Best Pastries 2020 | JL Patisserie and JL Patisserie Café | Food & Drink | Phoenix
Bahar Anooshahr

As of press time, Americans still aren't allowed to travel to France (thanks, coronavirus). But you can get a little taste of the country when you visit either of Chef Jenna Leurquin's shops. Depending on the season, you might find eclairs; colorful tartlets; a rainbow of macarons; or her famous gluten-free square carrot cake, topped with vanilla cream cheese frosting. Leurquin uses seasonal and local ingredients when possible, and butter imported from France for its higher fat content. We fantasize often about her chocolate pistachio cake, a glorious, round creation with a shiny chocolate mirror glaze and a crumbled pistachio skirt. There are simpler treats as well: cookies, croissants, quiche, and bread. We recommend almost all of it. We may not always have Paris, but at least we've got JL Patisserie.

Is there a food more sleep-inducing than the 20th-century dinner roll, wan and milquetoast, sent out in a basket on a clothed restaurant table? Forget that crusty fossil. Chris Lenza, executive chef at Café Allegro at the world-class Musical Instrument Museum, has souped up the dinner roll with three local flours — white Sonora wheat and red fife from Hayden Flour Mills, both freshly ground, and then the kicker: mesquite flour. There is shatter to the outer shell, and softness, intrigue, and dusky caramel notes within. This hot-and-chewy roll is the stodgy old staple dragged through the thunderbolts, deluge, and aromas of a Sonoran monsoon. There's a reason the recipe took Lenza 10 years to perfect.

As Arizona's first dedicated and certified gluten-free bakery, Gluten-Free Creations has a reputation to live up to. The two locations in Phoenix and Scottsdale certainly rise (heh) to the challenge. We dream about these delectable, all-homemade, and freshly baked goodies — the cinnamon rolls and everything bagels in particular. As an added bonus, many of the options, like the marshmallow treats and the berry Champagne cupcakes, are vegan. There's also a selection of sugar-free items, like coconut bread and vegan super seed bread. We recommend it all.

A croissant from the hands and oven of Nathas Kraus isn't a pastry. It's toasty wheat and rich butter expressed in one of their highest forms — not a mere breakfast, but a portal to grain fields, dairies, and the land. This is his artistry: Targeting French baked goods, especially viennoiseries, and making them so good that they seem to transcend what they are. That croissant? It has such an intricate, calculated shatter. You can feel the care he puts into the shape, into the laminations. This is just one of Kraus' baked goods, and one of his most basic. Everything from his chestnut-hued caneles to cream-stuffed "rhino" croissants to his simple French loaf is mesmerizing.

Dillon Rosenblatt

Who do you want making your bagels? At 3-year-old Bongiorno, you get a Culinary Institute of America grad and a former FDNY lieutenant and firehouse chef, both New York natives adhering to New York style. It's as good a bagel pedigree as you'll find in Arizona. Using a system that emulates the enigmatic H20 of the Big Apple, John Bongiorno and Ed Cancro kettle-boil bagels and then finish them in an old-school deck oven. All the right touches are there: chew, a whisper of fluff, seeds not only on the tops of sesame and everything, but on their undersides. As in New York, these bagels, when freshly made, are good enough that they should never see the inside of a toaster.

We're proud to say we make pretty decent cookies. So if we're abandoning our oven to go buy cookies somewhere, they must be incredible. The offerings at Urban Cookies meet this standard. They're big. They manage to be soft all over without being underdone in the middle. These are cookies that will have you closing your eyes and saying "mmm" like you're in a cookie commercial. Our favorites are the snickerdoodle and the dark chocolate with sea salt, but there's only good stuff here, like the oatmeal raisin, peanut butter, and pineapple coconut. We can also say from experience that the other baked goods at Urban Cookies are just as crave-worthy, from the cupcakes to the doughnuts. The shop has a coffee and tea menu too; if you haven't had enough sweetness yet, the birthday cake latte is quite tasty. As of press time, Urban Cookies is doing curbside pickup only, so you can get your sugar rush that much faster.

There's a special part of Old Town Scottsdale where a gourmet doughnut shop has more or less invaded. Alien Donuts, a.k.a. the Mothership, landed on Fifth Avenue in 2018 and keeps its display case loaded with delicious space-themed treats. Divided into specialty and classic doughnuts, the menu lists fun orders like the Chocolate Spacecake, Red Planet, Cinnamon Vortex, and Alien Ice. Some treats get extra cheeky, like the Moon Rocks doughnut holes, the Alien Probe bar-shaped doughnut, and the Space Jam doughnut — which is just a traditional jelly doughnut with chocolate and sprinkles and has nothing to do with Michael Jordan or Bugs Bunny. The alien chefs here get crazy with Savory Sundays, topping their doughnuts with sausage and gravy, chicken and waffles, and pulled pork and spicy barbecue. Alien Donuts also offers coffee, ice cream, something called a Rocket Shake, and vegan options. They deliver, too.

Evie Carpenter

In this sweltering desert, it's always a good time for ice cream, and Sweet Republic is a constant, tempting, reminder of that fact. Don't let the unexpected flavors here intimidate you. Dive into cold delights like the kulfi, a traditional Indian ice cream that Sweet Republic blends with hints of saffron, pistachio, and cream. Or stick with the Belgian chocolate, a straightforward crowd favorite that comes with no preservatives, artificial sweeteners, or additives. Owners Jan Wichayanuparp and Helen Yung make everything in-house, including the marshmallows, waffle cones, and other toppings; it's one of the reasons why Sweet Republic keeps appearing on national and local lists as one of the best ice cream parlors in the state. This ice cream is the opposite of manufactured. It's the real deal. (Note: A third location of Sweet Republic, located at 410 North Scottsdale Road in Tempe, was not open at press time but is scheduled to open in late September.)

You needn't cross the pond to indulge in a bit of Italian splendor. There's a lovely, wildly talented couple from Italy who make gelato for their cozy shop near Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, and spend their days welcoming people who make time to enjoy it. Alberto Della Casa and Letizia de Lucia arrived in Arizona eager to share their passion for artisanal gelato after two decades at food-related desk jobs in Italy. Trained by a gelato master in Chieti, they've finessed the fine art of gelato, creating rich varieties with primarily organic and locally sourced ingredients. The selection changes from day to day, so you'll find a fresh flavor to explore each time you visit. The pistachio is a revelation: Cool Gelato Italiano is one of the few places in town that makes it with real Sicilian nuts. We suggest you return often to try the rich Italian custard, the sweet stracciatella, or one of the shop's vegan flavors like guava or pomegranate.

Lauren Cusimano

You've heard of burnt ends in the world of barbecue. But what if you took that same approach and applied it to dessert? You'd get something like the burnt cheesecake at St. Amand Kitchen & Cocktails, which opened last spring in Chandler's Ocotillo neighborhood. It's the type of dish that would have all four Golden Girls gabbing till sunrise. This is a thick and heavy, crustless cheesecake — each bite is all cake. Its shiny black surface is topped with mandarins, a sweet goo for extra moisture, and a mint garnish. It also comes with a fun story: Its creator misread a recipe, creating a seemingly seared cheesecake sans the usual grainy (though usually delicious) crust, resulting in what turned out to be a literally perfect dessert. Pair it with the house-selected sherry and you'll have trouble deciding when to — or if you even should — leave. One catch: It's not on the permanent menu at St. Amand. It's on the list of specials, so if you spot it, be sure to flag down one of the extremely friendly servers and get that order in.

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