Welcome to the Eater Atlanta food crawl, a series in which Eater’s editor and contributors take readers on a tour of various restaurants and food around metro Atlanta. When Eater dines out, it’s often done as a team with a specific dish, drink, style of cuisine, or neighborhood in mind with multiple stops. These crawls are meant to be relatively walkable or easily driven, and the amount of food manageable enough for the average appetite of roughly two people. In other words, bring friends.
For this food crawl, Atlanta food writer and self-proclaimed sweets enthusiast Lia Picard indulged in a few of the city’s best desserts.
Dessert is an essential part of the dining experience. As Jen Yee, executive pastry chef at Holeman & Finch Public House in Buckhead, sees it, “A meal is not complete without something sweet at the end, and I think you’re doing a disservice to yourself and your own experience if you’re not at least sharing a dessert.”
A skilled pastry chef does more than just bake a pretty cake for a restaurant. The pastry chef takes into account the courses which came before it, the overall setting in the restaurant, and the available seasonal ingredients. Sometimes desserts serve as forms of self expression. At Umi in Buckhead, pastry chef Lisa Ito centers her program around shareable desserts that fuse Japanese flavors with French techniques. “I always want to offer, but keep in my mind, a dessert that is not overly sweet or overwhelming, and something light that you can still enjoy. When you realize that, you can just wipe up the plate,” she says.
So, spend an evening or two indulging in these carefully crafted sweet treats on a six-stop dessert crawl from Buckhead to Candler Park.
The first stop on this crawl is Umi in Buckhead. Sushi lovers — celebrities included — flock to Umi for sophisticated Japanese dishes in an equally sophisticated setting. Pastry chef Lisa Ito’s dessert program follows suit. Her best seller is the green tea soufflé with a matcha crème anglaise, but the showstopper is the chocolate kyu.
A chocolate sphere encases a Japanese whiskey-infused sponge cake, chocolate, mascarpone cream, and rotating seasonal fruit. “You break it with a mallet, and people just love that because I think it’s an interactive dessert, like a kid’s toy...people just enjoy doing that,” Ito explains. Enjoy it with a cup of Umi’s Japanese brewed coffee. Try Ito’s desserts, like a crepe cake, at Umi’s reservation-only cocktail lounge Himitsu next door.
Atlas, located on the mezzanine level inside the St. Regis Atlanta hotel, is just a few steps from Umi and where Christian Castillo helms the pastry program at this elegant restaurant. Castillo describes his desserts as an “experience” — that’s especially true of his Mexican cacao pod dessert.
He forms Mexican dark chocolate mousse into the shape of a cacao pod (ridges and all) and fills it with a sweet, spicy, tangy chamoy (Mexican preserves made with dried and pickled fruits and chiles,) and mango. It’s served on a smoky cacao crumble, which adds a nice crunch.
From Atlas, head south down Peachtree Street to Holeman & Finch, located in the Buckhead neighborhood of Peachtree Hills. Here, pastry chef Jen Yee focuses on using seasonal ingredients and not overcomplicating her desserts in order to allow those ingredients to naturally shine. “I love nothing better than eating a peach over a garbage can, like how a lot of people do,” she says. “But as a plated dessert, I love just a very quick, flash roasted peach.”
She flash roasts the peach in a very hot oven with a little bit of butter which browns, resulting in a nutty flavor. The peach is then served with blueberry ice cream (made with blueberries from Row by Row farm that were preserved earlier in the summer) and a streusel. “It’s almost like a very deconstructed cobbler, but with super pure flavors.”
The next stop is Lazy Betty in Candler Park. A lot of the attention has (rightfully) been on the culinary creations of chefs Ron Hsu and Aaron Phillips, but pastry chef Lindsey Davis’s desserts are swoon-worthy, too. Among Davis’s seasonal creations is her take on an orange creamsicle.
She encases a semifreddo (semi-frozen) of crème anglaise, mascarpone, and whipped cream in a white chocolate shell and then freezes it. The dessert is served atop a graham cracker biscuit with a quenelle of blood orange sorbet, white chocolate snow, and candied kumquats on the side. Eat the sorbet and frozen semifreddo in one bite for a sunburst of flavor.
Head west from Lazy Betty to Estrella, the Yucatan-inspired rooftop bar atop Bazati on the Eastside BeltLine. Pastry chef Trish Paggabao discovered she had a knack for pastries while working as a bartender. She once made a dessert for a family member. When he didn’t come to pick it up, Paggabao’s coworkers ate it, and a pastry chef was born. She trained at Le Cordon Bleu in Atlanta and now divides her time between bartender and pastry chef at Estrella. Try Paggabao’s tres leches Twinkie filled with sour cream served with a cereal milk crémeux and cereal crumble.
End the night with dessert at Tiny Lou’s at the Hotel Clermont on Ponce. Pastry chef Claudia Martinez, a 2019 Eater Young Gun, doesn’t have a strict background in French pastry. However, Martinez imbues her desserts with notes of her Venezuelan heritage. The Ode to Blondie (a blondie with curried banana flambé) is her claim to fame at Tiny Lou’s, but Martinez’s personal favorite is the Amour y Passion. Mousse, made with buttery Valrhona Dulcey chocolate, is filled with passion fruit, topped with pistachio dacquoise and served on a prickly pear granita.
“This is definitely one of the weirder ones [desserts] I’ve made, but passion fruit and caramel are my favorite go-to flavor combinations,” Martinez says. “I guess it hits home a little bit more with the tropical flavors. The Dulcey chocolate just tastes like eating out of a condensed milk can that you’ve cooked, which I used to snack on when I was little...I just like that flavor.”