Sweet Gone Savory

Give your sweet tooth a break with these switched-up dishes that sing with savory flavors.  

Photo By: Heidi Geldhauser

Photo By: Green Olive Media

Photo By: Evan Sung

Photo By: Heidi Geldhauser

Photo By: The Bazaar by Jose Andres

Photo By: Proof on Main

Photo By: Rated Ruwan

Photo By: Grand Isle

Photo By: Siegel Bros.

Photo By: Earth at Hidden Pond

Flavor Flip

Move over, sugar, ‘cause it’s about to get salty. Chefs across the country are proving not every treat needs to be sweet. They’re turning out switched-up takes on the classics — cobblers, macarons and more — that will have even the most diehard sugar junkies joining the savory side. 

Shrimp and Goat Cheese Beignets

At C&S Seafood and Oyster Bar in Atlanta, ordering a selection of oysters while mulling over the daily fish specials is a given. But diners in the know also opt for Chef Jon Schwenk’s seafood beignets to kick off their meal. The concept for this not-so-standard beignet came to Schwenk while he was sampling crab fritters during a trip to the Big Easy. Once he returned home, he couldn’t rest until he turned his idea into reality. “I began working on different recipes… and wound up with a hybrid tempura/beer batter that was crispy on the outside, but was slightly doughy in consistency like a beignet,” Schwenk says. For the filling, he softens goat cheese and mixes it with shrimp, then rolls the mixture into balls and chills them until firm. Once they’re ready, Schwenk dunks them in batter and fries them. The result is a crisp, golden shell that gives way to a center of molten cheese. The savory treats are served with a side of bright tomato compote for dipping.

Carrot Crepe

Chef Greg Baxtrom transforms a beloved French street food into a sophisticated savory appetizer at airy Brooklyn restaurant Olmsted. For his version of a crepe, Baxtrom punches up the batter with freshly squeezed carrot juice in lieu of milk, then pairs the creation with surf clams. “Many of our dishes start with the vegetable first, and the sweetness of the carrots [works] well with the brininess of the clams,” Baxtrom says. Even the presentation is unconventional. After the briny bivalves are sauteed with carrots in butter, the crepe is elegantly draped on top, then topped with thinly shaved carrots and pea shoots, as well as sunflower seeds and petals — to Instagram-worthy effect.

Pimento Cheese Macarons

At Atlanta fine-dining favorite Restaurant Eugene, Chef Linton Hopkins starts diners out with a treat typically saved for dessert. “I love the chewy crunch of macarons but wanted to have that sensation at the beginning of the meal rather than after,” Hopkins says. To make the delicate sandwich cookie savory, he adds a healthy dose of freshly ground black pepper to the batter. Hopkins also gives the French confection a decidedly Southern tweak by piping in pimento cheese for the filling. “The piquancy of the pepper reigns in the sweetness to allow the creamy pimento cheese to come through,” Hopkins adds. “Of course, it had to be the pimento cheese my wife and I first started making together after we met!”

Foie Gras Floating Island Soup

An old-school French dessert has been transformed into a modern appetizer, thanks to the culinary wizardry of Chef José Andrés. The classic dish, known as Île Flottante, typically features a miniature island made of meringue that’s adorned with praline almonds and suspended in a pool of creme anglaise. This rich treat has been reinterpreted by Andrés, who has brought together sweet corn, foie gras and an unlikely American junk food — corn nuts — to create his Foie Gras Floating Island Soup. To mimic the buoyancy and texture of the meringue, the sweet corn is transformed into an espuma (or foam) by mixing it with egg whites, heavy cream and gelatin in a nitrous oxide canister. Once ready, the foam is set adrift in a cup of warm foie gras soup garnished with ground corn nuts. The dish debuted at Andrés’ Washington, D.C.-based restaurant known as minibar, but proved so popular that it made its way onto the menu at The Bazaar by José Andrés in Beverly Hills, California.

Sweet Potato Toaster Pastry

As a kid, Chef Mike Wajda’s grab-and-go breakfast of choice was a frosted toaster pastry. These days, his tastes are a bit more refined. But he hasn’t lost his child-like imagination, as evidenced by the toaster pastry offered at Proof on Main in Louisville, Kentucky. “At Proof on Main, we love to use the whole animal. One day while making chicken liver mousse, I imagined it as frosting for a tart with beautiful sprinkles,” he says. The chef’s savory take on the sweet treat starts with a seasonal filling such as sweet potato jam, which is nestled inside made-from-scratch dough. The pastry is baked in the hearth until crisp and warm, then spread with chicken liver mousse that melts into a frosting of sorts. Chives and chicken skin cracklings make for a fine finish.

Falafel Waffle

Waffles have long straddled the line between sweet and savory, depending on what ingredients are added to the batter or piled on top. At New York’s Green Fig, Chef Gabriel Israel steers the golden treat firmly into savory territory by drawing inspiration from an Israeli street food snack. The chef begins his falafel waffle with a batter made from Egyptian fava beans. He soaks the dried beans overnight before blending them with baking soda, cumin, garlic and lemon juice to create the batter, which he then pours into a waffle iron. Once cooked, the waffle is dunked in a fryer to ensure a crisp, falafel-like texture on the outside. Israel then spoons tahini into the waffle’s ridges and tops it with poached eggs and bacon. A final layer of herb salad, a dusting of sumac and a drizzle of tahini finish this brunch mash-up.

Crab and Brie Hand Pie

There’s nothing that fans the flames of inspiration like love — and a little friendly competition. Executive Chef Ryan Haigler responded to his pastry chef girlfriend’s sweet successes by creating a signature appetizer that he serves at New Orleans seafood restaurant Grand Isle. “She was always telling me about her sweet hand pies. Naturally, I needed to make a savory version… but with seafood,” Haigler says. Inspired by one of his favorite dips, the chef stuffs his hand pie with a crab-studded filling. He tosses Louisiana blue crab claw meat with a seven-cheese Mornay sauce (including a top-secret cheese), then folds in grated crab eggs and hand-formed nuggets of Brie cheese. This creamy filling comes inside a golden fried crust made of empanada dough, which is paired with a smoked paprika remoulade. Though Haigler prefers to eat the pie by hand, this hot and melty dish can quickly turn into a knife-and-fork affair.

Scrapple and Sweet Potato Cobbler

Nose-to-tail emporium Siegel Bros. Marketplace in Mount Kisco, New York, is known for its charcuterie and butchered-to-order cuts, but the savory cobbler may well be its sleeper hit. “With all the pork products available, I thought scrapple would be a fun and unusual way of combining these products,” Chef David Nevins says. “As I continued the process I thought that making it into a savory dish with a dessert feel would give our guests a sense of comfort.” Thus, a scrap pork meatloaf soon evolved into a savory cobbler of sorts. Nevins begins the dish in much the same way as a standard scrapple by stewing together head cheese, pulled pork and pork belly, plus chopped salami, mortadella, prosciutto and bacon. But he defies tradition by pulling in sweet potato, borlotti beans and roasted broccoli rabe, then topping his creation with cobbler batter before baking it. Nevins prefers to serve the dish like spoonbread to add to the dessert-for-dinner feel.

Broccoli Fritters

At downtown Cincinnati hotspot Metropole, Executive Chef Jared Bennett has made our culinary dreams come true — he’s turned broccoli into doughnuts. “I wanted to create a savory, gluten-free appetizer reminiscent of a fried doughnut,” Bennett says. “Using chickpea flour adds a lot of great savory flavor to the fritter. And I love broccoli, cheddar, and ham together.” The chef starts with a basic batter recipe by mixing wet ingredients (eggs and buttermilk) into dry ingredients (chickpea flour, baking soda and salt), but omits the sugar to keep it savory. He gently folds in broccoli and Broadbent’s ham (a cult Western Kentucky purveyor), then fries the mixture to create crisp, golden fritters. The savory snack comes perched atop a smoky-spicy pimento aioli and adorned with shaved cheddar, diced ham and arugula micro sprouts.

Jerusalem Artichoke Panna Cotta

Executive Chef Justin Walker of Earth at Hidden Pond showcases farm-fresh ingredients in clever ways by using unconventional preparations at his restaurant in Kennebunkport, Maine. For instance, he looks to panna cotta — a classic Italian chilled pudding — as a platform for seasonal vegetables. “If done well, panna cotta can be really amazing; it can have the creaminess of a custard but be a bit lighter,” Walker says. “What we realized was when you add a starchy vegetable like a Jerusalem artichoke, you get that great custard-like texture.” After simmering the Jerusalem artichokes in heavy cream, sea salt, cracked pepper and olive oil, the mixture is pureed with a small amount of gelatin and poured into molds to set in the refrigerator. Once chilled, the panna cotta is served with red-wine-stewed-cranberries to balance the bitter-tinged flavor of the artichoke.

More from: