By Jacky Runice
As soon as it’s time to ditch the lightweight tops, linen shorts and flip flops, you can say “see ya” to relentless scoops of sorbet and cliché cupcakes from the wait staff’s litany of choices on the dessert menu. Autumn is all about the harvest (as in apples, cranberries and pumpkins) and the warm – think melty caramel, fragrant cinnamon and piquant ginger spicing sweet endings. Ask for extra spoons so you can share samples of the best autumn desserts in Chicago.
Filini Bar & Restaruant
221 N. Columbus Drive
Chicago, IL 60601
If you were dining at a hotel restaurant 20 years ago, the de rigueur ending to a meal was red Jell-O with a smear of Cool Whip and another cup of joe. Flash forward to 2012 and visitors to Filini Bar & Restaurant, in the stunningly modern Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel, are offered la dolce vita on a dessert plate courtesy of executive pastry chef Lauren Daigle. Forget about old-school spumoni and tired tiramisu. It’s all about the torta di zucca: pumpkin ricotta cheesecake with a pecan shortbread crust, crowned with pecan caramel corn. That and a latte will provide the drive to give your table up to the next set of happy diners.
2119 S. Halsted St.
Chicago, IL 60608
Nightwood in Pilsen has earned rave reviews for everything from its sturdy vegetable soup to desserts that can be ethereal or robust (try the bacon-butterscotch doughnuts for brunch). You know a restaurant is seasonal when the menu is rewritten nightly and relies on pastry chef Matthew Rice to shop at the market every week for fabulous Midwestern ingredients for his inventive desserts. Case in point is the almond brown butter pear cake. He poaches Seckel pears in ginger beer and then bakes one pear in each individual cake. The cake is then complemented by salted licorice ice cream. You might find yourself offering to rake Rice’s leaves after the last bite.
Related: Chicago’s Best Caramel Apples
Markethouse Restaurant and Bar
611 N. Fairbanks Court
Chicago, IL 60611
Even though executive chef of Markethouse, Scott Walton, will be busy harvesting veggies and herbs from his rooftop garden for the restaurant’s early fall menu, he still finds the time to fashion an iconic autumn sweet. Cinnamon, branch-smoked pumpkin pie with brown butter streusel and Pappy Van Winkle cream is as much fun to eat as it is to say. The chef of this Streeterville eatery says, “I created this particular pumpkin pie by smoking the pumpkin with cinnamon to give it that earthy, fall taste and then infused the cream with Pappy Van Winkle because, well, it’s the best!” For the uninitiated, Pappy is a fine Kentucky bourbon with a smooth, oak flavor.
Sable Kitchen & Bar
505 N. State St.
Chicago, IL 60654
A fierce competitor on “Top Chef Season 9: Texas,” Heather Terhune grew up in one of the nation’s favorite autumn spots (Vermont) and first discovered her passion while canning veggies and making preserves with her mother and grandmother. The New England Culinary Institute alum honed her pastry chef skills where everyone should, in the south. Her sweet creations show southern flair. Head to Heather’s stomping ground, Sable Kitchen & Bar, and get a load of the perfect combination of Vermont and South Carolina in her warm maple bread pudding drenched in maple walnut praline sauce and sided with creamy vanilla ice cream. It is definitely worth falling off the diet wagon.
676 N. St. Clair St.
Chicago, IL 60611
TRU is crafted from the master mind of a guy who couldn’t decide on art school or cooking, so you can imagine the elevation of Anthony Martin’s s’mores dessert. The executive chef and creator of all dishes savory and sweet at this progressive French restaurant wanted to add it to the menu because it’s a traditional American sweet but not a traditional restaurant dessert. “I like dioramas and things in miniature, so it gives me the opportunity to make it on a really small scale, replicating a campfire,” he explained. Expect graham cracker, chocolate and marshmallow in a way you’ve never experienced before.
Related: Best Chocolate in Chicago
Jacky Runice has been a columnist with the Daily Herald Chicago since grunge music and flannel was the new black. Her fingers and gray matter have been busy as travel editor of Reunions Magazine; penning a column that was syndicated around the nation via Tribune Media Services. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.