Save room for the latest in desserts

HAPPY ENDINGS

Photo provided by Lisa Gustafson -- Vanilla bean Panna Cotta with strawberry-coconut soup at Patois.
Photo provided by Lisa Gustafson -- Vanilla bean Panna Cotta with strawberry-coconut soup at Patois.

New Orleans has a delicious, iconic dessert history: bananas Foster, crème brulee, bread pudding and of course powdered sugar-dusted beignets. All hold an indelible place on restaurant menus and in diners’ hearts. But unique sweets, combining old favorites and new trends, are everywhere these days.

Chef Kristen Essig at Sainte Marie (930 Poydras St. No. 101) has been doing her own pastries at the restaurants, including “S’more Please,” a graham cracker genoise, toasted marshmallow semifreddo with chocolate ganache sauce. “Desserts are tricky. By the time people have finished a meal, they’re often too full to go there,” she said.

“New Orleans is a town that has specific restaurants for specific things,” she said. “Think Brocato’s, La Divina, Sucre and Creole Creamery. They exist solely for coffee and dessert, and people love them for that.” After dining at Venezia’s in Mid-City, it’s traditional to head to Brocato’s for a scoop of gelato.

One-time pastry chef for Peristyle and now Rivista bakery and café owner with chef-husband Chris, Lisa Barbato said, “It used to be that pastry was a second thought at restaurants, because many didn’t have designated pastry chefs, but that’s changed. Think about it, we know a lot more pastry chefs by name than we did five years ago.”

Lisa Liggett, a former pastry chef, now fine food salesperson for AUI, said her phone “blows up when there’s a restaurant looking for someone to do pastry.”

The current roster of restaurant pastry chefs is strong and the desserts outstanding. For those with a craving for sweets that pull from childhood candies, Maurepas Foods (3200 Burgundy St.) pastry chef Jessica Stokes rolls out cookie sandwiches with mint chocolate ice cream; ranger bites ($7); and a “Frozen Candy Bar” of chocolate, caramel, vanilla wafers, honey, and peanuts ($9).

At white-linen and upscale casual restaurants, the desserts can range from simple to head-spinning. A fat slice of pie (cream or fruit) is the focal point of the dessert side of Noodle & Pie (741 State St.). Pastry chef Bronwen Wyatt (La Petite Grocery, 4238 Magazine St., New Orleans) does a butterscotch pudding so popular it is a dessert menu staple. And at Domenica (123 Baronne St.), pastry chef Lisa White creates a “Banana Zuppa Inglese” composed of banana cake, bananas, crema cotta mousse and peanut brittle ($10).

Pastry chef Zak Miller at Coquette (2800 Magazine St.) frequently shifts his dessert offerings. Recently, a chocolate pudding wove in the flavors and textures of sea salt ice cream and andouille caramel ($10); but there may also be straightforward ice cream sandwiches with homemade cookies and fruit compotes, or cheesecakes to devour.

At Patois (6078 Laurel St.) pastry chef Lisa Gustafson serves vanilla bean panna cotta with a strawberry coconut soup, basil syrup, crème fraiche and pop rocks ($10). When figs were in season she offered a grilled fig, Frangelico ice cream and sweet cream reduction with her own honey-hazelnut granola.

As the trend for tantalizing dessert menus continues, and clever pastry chefs keep blending the nostalgic with the new, there may be no need to save room for sweets — because we’ll be ordering dessert first.