What could possibly be more subjective than a list of best desserts? After all, one man’s indulgence is another woman’s gilded lily, and sweet tooths are like fingerprints in that no two peoples’ are alike (you can ask a doctor—this is an anatomical fact). Well, I’m ranking them anyway, because that’s the kind of raffish, devil-may-care guy I am. The kind of guy who ordered a vanilla bean milkshake from Duckfat at 3 o’clock in the afternoon last week because he hadn’t had any lunch yet. The kind of guy who asks to sample at least four flavors when he goes to Gelato Fiasco, even though everybody knows it starts to look kind of tacky and hoggish after three. Yeah, I’m just that bold when it comes to dessert, that brash. And the pastry chefs and bakers and dairy churners of the Portland dining scene? They’re bold too, which is why the city has so many awesome treats to choose from. Here’s where to find the best.
For starters, they’ll combine one of their cane-sugar craft sodas (I like the cherry bark phosphate) with some vanilla gelato. If that doesn’t appeal, the slightly citrus-y donut holes fried in (you guessed it) duck fat are shamefully good. But the pieces de resistance are the milkshakes, crazy thick and generously apportioned in the classic stainless cup. The house specialty uses Tahitian vanilla bean & crème anglaise.
After your meal at this buzzy Old Port trattoria, stick around for the nightly dessert. Pastry chef and co-owner Ilma Lopez is a veteran of a handful of Michelin-starred restaurants and makes clever, artfully assembled Italian treats like a light crostata filled with budino custard, tiramisu with cherry syrup and cardamom, or airy Italian donut holes called zeppole. That last one’s already a Portland brunch classic.
Sweets are no afterthought at this hip, easygoing bar and small-plates emporium. As with the rest of the menu, the dessert emphasis is on simplicity, local ingredients, and fun. The decadent peanut butter cream puffs come dribbled in chocolate, with powdered sugar thrown on like confetti, while the brioche cinnamon roll and fluffy biscuits with whipped cream and local strawberries appeal to your inner ten-year-old.
Maine’s original gelato shop opened in 2007, and the Old Port location (the flagship’s in Brunswick) still has lines out the door every (non-winter) weekend night. The Fiasco brags of having made more than 1,500 varieties—including coffee brandy, “maple sap tap,” and other flavors of Maine—and the glistening display counter inside seems like it’s holding half of them.
Maine Pie Line
Handmade pies—cream, fruit, and even savory—made from predominantly local ingredients and sold in the store or delivered to you in Portland. Owner and pie genius Briana Warner offers a rotating four pies a week, including some classics, yeah, but also green tea with chocolate crust and sesame seeds, anise-soaked cherries in a crumb crust, malted chocolate banana, and more.