Hot Cakes

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.

seasonal coconut pecan hot cake

seasonal coconut pecan hot 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.


for here or to go? – locations in ballard and capitol hill

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.

Borrachini’s Bakery

tl;dr: daaaaaaaaaaaamn their donuts are tight, and holy hell that glazed croissant. Beeline to the bakery section, pick whatever donut looks good, and also grab one of the glazed croissants.
Borracchini’s Bakery is so unpretentious, it’s listed as a convenience store on Yelp. That right there, well, that’s my kinda place. Though they put out what could be the most delicious cakes in the greater Seattle area, Borracchini’s gives no fucks whether or not you’re impressed with their decor. They’re here for the food, which suits me just fine.

Walking in, there are tables covered with different varieties of Italian cookies and crostini, and if you’re lucky, each table has a box open for sampling. You could use your entire appetite just perusing the samples. There are aisles and aisles of imported groceries and a solidly packed deli, but you’re here for the donuts.

Oh, you thought I was going to say cake? Well, yeah, you should definitely get a cake from here. We got a marble cake with custard filling and white Bavarian icing and everyone swooned over it. My sister even smushed a bit in my face, and it was actually a pleasant experience. That being said, man, we should have gotten donuts for our party.

The first donut I tried from Borracchini’s was a blueberry cake donut. I ate it while driving and shared it with two friends, which are two of the gravest mistakes I’ve ever made in my life. The donut was so distracting, it was probably as dangerous as texting while driving, and damnit, I should have eaten the whole thing myself. Or gotten two. Or gotten everyone their own donut because they’re sixty cents. Sixty cents for donut glory. The crumb of the cake was so unbelievably moist that the donut split in half when I tried to hand it to my friend. The crumb could barely hold on to itself, which made for a fantastic eating experience. The glaze was unobtrusive, adding just a slight crackle when you bit into the cake. The flavor? Fantastic, but really, it could have been any flavor with that kind of texture.
I went back (OBVIOUSLY), on a mission. My sister and I got two donuts each, a raspberry filled, a glazed cake donut, a custard filled ring, and a glazed motherfucking croissant. When my sister spotted the croissant, I couldn’t believe it. Here I am, in possibly the most unpretentious bakery in the country, and they have latched on to the Cronut(TM) trend. But since the Cronut(TM) is trademarked, Borracchini’s just looked at a croissant and went, eh, let’s just fry that sucker and call it good. Instead of trying to keep on trend and make a knockoff Dossant, they did the smart thing, took what was already available, fried it, and said fuck it, that’s tight. And dear goodness, they’re right.
This thing was dark brown, and covered in plain glaze. There were crunchy bites, crispy bites, pillowy bites, sugary bites, buttery bites, sometimes all five things in one bite. Though I’ve never tried a Cronut(TM), the pictures I’ve seen show a relatively homogenous texture on the outside, and the dough is fried to a regular golden brown. Now that I’ve had a glazed croissant from Borracchini’s, I feel as though I’d be disappointed by the Cronut(TM)’s lack of variety in texture and flavor. Making me feel like I’d be disappointed by a trademarked bakery product is a hell of an accomplishment.
The other three donuts were obviously very well-done, and none were ignored, but damn, that glazed croissant. It was simultaneously nothing and everything you’d expect from a 94 year old Italian bakery. When you’re 94 years into the business, you don’t have to follow trends anymore. You can rest on your laurels and just enjoy the business of selling damn good cake and imported groceries. Or, you could keep your eye on what’s new, figure out the easiest way to do it, and make everyone else look like they’re just trying too damn hard.

Ellenos Real Greek Yogurt

tl;dr: they only sell yogurt, so you really can’t go wrong. I highly recommend the lemon curd, muesli, or rhubarb. If you’re saving your yogurt for later, flavors that have crumble (lemon cheesecake, marionberry pie) get less texturally enticing overnight, but are still great.

Greek yogurt was a fad I never got excited about. Too thick, oddly grainy yogurt, simply eaten for the protein content? The full-fat versions were slightly better, but a 400 calorie snack ain’t doin’ me any favors. Actually, I never was a fan of yogurt in general. If I’m gonna eat a cup of sugar goo, it’s gonna be pudding or a milkshake, not some cornstarch/stabilizer dairy mess.

Then, Ellenos came along. Ellenos makes you realize that every single stupid cup, Tillamook, Yoplait, Greek Gods, Fage, they’re all doing it wrong. Calling Ellenos yogurt feels like a disservice because your only experiences with yogurt thus far have been sad diet food or boring breakfast. But it is not Ellenos fault that you’ve only eaten shit yogurt. It’s up to you to remedy your definition. It is up to you to experience actual, delicious yogurt.

When you step up to Ellenos, you might be overwhelmed. You might look at the case and think, damn, there is no way I’m going to choose a flavor without sampling every single one. You’re wrong. Choose any flavor. They’re all good. Even the natural unsweetened is fantastic if you’re into that whole sugar avoidance thing like me. The only recommendation I have is to eat any flavor with crumbles in it immediately. After a few hours, the crumble distracts from the texture of the yogurt, rather than complimenting it.

The yogurt is silky in a way that feels engineered. Like, a real food product probably shouldn’t be this creamy. A small spoonful coats your entire mouth in a way that is deeply satisfying. The flavors are intense swirls of rich color, and they all stand up to the yogurt’s richness without detracting from it. This yogurt stops you in your tracks and makes you wonder what the hell you were eating up until this point.

Does the word yogurt look weird to anyone else now?



Buca di Beppo

tl;dr: the only thing I’m writing about and advocating for is the cheesecake. Everything else is your average, run of the mill Italian. A notch above Olive Garden. But that cheesecake, man. Order it with raspberry sauce and hazelnuts on the side and add them later if you feel it’s necessary (you won’t).

Steven and I aren’t really fussy people when it comes to occasions. It’s my birthday? Have some friends over for dinner. His birthday? Pretty much the same. Presents? Not really our jam. But on our last anniversary, I wanted dessert. Specifically, I became obsessed with the idea of Buca di Beppo cheesecake. And there’s not much else I can do to explain to you how good this cheesecake is without just telling you the story.

All I wanted for our anniversary was to split a dessert with my dude. I didn’t really care what it was, but Steven wasn’t having the same obsessive thoughts about our sugar adventure, so I was on my own in deciding. We currently live in Mountlake Terrace, otherwise known as no-restaurant’s-land, but getting down to Seattle really didn’t jive with the comfy pants I was wearing. I was racking my brain, trying to figure out the best way to have the lazy anniversary we both wanted, but still chowing down on the best dessert possible.

Hot Cakes in Ballard (which deserves its own post, lemme tell you what) sounded fantastic, but was just a smiiiidge too much of a production. Ice cream at the grocery store was just a little too everyday normal. Pie isn’t really Steven’s thing, so A La Mode is out the window. And then, BING! Buca di Beppo cheesecake. I remembered from my childhood splitting a piece four ways with the rest of my family and going absolutely bonkers about it. We talked about that cheesecake for years. I remember it being impossibly creamy, simultaneously light and rich, and that it was paired with an intense, not-too-sweet raspberry sauce.

It was the perfect solution to our anniversary dessert hunt. Steven had never tried it (along with most people, I would assume), there’s a location in Lynnwood, and I remembered it to be some of the best cheesecake I’ve ever experienced. I called the restaurant to order a slice to go, only to hear, “Sorry, we’re actually out of cheesecake right now.” To which I exclaimed a little too heartily “NOOOOO REALLY?!” The host shared in my dismay, and I was heartbroken. I hung up and flopped over on the couch. Woe was me.

At this point, an anniversary with any other dessert seemed lacking. My sights were set, and there was no other way around it. Steven mentioned grocery store cheesecake in that way you do when you know your idea is going to be shot down. There was no other cheesecake for me at this point. There was only one way. We were going downtown.

To those who may not know me and my husband as well, the fact that I was willing to sacrifice an hour of laziness to track down this piece of cheesecake doesn’t seem all that impressive (well, except for the fact that I’m weird enough to drive downtown just for cheesecake). But to those who understand our shared love of couches and comfy pants, this is quite an honor. Steven and I don’t just set aside laziness for nothing. It took some cajoling on my part to actually convince Steven that this was worth doing. I was taking this man, that I apparently love, away from the one thing he wanted to do for cheesecake I remembered from ten years ago. This was a true test of my recommendation skills.

You obviously know the end to this story. The tl;dr and the fact that I’m posting about it ruin the ending, but obviously that slice confirmed my suspicions of cheesecake greatness. It was exactly how I remembered. A contradiction of adjectives, this cheesecake is an example of a dessert menu done well. According to the host at the downtown Seattle location, all of their desserts are exceptional. It’s really too bad that this is the only one I’ll ever be capable of ordering.

We live the PIE! LIFE! BAY-BEH!

tl;dr: I recommend two of the three pie places for different things.
A La Mode: big slices, interesting flavors, milk, comfy shirts
High 5 (CLOSED): crust, normal fillings, savory pies, pie shakes, cute shirts

In Seattle, we have the incredible fortune of living in a pie city. A city so stuffed to the brim with pie shops that making your own is deemed an unnecessary hassle.

One of my best friends lives in Arizona, which is decidedly not Seattle. This has always meant that when we get to spend time together, we pack years of friendship into a week. Because we are both fats through and through, this always means more food than either of us can handle. During one of our most recent visits, we decided that one day would be deemed Pie Day (in August, not March 14th), and we would only eat forms of pie during those 24 hours. Pie Day was a resounding success, complete with a theme song, comfy theme shirts (from A La Mode and High 5), and more pie than I ever thought I’d consume in a week, let alone a day. Some pies were transcendent, others disappointing, but all were enlightening.

A LA MODE PIES: Best straight-forward pie experience

Our first stop of the day was A La Mode Pies, which has a space that is exactly what you’d expect a Seattle pie shop to look like. Every last detail was carefully considered, but the feeling still makes you wish you’d end up there on a thunderstorm-y day, nursing a slice. Included in the details considered by A La Mode, they were the only pie shop we visited that offered milk on their menu. Milk is such a necessary menu item for any pie place that we didn’t even consider that it might not be available. It was surprising to find that the other two pie shops we visited did not offer milk, and were confused when we inquired about it.

The flavors at A La Mode were also the most interesting and well-executed that we encountered all day. Instead of just the normal apple and cherry (both of which they still have, and do very, very well), the flavors available at A La Mode display a clever curiosity about flavor combinations, which end up being some fantastic pieces of pie. The best flavor we sampled that day was the bourbon butterscotch, simply because of A La Mode’s ability to make butterscotch that doesn’t taste like straight sugar. The nuances in the butterscotch let you know that whoever is stirring it put some time and love into developing this recipe. The other flavors we were lucky enough to sample that day included Mexican chocolate mousse, which was crowned with whipped cream taller than the pie itself (the exact right amount, as far as I’m concerned), and Blue Hawaiian, a blueberry-coconut-pineapple flavor combination that tasted like it should have been discovered decades ago. All three were truly fantastic pieces of pie that I would definitely order again if they were available in the display case. If I had to choose a single type to recommend, I couldn’t. Your pie preferences should guide you when choosing a pie at A La Mode, because they’re all very obviously crafted with care. Also, it would also be silly to go without mentioning that of the three pie shops, A La Mode had the biggest slices for the money spent, which is something I appreciate no matter what kind of pie I’m digging into.

PIE: Best filling, worst crust

Our next stop was Pie in Fremont, which exists only to make key lime filling. The crust and other fillings at Pie were unremarkable, which is terribly disappointing because their key lime pie filling is likely the best you’ll find outside the Key West. If you’re willing to buy a pie to completely ignore the crust and simply scoop the filling out, their key lime is the benchmark by which all others should be judged. It is tart enough to make you pucker, with enough condensed milk and egg yolks to make you take another bite. It is a damn shame they don’t use the universally recognized standard graham cracker crust on their key lime, because it would absolutely be the best pie in Seattle.

HIGH 5 PIES (CLOSED): Best non-pie ingenuity, crust

The last stop on Pie Day was High 5 Pie on Capitol Hill which has the most impressive crust. Though their fillings are on the boring apple-cherry-mixed berry end of the spectrum, their all-butter crust is the kind you expect to come out of a grandmother’s kitchen. Buttery, flaky, light, not the least bit burnt on the edges. Truly a feat of butter and flour, it made me a little sad that I’ve always been bad at making pie crust. In addition to their crust, High 5 is also the king of “things that should exist everywhere”. Our lunch on Pie Day consisted of a mac and cheese pie and a housemade pizza hot pocket, both of which were greasy in the way that great junk food is. Satisfying, but not overwhelming. They both hit the spot and let us move on to another round of desserts. Neither of us knew how lucky we were that we were able to experience what came next, but those savory pies paved the road to the single best dessert experience of my life.

A pie shake from High 5 made with a slice of their apple pie is, no question, the best dessert I’ve ever experienced. We also got a pie shake made with the mixed berry pie, and it paled in comparison. Something about the heavy spicing of the apples makes the whole thing work in a way that is hard to explain with words instead of guttural sounds. The chunks of pie crust cut the sweetness of the vanilla ice cream, and the apples are tart enough to round the flavor of the shake out, all of parts working together to make each bite a little different than the last. If there is one thing I could recommend about Pie Day, it would be an apple pie shake. You’d think it’s just apple pie a la mode blended together, but the sum is just so much better than its parts.

The pie experiences around Seattle are plentiful, and we didn’t have the chance to even come close to trying them all, but with the three we tried, all of our pie needs were satiated. We went into Pie Day thinking there would be a clear winner, and instead we got a pie place for each of our different pie wants.

The Pine Box

tl;dr: I don’t know jack about beer, but this place has a lot of them. My favorite item on the menu is the pretzel bread pudding, but the soft pretzels themselves are pretty fantastic if you don’t want dessert with your beer.

So, this is going to be the first of many posts wherein I tell you to go somewhere based simply on one single item, which most of the time won’t even be their specialty. I love going to restaurants and finding hidden gems, starting off by ordering what they’re known for and moving on to what I like. This is the case of what happened at The Pine Box. The Pine Box is known for their beer, and rightfully so, they’re owned by the same people that own Brouwer’s in Fremont. Problem is, I’m not so much of a beer drinker. I stumbled upon this place after trying to find a sweet happy hour to hang out at before seeing a show at the Paramount. Our first visit of the evening was good enough to warrant a return after the show. And though the first visit was good, the second visit is what I want to tell you about. Because the second visit is where I encountered pretzel bread pudding.

Let me make it clear what’s happening here. This is bread pudding, which is already one of the best desserts on earth. Made out of soft pretzels, which are already one of the best items on the menu at The Pine Box. The bread pudding is made different each time, but when I ordered it, it was german chocolate.

German chocolate pretzel bread pudding.

The bread pudding itself was chocolate strewn throughout the pretzel pieces, and the whole thing was topped with this ridiculous coconut-caramel sauce that could very possibly be made of only two ingredients: dreams and wishes. There are things in life that you stumble upon and you never knew that you needed them. That is how I feel about this dessert. Of COURSE soft pretzels should be used in bread pudding. This type of genius is what gets me really stoked on a restaurant or bar, and this sort of thing is what makes me think that there’s another hidden gem on the menu.