel like a kid again on The Best Thing I Ever Ate. If you haven't overloaded on sweets after ordering this special, consider sampling the endless array of additional ice cream flavors, which includes choices like black walnut, blueberry cheesecake, butter brickle and seasonal scoops like apple pie, pumpkin and pomegranate ice cream.
Brown Betty Dessert Boutique — Philadelphia
On Sugar High, Duff discovered that the City of Brotherly Love has a serious sweet tooth when he visited this bakery to try the signature rice pudding. The recipe for the creamy classic was passed down from the owner's grandmother and manages to turn the starchy grain into rich and silky custard. Laced with brown sugar and spices, the heavy cream custard is baked in generous single portions, and Duff guaranteed that you won't make it out the front door without having snuck a few spoonfuls. With its "perfectly cooked rice" and authentic homemade flavor, the proof really is in the pudding at Philly's favorite sweet spot.
Flying Monkey — Philadelphia
Located deep inside Philly's famous Reading Terminal Market, this dessert shack specializes in brownies and bar cookies with inventive add-ins. The Nutty Boozer brownie was featured on Kid in a Candy Store for its spiked spin on the classic fudgy square. This brownie features a mix of red Dutch and black cocoa powders for deep chocolate flavor, and the batter gets a jolt from fresh coffee and a nip of Scotch. A hazelnut praline ganache covers the brownie layer and takes the everyday treat to nutty new heights. Don't forget to try the shop's specialty Monkey Bar, too, which tops a pecan and brown sugar crust with dried coconut, banana slices, chocolate chips and sweetened condensed milk for a "blissfully sweet" bar that's considered the best in the city.
Two Fat Cats Bakery — Portland, Maine
Is it a cookie, pie or cake? These are the common questions surrounding the whoopie pie. No matter what you call it, Chuck Hughes is sure it's delicious, as evidenced by his enthusiasm for the fudgy treats on The Best Thing I Ever Ate. While you could easily find prepackaged pies at gas stations across New England, you'll want to splurge on the "real deal" whoopie at Two Fat Cats. There, two thick rounds of Belgian chocolate cake sandwich a marshmallow buttercream filling that's reminiscent of sticky meringue. Chuck claims that eating one is "like biting into a cloud," which makes this hand-held hybrid something to look forward to on your next trip north.
Extraordinary Desserts — San Diego
The award-winning pastry chef at this California dessert den is known for her elegant cakes, tarts and intricately designed confections. One of her most-unique creations, the dulce de leche cake, takes inspiration from Latin America. To assemble it, dark chocolate cake layers are brushed with liqueur-spiked simple syrup and sandwiched with chocolate mousse, homemade dulce de leche and macadamia nuts. After a glossy coating of chocolate ganache, the cake is decorated with more dulce de leche and chocolate shavings for a slice that Marcela Valladolid called "spectacular" on The Best Thing I Ever Ate. Perfectly balanced with slight bitterness from the chocolate mousse, a nutty crunch and sweet, creamy caramel, this torte is definitely over-the-top indulgent.
Tartine Bakery — San Francisco
At Tartine, the famous French pastry, pain au chocolat, isn't just for breakfast. Here, the flaky croissant is stuffed with double the amount of dark Valrhona chocolate, hand-shaped and baked to a buttery golden brown. While the basic concept is simple, the perfect pain au chocolat is a work of art, and Tartine's version is so popular that the bakery sells 400 of them each day. On The Best Thing I Ever Ate, Chef David Myers called the pastry "the Mozart of pain au chocolat," with an enticingly crunchy crust and ideal amount of chocolate hiding inside. The bakery offers a plethora of other treats, as well, but if you want to secure the popular pain au chocolat, it's best to arrive early, as they usually sell out by noon.
Zelda's Corner — Venice, Calif.
On $24 in 24, Jeff Mauro cracked the code behind the perfect bite-size treat at this oceanside sandwich shop. Offering a sweet deal of 30 mini doughnuts for just six dollars, this spot is the best-kept secret in Venice Beach. Zelda's cranks out more than 1,200 cinnamon sugar-doused doughnuts each day and fries each batch to order for top-notch freshness. Best of all, the golden-brown rounds can also go mobile, as Zelda's delivers around the neighborhood to folks in need of a little pick-me-up. As a word to the wise when ordering, a polite "please" and "thank you" will score you a few extra doughnuts on the side, which makes this budget-friendly dessert deal that much sweeter.
For more FN-approved destinations, check out Food Network On the Road.