At fine-dining concept White Barn Inn in Kennebunkport, Maine, the prix fixe menu changes daily, but it always ends in grand style.
For a recent dessert presentation, pastry chef Gabby Cote created a crêpes suzette-soufflé hybrid. The crepes were layered and held aloft in a nearly weightless egg mixture. Before it lost any volume, the center was split and doused with Maine blueberry anglaise and embellished with ice cream and fresh orange slices at the table.
Dramatic desserts such as these are on the rise, and not just at upscale locations. For a more casual take on dessert theater, The Melting Pot offers white chocolate crème brûlée fondue, a mixture of white chocolate and crème caramel syrup that’s flambéed tableside with caramelized sugar and an alcohol mist, creating a hard outer crust.
It’s not every day that diners can indulge in a theatrical dessert event, but more operators are bringing small doses of drama to everyday treats and casual occasions. By doing so, they can generate excitement and offer customizable options. Here are a few ways operators are capitalizing on this trend.
Casual burger chain Red Robin menued a flashy take on the cronut craze late last year with the introduction of Doh!Rings, a croissant-doughnut hybrid served in stacks of eight. A statement dessert, it was meant for big tables to share, pass and dip into the accompanying hot fudge and berry dipping sauces.
Likewise, at Max Brenner, an international restaurant company with more than 50 locations in six countries worldwide, heat adds high drama. Here, the menu is full of hands-on dessert experiences, such as the Urban S’mores for Two. Diners can grill their own marshmallows and embellish the traditional s’more with melted milk chocolate, warm peanut butter, bananas or raspberry.
Whether for sharing or for personalizing, sauce can help set the scene for dramatic dessert presentations. “Dessert sauces are a safe way for customers to experiment with new flavors,” says Brian Darr, who works in custom research for Chicago-based research firm Datassential. “Right now, caramel is big, which means diners might want to branch out into another warm, buttery sauce, like butterscotch.”
In that way, casual-dining chain Applebee’s sees shareable, dippable desserts as a way to extend the fun of “shared plate” dining, which has taken over menus across all segments. Chef Jessica James notes that diners like to interact with food and sauces, so she creates desserts with that in mind. For example, sweet-and-salty pretzel bites with salted caramel and creamy maple sauces and churro twists served with toasted marshmallow and chocolate dips are interactive options.
Dippable desserts can also help support a restaurant’s market positioning while adding excitement to the dining experience. At Olive Garden, Italian doughnuts called zeppoli are dusted with powdered sugar and served with chocolate sauce for dipping. In the same way, at Buffalo Wild Wings, breaded and fried cheesecake pieces are served with a side of caramel sauce for a dessert that helps support the concept’s core menu of “fried and sauced” wings.
This post is sponsored by Sweet Street Desserts