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Best dessert destinations in Tampa Bay

The Black Forest cake from the Harry Waugh Dessert Room.

JOHN PENDYGRAFT | Times

The Black Forest cake from the Harry Waugh Dessert Room.

Regimented rows are extruded onto a refrigerated conveyor belt. They glide down the long, cold line until a mantle of molten chocolate pours down, swathing each creamy center. Before being loaded manually into "packing off" boxes, a jiggling, mesh rack shakes off any excess chocolate. Not far away, a tumbler hums and rotates, coating plastic molds with a glossy layer of decadent chocolate. And there, in the middle of it all, hunch Lucy and Ethel stuffing their faces and pockets with chocolates as the conveyor belt spins blithely on.

Why does everybody remember this episode of I Love Lucy? It's because secretly we'd all like to trade places with Lucy, just for a minute, to be gloriously and hilariously inundated with delicious sweets.

Okay, maybe that's just our own personal fantasy. But most of us have a secret weakness for some kind of sinful sweet, and Tampa Bay is brimming over with possibilities these days. Here's where to go.

Harry Waugh Dessert Room: Many of the country's big cities are dotted with dessert-only restaurants. We don't have that yet, but none of them have the Harry Waugh Dessert Room at Bern's Steak House, either. Last year's dessert-menu overhaul rendered it more contemporary, and it still reigns supreme as the romantic date-night's ace in the hole. This beloved institution is all about chocolate, moist genoises, pouffy soufflés, intense chocolate sauces, delicate paper-thin cookies, chocolates with perfect gooey centers, mousses, buttercream frostings and decadence. And romance, big time. Harry Waugh Dessert Room, Bern's Steak House, 1208 S Howard Ave., Tampa. (813) 251-2421; bernssteakhouse.com.

Chez Bryce: Chef and mentor Michel Rostang said, "All my cooks should be able to make desserts." And it was so. Bryce Whittlesey, who spent two years with Rostang in Paris and then another several years elsewhere in France for good measure, knows his sweets. It shows gloriously at his cozy Davis Islands restaurant, Chez Bryce. Whittlesey is whipping up a classical vacherin (it's a meringue softened lusciously with juicy sweetened strawberries and chantilly cream), tarte Tatin (like a caramel-addled upside-down apple tart), a bittersweet chocolate tart and another of tangy lemon curd, or a sophisticated chocolate pot de creme (a not-too-sweet baked pudding with the texture of satin). These are archetypal French desserts, ones you get tested on in culinary school. Our guess is he got good grades. 238 E Davis Blvd., Tampa; (813) 258-8100; chezbryce.com.

Bo's: Fifty years into its tenure, Bo's still may be the drip-down-your-arm, eat-it-on-the-sidewalk soft-serve king. All of Tampa, when it gets its ice cream jones, can be found lining up in front of Bo's. The guys behind the counter aren't speedy, so you may find yourself striking up a conversation while enduring the dense fog of mosquitoes and no-see-'ems. There are diehard fans of the upside down banana split (served in three sizes, from doable to truly unsettling to think about)—sliced banana, ice cream, hot fudge, pineapple topping, whipped cream, nuts, cherries and so forth, all rammed deep in a Styrofoam cup. 7101 N Florida Ave, Tampa. (813) 234-3870.

Pane Rustica: Perhaps the biggest scene in Tampa is the lunchtime crowd at Pane Rustica, but they're open several nights a week for dinner, too. Regardless of the time of day, you are encouraged to go heavy on the cookies—the espresso cookies are especially notable, and they have dark, gingery molasses cookies to die for, along with jam-filled sugar cookies. Of course, if you stay strictly focused on cookies, then you'll miss the pumpkin bread in season, oh, and the crumb cake. But life is all about choices. 3225 S Macdill Ave., Tampa. (813) 902-8828.

Alessi Bakery: Since the early 1960s, Tampa's Italians and italophiles have known where to go. Alessi Bakery has that Old World charm that makes you feel like Nicola and Rosalia Alessi might pop out of the back room at any moment in a bustle and frock coat, respectively, wielding an Italian sponge cake soaked in rum syrup and layered with rum cream and cherries, or maybe a fancy marzipan-covered princess cake. But what really gets the imagination working is the cannoli, a simple tube of fried pastry into which a dense cream of sweetened ricotta, candied orange and bits of chocolate has been insinuated. Very few places make it easier to heed The Godfather's advice: "Leave the guns. Take the cannoli." 2909 West Cypress St., Tampa. (813) 871-2286.

Best dessert destinations in Tampa Bay 01/19/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 11, 2009 12:48pm]

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