1. Best Restaurants

Best desserts in Tampa Bay

From chocolates to boozy ice cream, this is where to get your fill.

Harry Waugh Dessert Room

Strawberry Gert cheesecake photographed at the Harry Waugh Desert Room inside of Bern's Steakhouse in Tampa. [LUIS SANTANA | Times]

Bern’s Steak House won the James Beard award in 2016 for the nation’s most outstanding wine list and is a longtime recipient of Wine Spectator’s grand award. Why is this relevant? At the dessert room upstairs from the fabled Tampa steakhouse, diners can avail themselves of more than 1,000 after-dinner drinks, dessert wines, cordials and scotches as part of their sweet excess. There are 48 private booths encircled by repurposed old redwood wine casks, each booth with a six-channel stereo system from which you can put in a request with the live piano player down below (said piano player’s repertoire is laudably catholic).

Waitress Brianna Barbino sprinkles cinnamon onto Bananas Foster for the Driscoll family at the Harry Waugh Desert Room inside of Bern's Steakhouse in Tampa [LUIS SANTANA | Times]

My mother, daughter, niece and I crowded in, dolled up and reading selections from the 50-item dessert menu, giddy with the sheer number of chocolate options (“chocolate peanut butter truffle!” one yelled, “framboise macadamia decadence,” I rebutted). You’re going to pay a little bit (many desserts hover around $13), but there are very few places like it. It’s nostalgic and a little weird, intimate and grand at the same time. No reservations, but if you’ve dined at Bern’s below you get dibs on dessert room spots.

Address: 1208 S Howard Ave., Tampa

Phone: (813) 251-2421

Price: $$


An assortment of hook-ups, which are combinations of a cupcake and drink in a shot glass at (swah-rey). [EVE EDELHEIT | Times]

Gregg and Leslie-Ann Ciccone opened their first location in St. Petersburg’s Grand Central District in 2015, and then a second more grab-and-go location farther east on Central Avenue in 2017. You go here for mini cupcakes and other desserts paired with wine, beer, Kahwa coffee and such; your dog goes here because he’s your captive on a leash, and also because they serve pupcakes. The coin of the realm is a “hook up,” a mini iced cake perched on top of a shot glass of something (espresso, prosecco, etc.), just a couple bites and a down-the-hatch. I’ve worked my way through the cakes and am a big fan of the chocolate salted caramel, the zesty lemon and the strawberry lemonade, baked daily. Thing is, you can start with a mini and once you’ve found your bliss trade up to the full size. Call it market research. The original location is more convivial for hanging out, with free Wi-Fi and USB ports and plugs.

Original location: 2105 Central Ave., St. Petersburg; (727) 767-0523

Second location: 625 Central Ave., St. Petersburg; (727) 767-0527

Price: $

Beans & Barlour

A root beer float made with St Pete Brewing's Imperial Stout. [Photos courtesy of Angelina Bruno and Story Stuart]

My theory is this trend is Instagram-driven. Dessert-only or dessert-forward concepts have been one of the nation’s hot growth areas the past couple of years. Desserts are just so photogenic. Get a lot of them strutting their stuff in one place and it’s like the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show with more buttercream. On the other hand, the trend could be fueled by the popularity and growth of places like Christina Tosi’s Milk Bar. (It snagged an eight-figure investment round in 2017.) Beans & Barlour opened in summer 2018, the brainchild of Story Stuart, who previously had Story Brooke Craft Coffee Bar. Right next to St. Pete Brewing Co., one of the big draws here is booze-infused ice cream (whiskey cheesecake, chocolate-chocolate liqueur, etc., offered as scoops, shakes or floats), supported by a menu of cocktails, wines and thoughtful coffee and tea drinks. With great wallpaper and one of those gleaming espresso makers that looks like a steampunk spaceship, the little cafe also traffics in flatbreads, salads, cheese plates and panini for when your sweet tooth has been sated.

Address: 538 First Ave. N, St. Petersburg

Phone: (727) 440-4540

Price: $

William Dean Chocolates

William Dean truffles. [JAMES BORCHUCK | Times]

These chocolates have had a cameo on The Tonight Show and The View. Whoopi Goldberg is a big fan. They’ve been featured in the Hunger Games movies. Perhaps we don’t think it odd that we have one of the nation’s most celebrated chocolatiers in our midst, but Bill Brown is just that. Pause for a second. Great chocolate is from Switzerland, from Paris and Brussels, or even from Oaxaca, Mexico. Tampa Bay seems too hot and humid, maybe not fancy enough. Brown founded his shop in 2007 and has won numerous national awards for his truffles, each one made by hand and hand-painted or airbrushed. He runs regular classes so you can learn to make fancy chocolate desserts, too. (I took a tarts class there in 2018.) But don’t get cocky - this stuff is hard to do. William Dean also sells individual desserts, delicious pate de fruit (fruit jellies), macarons, candied popcorn, gelato and bar chocolate. For a while now, the shop has been offering high teas Thursday to Sunday with two seatings (reservations required; $22.50), with scones, petit fours and tiny tea sandwiches, so get your pinky fingers out.

Address: 2790 West Bay Drive, Belleair Bluffs

Phone: (727) 593-0656

Price: $