With news programs still reporting about job shedding and high unemployment, many Americans are searching for ways to pinch pennies and trim their budgets. While some experts suggest eliminating restaurant meals altogether as a solution, we suggest an alternative plan. Enjoy your dinner at home, and then treat yourself to a decadent dessert at one of the area’s best eateries. Follow my lead and your sweet tooth won’t feel deprived for a moment.
When friends ask where to go for a special evening out, I don’t hesitate to recommend La Cuisine, but I must remember to remind them to save room for dessert.
Located downtown (don’t worry, there’s ample parking!), this classic French restaurant is owned and operated by Patrice Perron and Stéphane Gattacieca, who left France along with Chef Christophe Crouzet, and came to Ocala with their families specifically to open a traditional French establishment.
Impeccable service and an elegant atmosphere add to the experience, but the food—both at lunch and dinner—is what brings patrons back. Dessert here is the exclamation point to a memorable meal, but choosing a favorite is close to impossible.
“All our desserts are based on traditional country-style French recipes just like you would have at your grandmother’s house,” explains Marie Gattacieca.
While the crème brulee is a popular choice for many (and rightfully so), my personal favorite is the Pain Perdu. Based on an age-old recipe French women use to avoid wasting bread, the menu describes this dessert as “traditional French toast.” But don’t for a second think it’s anything like our traditional American breakfast version.
Imagine instead a tender slice of heaven flavored with just enough spice and Grand Marnier to make a perfect marriage with the accompanying vanilla ice cream and whipped cream. Slivers of orange zest and Grand Marnier sauce in an artistic pattern on the plate complete the presentation. Honestly, I could make an entire meal of this… breakfast or any time.
Also try: The Tarte Tatin, an upside-down apple tart served warm with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream. You’ll be blown away by the detail work and chocolate script that adorns the plate.
La Cuisine French Restaurant
48 SW 1st Avenue, Ocala
Watch the Food Network’s Cupcake Wars just once and you’ll realize how incredibly popular—and creative—these little desserts have become.
Luckily for us, Ocala has its own baking genius when it comes to cupcakes. Kandi Alder, resident chef at the Blakely House, a tantalizing boutique near downtown Ocala, once considered herself more cook than baker, but her cupcakes have permanently destroyed that myth.
“Cupcakes are the craze now,” says Kandi. “You have more freedom than with a cake, and I like the variety. I don’t use recipes. I have a really good basic white and I can do a lot with that.”
That’s surely the understatement of the year. What Kandi has done is create a literal cupcake-feeding frenzy, inventing amazing flavor variations that have earned a devoted fan base.
On a recent afternoon, a friend and I ventured to the Blakely House for lunch and dessert, with the emphasis on dessert. At the end of our indulgent sampling of all things cupcake, I was hard-pressed to pick a favorite. When you order a cupcake in-house, it’s presented on a tiny pedestal just like the divine little delicacy it is. And not only are the cupcakes incredibly tasty, but their whimsical names are unforgettable.
We loved “Pretty in Pink,” a dreamy strawberry cupcake made with fresh strawberry puree and crowned with piped-on rosettes of the palest pink butter cream icing. Surely, this would be every little princess’ ideal birthday delight.
“Key to Happiness” is a huge seller and understandably so. Kandi scores big with this one, mimicking the flavors of a key lime pie right down to the graham cracker layer beneath the cake and the tangy flavor achieved from freshly squeezed key limes and grated zest.
Chocolate lovers will appreciate the “Naughty Shirley Temple,” featuring a rich chocolate cake bursting with cherry butter cream in the center, topped with chocolate ganache and a maraschino cherry. Another great option is “Choosy Moms Choose Me,” the aptly named chocolate cupcake topped with a very peanut butter-y icing in a playful, perky swirl.
If you just can’t decide which to try, visit the Blakely House on Wednesdays when the cupcakes are buy one, get one free!
Also try: The Creamsicle. This sweet treat tastes exactly like the frozen dessert for which it’s named.
103 SE Tuscawilla Avenue, Ocala
I’d already heard the buzz around town that Cuvée Wine & Bistro is a great location for dinner. When I discovered they prepare Bananas Foster for dessert—tableside, no less—I couldn’t get there fast enough!
There’s something magical about a dessert that requires fire and alcohol to achieve perfection. My taste buds were kicking into gear as our server, Dana, expertly whisked together equal parts of butter, brown sugar and heavy cream, chatting amiably as he prepared the fragrant dish on a cooking cart right next to our table.
“The good news is this is the first time I’ve been allowed to make Bananas Foster since ‘the incident.’ The fire marshal just cleared me,” jokes Dana, sprinkling in a bit of cinnamon, which produces a gentle shower of sparks. He adds sliced bananas, a dash of banana liquor and a splash of Bacardi 151, which causes the pan to erupt spectacularly into flames.
When he places the dish on the table—a generous mound of vanilla ice cream enveloped in tender banana slices and drenched in rich, caramel-flavored sauce—my date and I can’t get our spoons in fast enough.
We had yet to finish this extravagant treat when Dana appeared with the Chocolate Soufflé, a glorious creation accompanied by thinly sliced strawberries and miniature demitasse cups cradling vanilla cream and chocolate sauces. A delicate dusting of confectioner’s sugar completed the stunning presentation.
Dana slipped a knife into the top of the soufflé and encouraged us to spoon a bit of the sauces inside before we started eating. One bite and I understood why this particular dessert ranks right up there with Bananas Foster as Cuvée’s best sellers.
Also try: The Cherries Jubilee (prepared tableside), cake by the slice or the creamy cheesecake.
Cuvée Wine & Bistro
2237 SW 19th Avenue Road, Ocala
Sometimes the best things come in small packages. On a recent drive down to Belleview, I discovered 110th Street Grille, a friendly little spot with delectable entrees, highly rated burgers and desserts with a twist.
You’ll feel right at home in the comfortable setting that feels like a tucked-away cafe in the Florida Keys or some tiny fishing village. A mural of a Florida river scene painted along one wall adds to the atmosphere as does the upside-down canoe hanging from the ceiling above the bar.
After delicious shrimp dinners, my dinner companion A.J. and I had just enough room for dessert, so on the recommendation of our server, Dondi, we tried the Fried Double-Stuffed Oreos. Coated in the lightest of batters and “fried until gooey,” this sweet finale was the biggest surprise of the evening.
Who’d have ever thought the humble Oreo could taste so sophisticated? A drizzle of dark and white chocolate sauces and whipped cream add to the presentation. The slight crunch on the outside and a warm, melted chocolate center made this choice a tasty finale to a satisfying meal. For those who aren’t big Oreo fans, 110th Street also offers fried Twinkies.
Owner Randy Perkins, who also owns Mallory Hill Country Club and Glenview Country Club in The Villages, gets credit for adding the fried Oreos and Twinkies to the menu.
“Given that we’re in the South, that type of food fits our demographic pretty well, not to mention it’s fun,” says Randy. “We’re trying to create a laid-back, relaxed atmosphere and I thought these desserts fit in well.”
I know I’ll never look at an Oreo the same way again!
Also try: The Chocolate Lava Cake. It’s a chocolate-lover’s fantasy all the way around.
110th Street Grille
10901 U.S. Highway 441, Belleview
Stella’s Modern Pantry owners Stacey Atsides and Albert Barrett, along with manager Thomas Pestow, have done an excellent job of stocking their shelves with unusual and irresistible items. On any given day, their display cases near the register, complete with rows and rows of sweet treats, are pretty irresistible, too.
While Stella’s serves lunch daily, you can drop by for coffee and dessert any time the doors are open or pick out a few sweet selections to take home. All of Stella’s desserts are made by resident pastry chef Albert Barrett. Originally from Jamaica, Albert relishes the opportunities his career affords.
“I like creating and designing things,” he says. “In the world of pastry, you take ideas from everywhere. It’s kind of like art in that it’s an ongoing experiment. That’s the beautiful thing about dessert—you can be as creative as you like.”
That creativity is readily apparent in the bakery case at Stella’s. On any given day, you’ll find a wide variety of pastries, desserts, cookies and muffins, but my favorites are the Chocolate Decadence and the Lemon Bars.
I make a wicked lemon bar myself, so I recognize a good one. Albert makes his with freshly squeezed lemon juice and adds the zest, too. That explains the marvelously tart and sunshine-y taste of the thick lemon layer nestled on a buttery crust that almost tastes like a sugar cookie. With all that delicious lemon flavor, I wonder, can I justify this as a serving of fruit? (Probably not, but it’s a thought!)
I love chocolate, but my friend, Gwen, who accompanied me on this outing, is even more of a chocolate fanatic than I. We both agree the Chocolate Decadence, another Stella’s best seller, packs a serious chocolate wallop.
This thin, flourless chocolate cake is stunning in its simplicity, but powerful in taste. Intensely chocolate, it’s covered with a silky layer of dark chocolate ganache. Garnishes vary depending on Albert’s whims, but on the day we visited, the Chocolate Decadence was topped with tiny pastel candy flowers and a light scattering of crystallized rock sugar.
“As rich as it looks, it’s not overly sweet,” says Gwen. “You can get your chocolate fix in just a few bites.”
Go ahead and enjoy yourself. Who says you can’t have dessert for lunch once in a while?
Also try: Stella’s Cheesecake. The faint citrus flavor enhances this familiar dessert that comes topped with whipped cream and fresh fruit.
Stella’s Modern Pantry
20 SW Broadway Street, Ocala
No time for a sit-down finale to your meal? Swing by one of these drive-through dessert spots for a shake, scoop or slice to go.
Hungry Bear—At least once, every local should visit this downtown staple. We recommend the incredible peanut butter shake. Decadent? Sure. Worth it? Every gulp. (352) 732-3003.
Sonic—Who needs a spoon when a straw will do? The Sonic Blast at “America’s Drive-In” blends vanilla ice cream and Oreos, M&Ms, Reese’s Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups, Butterfinger or Snickers (your choice) all in one cup. Visit sonicdrivein.com for locations.
Steak ‘n Shake—OK, so you’ll need a spoon for this one, but at least it’s provided. The delicious Turtle Sundae at Steak ‘n Shake, smothered in hot caramel, hot fudge and pecans, can’t be beat. Psst, Happy Hour here is a super deal with half-priced shakes and drinks weekdays, from 2-4pm and 2-4am. Visit steaknshake.com for locations.
Bruster’s Real Ice Cream—A blast, a split, a shake, a cone, whichever way you prefer your ice cream, Bruster’s on Silver Springs Boulevard has you covered. We like to keep it classic with the Banana Split, complete with the signature pretzel rod. Tip: On Thursdays, bring your own banana and this treat is half-priced. (352) 622-2110.