Florida Life - Dining
How sweet it is: Savory treats at Florida restaurants
Breads, desserts and all the pizza dough, exotic ice cream and chocolate truffles in between are playing bigger roles today in top Florida restaurants. These days, pastry chefs share menu credit with their savory partners and, in fact, contribute key breadstuffs to appetizers, gourmet breadbaskets and sandwiches as well as dessert.
Some baked goods are so popular that restaurants and bakeries can survive with only one specialty. Le Macaron, started by a French couple in Sarasota, now has a dozen shops across Florida selling only macarons, made of delicate meringue filled with ganache, arrayed in a colorful spectrum of flavors from black currant to Sicilian pistachio.
At the California Grill, chef Brian Piasecki wanted the new desserts to be “more playful,” according to pastry chef Jeff Barnes, who complied happily with banana-stuffed fritters and toasted marshmallows, a lemon mascarpone cheesecake with charred meringue clouds. The most clever may be a triple- play sundae sampler in canning jars, and soda fountain dishes of sundaes in three flavors — caramel corn, strawberry basil and Coke float.
In Jacksonville, the South’s beloved biscuit stars at the sleek Maple Street Biscuit Co. Some feature cinnamon and pecans, others are old-fashioned flaky-styled breads packed with fried chicken, country ham, sausage gravy and goat cheese and fried egg — with collards, black-eyed peas, mac and cheese on the side. There’s now a second location at Jacksonville Beach.
In Tampa, Datz gastro-deli has opened an all-day bakery cafe called Dough, where French tradition meets Datz’s own unexpected comfort food fusions like bacon chocolate cheesecakes, red velvet lattes and gelato paninis. That’s just three blocks from the area’s pioneer artisan bakery, Pane Rustica, that expanded from great breads to first-class dining.
The hunger for chocolate knows no limits. Norman Love, the Fort Myers chocolatier, has added a “Chocolate Salon” in Naples, serving his own line of gelato as well as coffee, smoothies, truffles and pastries. Another world-class chocolatier from Florida, Bill Brown of William Dean Chocolates in Bellair Bluffs, will open a shop next to Tiffany’s in Tampa’s International Plaza.
At wood-fired Taverna in Jacksonville, owners Sam and Kiley Efron were determined to have Old World breads they found in Europe and American big cities. “Our whole theme is that our food is hand-made,” Sam Efron says. Taverna has two full-time pastry chefs. Besides hearty prosciutto scones, they fashion a global array of desserts like peach empanadas and what Efron calls “the best macarons I’ve ever tasted.”
When the Epicurean boutique hotel planned by Bern’s Steak House opens this winter, it will have Chocolate Pi, a pastry shop selling the confections of Bern’s pastry chef Kim Yelvington starring on the first floor.
Michael Schwartz’s name is foremost at the Michael’s Genuine in Miami, yet he and his diners give special credit to Hedy Goldsmith. She’s behind sourdough crostini at Michael’s, hazelnut parfait at the Cypress Room and chocolate chunk cookies at Harry’s Pizzeria.
At Daniel Boulud’s properties, desserts are “often what they remember most,” says Eric Snow, who succeeded Arnaud Chavigny at Café Boulud in Palm Beach. At db Bistro in Miami, the house bakes Parmesan buns for burgers and pumpernickel bread for salmon.
At the Fontainebleau, Solo is revered for its jewel-box chocolates and exquisite cakes from the kitchens of pastry chef Jordi Panisello.