When it comes to dessert, we often want to be charmed more than dazzled—or so it would seem from the retro-dessert redux at even the most sophisticated restaurants in the county. Perhaps it’s because simple desserts take us back to a simpler time, to our childhoods, when everything, it seemed, could be made better with a scoop of ice cream or a piece of cake. Some of the county’s trendiest restaurants are serving modern and creative twists on old-school desserts.
Take, for instance, Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s The Inn at Pound Ridge by Jean-Georges. After feasting on nouveau country fare such as foie gras terrine with slowly roasted strawberries, aged balsamic, and brioche, end on a simple note with warm peach cobbler (served with blueberry crème fraîche ice cream); strawberry almond shortcake (with lemon yogurt sherbet); or cherry cream pie (with walnut graham crust, caramelized white-chocolate cream, and sour cherry sorbet). At chic new The Twisted Oak, where Chef Michael Cutney (a Danny Meyer alumnus) wows with edgy dishes like pastrami-spiced cod with rye pain perdu, the dessert that made the big splash after opening was a marshmallow-cream French toast based on the Fluffernutter, of all things, with peanut-butter caramel and honey peanut praline. Chef Nick Di Bona at Madison Kitchen complements his trendy menu (e.g., duck confit quesadilla) with down-home desserts: Try the fig-and-apple crisp with homemade vanilla ice cream or the warm, house-made waffle sundae topped with cookie batter. At the newly opened (to non-guests) Cellar 49 at Tarrytown House Estate, 1964 World’s Fair Belgian waffles sundae cap an entirely 1964-themed menu.
You’ll never look at a Fluffernutter the same way after trying the marshmallow-cream French toast at The Twisted Oak
Other restaurants wax nostalgic with interesting (and delicious) takes on less common classics. Fortina has us tied to its apron strings with an Italian childhood treat: tortoni, a frozen blend of cream, almonds, and chopped brandied cherries, served in a pleated paper cup. And we’ve been delighted by a floating island—meringue floating in a pool of crème anglaise—at Bistro Parisien, where the mouthwatering, light-as-air confection is served on vintage dishware, and by another Mad Men-era dessert at Vox Bar & Restuarant, Peach Melba. What of baked Alaska, a meringue-topped igloo of ice-cream-filled cake, created to honor the new state? It, too, is on the radar, though you’ll have to go to South Salem (not quite to Alaska) to find it at Le Château, where it’s served with sautéed caramelized peaches and Cointreau. Even the old-school dessert cart has come around again, as at La Catena in Ardsley.
Junk-food nostalgia is an enterprise all its own. Chef Matthew Karp’s gourmet Giant Ring Dings at Plates have become a Westchester classic: moist, dark devil’s-food cake in a Valrhona chocolate shell, filled with homemade whipped cream, with extra whipped cream on the side. Provisions Bake Shop in Pelham tickles our fancy with homemade Hostess cupcakes and Pop Tarts and a wonderful (seasonal) Creamsicle cupcake with swirls of pale orange and white frosting. Crabtree’s Kittle House, even with a new menu, knows not to tamper with its playful Kittle Kat Chocolate Bar with vanilla gelato, and Restaurant North serves a huge chocolate-chip cookie in a skillet, topped with vanilla ice cream. Gimmicky? Who cares! Innocent, fun, delicious dessert is the point here—calories be damned.
Pudding has made a comeback, if it ever really left, from the butterscotch pudding with vanilla cookie crumbs and rhubarb jam served recently at The Inn at Pound Ridge by Jean-Georges to the Ovaltine mousse bar with peanut-butter crunch, dulce de leche, and vanilla ice cream at 42 The Restaurant. And let’s not forget bread pudding and the Italian classics panna cotta and bombolini, now being served at a trendy restaurant near you (not that anyone’s complaining).
Finally, a special mention of pie—the most nostalgic dessert à la mode. At serious Italian restaurant Savona, a seemingly out-of-character chess pie, a Southern specialty, insinuates itself as a rare special without a hitch. Locally baked pies from Pie Lady & Son (originally sold off a back porch in Nyack, New York) and Lulu’s Southern Pies (from Rowayton, Connecticut) have become a hot ticket at county farmers’ markets. And witness the phenomenon of the sellout Pros(e) of Pie series in Tarrytown, a monthly shindig where people bring home-baked pies, tell stories, and crown a Piemaster.
Now, will someone in Westchester please follow Magnolia Bakery’s lead and sell icebox cake, just like my Grandma used to make?