New Orleanians have had a sweet tooth for more than 200 years. Sugar made millionaires in this city back in the day, and its power to please has never been questioned.
New Orleans is also a place where if you want to eat dessert first, or for breakfast, nobody raises an eyebrow. Although some traditional treats are informed with an achingly sweet sensibility - pralines come immediately to mind - the historic influence of French pastry chefs left an indelible imprint on the food culture.
As with every course of a good New Orleans meal, dessert is expected to be something special, whether you're talking bread pudding, bananas foster, multiple layers of ethereal Doberge cake or Italian gelato infused with local seasonal fruit.
Come Carnival time, innovative pastry chefs make King Cake more than just about the baby, riffing off of the traditional pastry with flavors like banana and peanut butter, Meyer lemon, goat cheese and apple. chocolate pecan and strawberry.
Flaming desserts are always a crowd pleaser and bananas foster is synonymous with New Orleans - the dish was dreamed up at Brennan's in 1951 by chef Paul Blangé. New Orleans, being a port city, was a major entry point for bananas and the chef created a dessert with rum, butter, bananas and vanilla ice cream that is still wonderful to this day.
Bananas Foster is a must eat dessert and the best place to get it is where it was first flamed, the redone Brennan's. A theatrical presentation of caramelized banana fragrant with cinnamon and plenty of rum, it's a treat that never goes out of style. Like Brennan's itself, a gorgeously redone grande dame on Royal with a lovely courtyard garden,a lovely place to sip a glass of bubbly or a craft libation. Chef Slade Rushing has kept many of the Brennan's classics along with a strong showing of modern Creole and even globally flavored dishes. Nothing cheap about this place, and the dress code is business not casual, but it's all part of the experience. (504-525-9711)
From the moment you step through the wooden screen doorsat Hansen's uptown, you'll be struck by the relaxed atmosphere and friendly service. The snoballs at Hansen's Sno-Bliz are a local legend, dripping with handmade syrups in flavors like ginger and cardamom. It was Ernest and Mary Hansen who pioneered the treat with Ernest's patented Sno-Bliz machine back in 1939, giving the shaved ice a powdery, fluffy texture nothing like the granular uber-sweet sno-cones sold in some locales. Now in the hands of granddaughter Ashley Hansen, the stand is a hallmark of imaginative combinations and superior quality perfected by three generations. (504-891-9788)
For a taste of what some might call the best confections in New Orleans, head over to the Garden District and drop by Sucre, Tariq Hanna's sweet retreat filled with gossamer macarons, Italian gelatos and chocolates that stand up to the best in Belgium. The Dark Chocolate Bark – sheets of chocolate shot through with assorted nuts and dried fruits – is a must-taste, as is the Drinking Chocolate, which is served with handmade marshmallows and caramel cookies for dipping. This sweet shop is as beautifully appointed as the meticulously packaged goodies it features and is the ideal stop if you want to satisfy a special someone's sweet tooth. (504-520-8311)
This popular New Orleans landmark in Mid-City maintains a comfortable, neighborhood vibe, thanks in part to an exceptionally courteous staff and a steady stream of local families wandering by for an Italian-flavored treat. A family business that has dished silky gelato and traditional Italian sweets since the turn of last century, Brocato's is the place for piped-to-order cannolis, espresso-laced tiramisu or a slice of house made cassata cake. Authentic, Sicilian-inspired treats include one-of-a-kind gelato flavors like amaretto pistaccio. fresh fruit Italian ices and well-loved baked goods including cookies, biscotti, and you really can't miss the tiramisu - it's truly out of this world. (504-486-0078)
Ask New Orleanians of a certain age about the Caribbean Room and the reminiscing begins. The storied dining room in the Pontchartrain Hotel on St. Charles Avenue was a place for milestones, for celebrations, for special occasions feted between bites of chile-spiked crab Remick and impossibly rich Mile-High Pie. After being treated to a $10 million renovation that took the better part of two years, the hotel and its infamous Caribbean Room, Bayou Bar, and Silver Whistle coffee shop reopened in June 2016. John Besh and his team run all the bars and restaurants with chef Chris Lusk, last of Restaurant R'evolution, in charge of the kitchen. Gents are still required to wear jackets (there are loaners available) and Lusk's food is worth gussying up for. Admittedly walking a fine line between retro and relevant, Lusk has lightened trademark dishes - trout Veronique is served with an ethereal Hollandaise on the side and offers sophisticated additions like crispy oysters with lily salad and stuffed squash blossoms with Camembert that would be at home on any menu. Yes, the Mile High Pie is still a skyscraper wedge, a memorable dessert no matter what the occasion. (504-323-1500)
Stellar cuisine and a hip cocktail bar make this a sexy destination for twentysomethings or anybody looking for a romantic date night setting. Tempting bites – like eggplant crisps with skordalia, oven-dried roma tomatoes, basil and oil cured olive – line the menu. The grilled veal paillard comes served with broccoli raab, almonds, homemade ricotta toast and garlic parsley butter. Wine list includes 50 wines, with 11 varieties available by the glass. Executive pastry chef Carrie Laird consistently creates desserts that serve as an inspired exclamation point on the end of your meal. Skilled at spotlighting simple, seasonal flavors, Laird's vanilla panna cotta is a thing of real beauty. (504-895-1636)
Opened by chef Mike Stoltzfus and his wife Lillian Hubbard in December 2008, Coquette is a Garden District stunner, from its gleaming floors and crisp linens to its architectural details and warm exposed brick walls. Chef Stoltzfus proffers innovative southern cuisine with an emphasis on locally sourced product and pastry chef Zak Miller does the same, with an emphasis on unexpected twists that elevate dessert into something ethereal. He uses seasonal fruit, fresh herbs and surprising flavors like smoke and heat to bring something special to the table. Whether he's concocting a satsuma creamsicle float or a chocolate cremeaux spiked with salted caramel and the tang of beer, guaranteed you won't skip dessert. (504-265-0421)
La Petite Grocery
Pastry chef Bronwen Wyatt creates poetry on a plate. Whether that has anything to do with her degree in English from Tulane or not, her lyrical desserts spin quite a tale. Wyatt came back to New Orleans in 2011 to develop the pastry program at La Petite Grocery, and now also oversees pastry at chef/owner Justin Devillier's second restaurant, Balise. Wyatt's desserts are informed by her Southern heritage and her adoration of all things seasonal. The seamless balance of sweet and savory can be found in her grilled vanilla bean panna cotta with satsuma sorbet and pistachio brittle and her grilled Alabama peach with mayhaw sauce harnesses the tart, fruity flavor of the berries that grow wild in the Louisiana swamps. (5048913377)
Emeril's New Orleans
Chef Emeril Lagasse is personally supporting banana growers all over the world. And it's because of the banana cream pie that has been on the menu at Emeril's, his flagship restaurant that is celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2015, for each of those 25 years. With eight to nine bananas to a pie, and as many as 30 pies sold on a busy day, the demand for the tropical fruit is never ending. Made with heavy cream, eggs, vanilla bean, the custard is beyond decadent. Add caramel sauce, shaved chocolate and sprigs of mint, and this is BAM dessert is in the New Orleans hall of fame. (504-528-9393)
Bakery Bar/Debbie Does Doberge
Doberge cake is the stuff of legend in New Orleans. Created in the 1930s by Beulah Ledner, doberge (say dough-bash) is a riff off the Hungarian dobos torta, a heavy layered cake filled with buttercream. Ledner, taking the local climate into consideration, lightened the treat by replacing the buttercream with custard and Frenchifying the name. Debbie Does Doberge is a newcomer to the scene, dishing up doberge at Bakery Bar, a chill space with nibbles and drinks and a cake case towards the back. Order doberge in flavors like salted caramel, red velvet and praline or sit at the bar and tuck into a slice to see what all the fuss is about. (504-265-8884)
About Beth D'Addono
Beth D'Addono is a food and travel writer obsessed with flavor, exploring cultures, street music and the city of New Orleans.
After spending years flying in regularly to research stories, attend festivals and eat the city's amazing cuisine, this New Orleanian at heart moved to the Crescent City full time in 2012.
Beth writes about New Orleans and other destinations for outlets including USAToday, AAA Traveler, Wells Fargo Conversations, Philadelphia Daily News, Taste, Fodor's and others.
Her new book The Hunt New Orleans is a carefully curated insider's guide to indie shops and restaurants around town.
Read more about Beth D'Addono here.
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