Last month Phoenix New Times celebrated the cream of the crop with our 36th annual Best of Phoenix edition. Here are our top picks for places to get dessert in metro Phoenix.
Best Candy Store: Super Chunk Sweets and Treats
Since opening late last year, Super Chunk Sweets and Treats has wasted no time winning us -- and our sweet tooth -- over with its ever-growing selection of handmade candies and desserts. Owners and confectionary masterminds Country and Sergio Velador bring sophistication to the idea of a classic candy store by offering one-of-a-kind flavors that appeal to the taste buds of grownups and little ones alike. We love the rich, savory flavor of Super Chunk's blue cheese and fig caramels, as well as the botanical aromas of her black licorice chews. For lighter, sweeter options, try the lemon verbena hard candies or a hand-pulled taffy, which come in a rainbow of flavors and colors that change from week to week. On any given visit, you might catch Country in the middle of breaking up sheets of delicate honeycomb candy or mixing batches of her signature caramel popcorns. And if you're lucky, the Veladors might even give you a sneak peek of what they are working on next.
Best Cupcake: Urban Cookies
In the world of baked goods, one thing is certain: Not all cupcakes are created equal. From fancy chains to casual supermarkets, it seems everyone's offering cupcakes. And often you take a bite at your own risk. Not so at Urban Cookies, where award-winning baker Brady Breese offers an eclectic, creative assortment of cupcakes with one thing in common: They are all delicious. Whether you go for classic chocolate topped with a dark ganache or the out-of-the-box Arnold Palmer (lemon cake with tea-infused icing), you can't go wrong. Waffles and doughnuts may be the new flavors on the block, but we hope Urban Cookies never stops making cupcakes.
Best Pastries: Merci
When Duc and Noelle Liao's Scratch French Café closed, our hearts sank like a poorly made soufflé. Luckily, word of Merci followed shortly after. While the décor may have changed, the location and, more importantly, Liao's pastries remained the same.
With all the finesse you'd expect from legit French pastry, the Liaos create whimsical flavor combinations that blend bitter and sweet, aromatic and floral, and bright and dark elements to keep you guessing. Have a croque madame, escargot, or stuffed crepes to start, but make sure you finish your meal by perusing the pastry case, where you'll find raspberry rose parfait, lemon meringue tartes, three-chocolate mousse, baba rhum, and more. The presentation itself is a pleasure, but the decadent yet delicate execution will leave you feeling like French royalty. Bon appetit!
Best Bakery: Barb's Bakery
Normally, we reserve eating cake for special occasions. But the chocolate cake at Barb's Bakery is so good that we regularly bust out a whole one for events as mundane as Sunday night dinner. And that's not the only irresistible sweet we love from Barb's. The case is always full of the bakery's award-winning decorated iced sugar cookies and cupcakes in a diverse array of flavors including carrot, orange, and classic chocolate. Oh, and did we mention that Barb's carries bread made from local micro-bakery Noble Bread? Sure, the Central Phoenix bakery isn't the fanciest of digs, but that's only because they let the top-quality baked goods speak for themselves.
Best Ice Cream: Doc's Artisan Ice Creams
Usually, we're too busy stuffing our faces with ice cream to stop and wonder what's actually in a pint of mint chocolate chip. Fortunately, one chat with Doc Brown of Doc's Artisan Ice Cream changed all that. Brown, a former police officer with a serious love for all things frozen and sweet, started Doc's Artisan Ice Cream with the intention of going big or going home. To Brown, that meant investing the time and money in becoming the state's first small-batch ice creamery, so rather than sourcing his dairy ice cream base from someone else, Brown's able to pasteurize it himself. It gives the ice cream chef total control over every single ingredient that goes into his ice creams, which often also include locally sourced ingredients such as Arizona peaches. The end result is a product that's as transparent as they come. Still don't believe it? Swing by his Tempe space, where he can show you just how the complex machinery works.
Best Milkshake: The Stand
There aren't many decisions to make when you're dining at The Stand, the Arcadia burger and taco joint. The menu keeps it short and sweet, just a small selection of tacos and a burger you can customize with toppings. The only real choice you're going to have to make is whether or not to add one of the spot's milkshakes to your order -- and if you're as weak-willed as us, the answer is almost always, "Yes." The Stand's salted dulce de leche milkshake is a particular favorite. The über-thick treat is rich with caramel flavor and spiked with pieces of salt. Best of all, it comes with a double-wide straw to maximize your slurping experience.
Best Shaved Ice: RaspadosRico
As shaved ice replaces frozen yogurt as the de rigueur cold treat, we are on the hunt for creative ways to eat it. If you can dream it, chances are RaspadoRico can make it. The bright shop stocks a rainbow of fresh fruits, chili powders, sweet condensed milk, and ice cream. There are raspados, or Mexican shaved ice (topped with fresh fruits, of course) and even milkshakes, but the bigger draw is the exotic drinks. Think Diablito, or shaved ice with bright red chili powder and chunks of pineapple. We like topping a typical fruity raspado with a scoop of creamy ice cream.
Best Gelato: Cool Gelato Italiano
You might not expect to find top-quality Italian gelato in Old Town. But that's where artisans Alberto Della Casa and Letizia de Lucia decided to open their one-of-a-kind shop in 2012. The husband-and-wife team were born and raised in Italy and trained with the nation's champion gelato artisan, as recognized by the Italian Academy of Gelato. In short, they're the real deal. At any given time, you can find more than two dozen flavors, ranging from decadent stracciatella to lighter but still original options such as Greek yogurt.
Best Desserts: Le Napoleon
These days, it's easy to find a bakery that specializes in the pastry trend of the week. Cupcakes? Yup. Macarons? You bet. But what about a place with an array of sweet delights ranging from hard-to-find European pastries to handmade chocolates. For that, you'll want Le Napoleon bakery in West Phoenix. It's there that Swiss-born pastry chef Gerald Cretton crafts delicate eclairs, picture-perfect fruit tarts, and light-as-air cream puffs on a day-to-day basis. The bakery doesn't offer much in the way of charm, but that's only because Cretton lets his food do the talking. When you visit, don't miss the bakery's namesake pastry, the Mille-feuille, or Napoleon. It features layers of fluffy pastry cream between two sheets of pastry dough. Cretton also bakes made-to-order cakes with a binder full of past creations to serve as inspiration.
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Best Mall Food: Julia Baker Confections
Malls are upping the ante on refreshments these days -- there's a Pita Jungle at Scottsdale Fashion Square, and some of the most authentic Mexican street snacks in town are at Arizona Mills. But our favorite mall food takes the cake -- or, rather, delivers it. And on fine china. Julia Baker made a name for herself with Sweet Julia on the Cooking Channel, so we stopped by to try a piece or two of her chocolate to discover a full-on sit-down cafe -- all chocolate-themed and including a lovely selection of wine! We rested our tired feet and fortified ourselves with chocolate lava cake paired with rich vanilla ice cream and wondered why no one thought to do this sooner.