tl;dr: skip the molten chocolate cakes and go for the grilled chocolate sandwich if you want a hefty dessert. For a light dessert, try any of the cookies or the chocolate almond rocher. The ultimate dessert experience would be alternating bites of the rocher and the grilled chocolate sandwich.
You would think that a restaurant’s namesake would be its best item, but at Hot Cakes, getting one of the molten chocolate cakes they are famous for is just about the only thing you can do wrong. That’s not to say they aren’t delicious. They are, for the most part, but after its inclusion on every single dessert menu from Chili’s to El Gaucho, it is unreasonably hard to impress me with a molten chocolate cake.
Much like fried chicken and cold sandwiches, the best version of a molten chocolate cake is very hard to distinguish from the worst version. There is not a lot you can do to make a molten chocolate cake impressive, though Hot Cakes does try. Their cakes are all served with housemade caramel sauce, which is good, but not good enough to save the cake from itself. Though the cakes are the reason the store was opened, they are not the reason to stop by. The reasons are everything else on the menu.
From a chocolate chip cookie with vanilla ice cream to a grilled chocolate sandwich, everything else at Hot Cakes is the best version of itself. The chocolate chip cookie is huge and warm, allowing for variety in texture from the crunchy edges to the chewy middle. The sprinkles of salt on top might feel like a stupid hipster addition, but I am a firm believer that salt on baked goods is a trend that should stick around. The salt is just plentiful enough to be interesting, but not distracting. The vanilla ice cream on top of the cookie does a great job melting into the chewy bits and creating a sort of raw cookie dough taste. It’s a shame that this item is the least interesting sounding thing on the menu, because it should get ordered way more often than I’m sure it does.
The grilled chocolate sandwich is a great example of what happens when quality ingredients are allowed to speak for themselves. Excellent dark chocolate is melted between grilled sourdough, making for bites that play with texture and flavor. The crunchy, sour bread brings out notes in the chocolate that wouldn’t be obvious in any other application. The sandwich is entirely too big and entirely too rich for one person to eat on their own, which is a great reason to bring a friend and share it. If you’re feeling brave and want to tackle it on your own, a side of vanilla ice cream would work well as a palate cleanser.
The rocher is easily the best value on the menu. At $3.50, you get what is essentially a giant meringue with chunks of dark chocolate and candied sliced almonds folded in. The rocher is so large that the outside is crispy and light, but the inside is fluffy, almost marshmallowy. A bite of the super rich, melty grilled chocolate sandwich followed by a bite of fluffy, crispy, light rocher would be the ultimate experience of every single way a dessert can be good.
The lesson to take away from Hot Cakes is that often, the most popular dish at a restaurant is not the best thing on offer. Exploring the menu at a popular place, trying to find the best deals and underdog favorites, is more fun and more rewarding than just blindly ordering what everyone else recommends. Not only do you get to outhipster a hipster joint, (I ordered the rocher before everyone else found out about it) but you also get to treat every restaurant visit like a mission to hunt down the delicious underdogs. Ordering something just because it sounds interesting or is insanely cheap is the best way to tour a menu, especially in a place like Hot Cakes where you know that the worst item on the menu is still dessert.