RESISTANCE IS FUTILE: SWEET RELIEF
Already have resolution fatigue only three weeks into January? Think about this: Regimented rows on a refrigerated conveyor belt, gliding down the long, cold line until a mantle of molten chocolate pours down, swathing each creamy center. 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. Well, okay, maybe that's just my 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.
The playing field has gotten crowded, but Bill Brown is still top dog. His William Dean Chocolates, founded in 2007, had a starring role in a couple of Hunger Games movies. He's got a huge operation and occasionally allows the public to come in and play Willy Wonka for truffle classes and such. Each truffle is made by hand and hand-painted, with fruit jellies (pate de fruit, if you want to get fancy), ridiculously delicious popcorn, bar chocolate and other goodies rounding out the glass case. 2790 West Bay Drive, Belleair Bluffs; (727) 593-0656.
Sixty-two years into its tenure, Bo's is still 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. Some folks are dressed to the nines at the end of a big date, others sidle over in their bedroom skuffs. 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. The purists sniff, insisting that a single dip of swirled vanilla and chocolate soft serve on a wafer cone is heaven. 7101 N Florida Ave., Tampa; (813) 234-3870.
With less air introduced during the manufacturing, gelato is denser, softer, creamier than American ice cream. It often incorporates purees of fruits or nuts, and is kept at a warmer temperature, making it more amenable to cups than cones. It's made with milk, not cream, so it has about 70 percent less fat than many ice creams. I like a whole bunch of flavors at Paciugo (pa-CHU-go), but the ultimate Italian experience is a scoop of triple vanilla gelato melting gently in a cup of intense espresso. 300 Beach Drive NE, Suite 120, St. Petersburg; (727) 209-0298.
These days the Harry Waugh Dessert Room at Bern's Steak House features a dessert that is a trio of liquid-centered cakes. There's a mini dark chocolate cake with a dulce de leche center and banana caramel ice cream, a mini chocolate cake with praline hazelnut center with Caramélia crunch ice cream, and a mini chocolate cake with a white chocolate center and vanilla bean ice cream. Then there are the individual wall-mounted radio thingies to connect you to the pianist downstairs. Also, there is flambeing. And if all this romance leaves you cold, the sheer quantity of sugar, high-octane coffee and gorgeous after-dinner drinks are bound to give you a little thrill. 1208 S Howard Ave., Tampa; (813) 251-2421.
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 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 W Cypress St., Tampa; (813) 879-4544.