Food + Dining Main

The Best Desserts in Southwest Florida

Where to find great chocolate, key lime pie, pastries and more.

BY November 30, 2016


We’re with Mae West in that too much of a good thing can be wonderful. What’s dinner without dessert? Take a vacation from calorie-counting, say “sayonara” to the “guilt” in guilty pleasures. We’ve taste tested the most decadent confections throughout Southwest Florida.



Sebastien Thieffine, executive pastry chef of The Ritz-Carlton Resorts, Naples, doesn’t skip a beat: “Some flavors are more popular than others, but the most is chocolate. Period.” The 12-layer chocolate cake sold at The Grill, the beach hotel’s refined steakhouse, is a best-seller (and the object of Thieffine’s cravings); so, too, is the traditional chocolate soufflé.

Another Naples steakhouse, Jimmy P’s Charred, has received nothing but the utmost praise since opening a little more than a year ago. Save room for dessert because the unsung heroes are the house-made sweets. The paradoxical airiness and richness is a tug of war where your palate is the winner in the chilled Nutella and chocolate mousse (pictured, left). Silky with a graham cracker and chocolate ganache crust and a dollop of peanut butter ice cream, it’s enough to make anyone go nuts.

Fathom’s in Cape Coral is home to two of the more creative chefs in Southwest Florida, Fabrice Deletrain and Benjamin Voisin. They bust out the big guns for wine dinners and keep things “simple” every day—but that translates to, oh, mousse with a dark chocolate glaze finished with gold dust and salted caramel gelato that they make for their neighboring gelateria, The French Press.

Edible “dirt,” or “sand,” is full of surprises at Zen Asian BBQ (beneath the Belgian cocoa powder and pretty flower on top, there are layers of green tea cookie crumbles, vanilla ice cream and lychee-coconut jelly in Chef Koko’s Cocoa in a Jar) and Baleen (crushed Oreo is a textural contrast to a pot de crème and chocolate cake in the Chocolate Lover’s “Cookie Jar”).

Sometimes, it’s the simple pleasures that make a chocoholic’s heart skip a beat. Finding Gusto Cucina Italiana, a needle in the strip mall haystack on crazy Del Prado in Cape Coral, makes the road rage bearable for a refreshingly light chocolate panna cotta

Of the ingredient’s more common incarnations, two upscale Naples eateries hit the spot—Sea Salt’s in-house pastry chef offers a chocolate-raspberry “dome” and Campiello dresses a flourless chocolate soufflé cake with salted peanut croquant and caramel gelato.



In Florida, with Southern and tropical influences, coconut is an obvious fixation. Even for someone with an avowed dislike of the fruit, a taste of Preston’s coconut cake may sway them with its subtle sweetness. It is baked by the owner each day—and some regulars special-order them weeks in advance as dinner party host gifts. Celebrity chef Art Smith, with his new 1500 South, is enchanting locals with his 12-layer hummingbird cake (pictured, right), a moist, spongy banana-pineapple slice of his North Florida youth.

Speaking of time-honored recipes, the carrot cake at Ridgway Bar & Grill is a Naples legend—the menu proudly boasts that its owner Tony Ridgway has been making it that way for 40 years. Guests are also reminded that all desserts are made next door at Tony’s Off Third, one of Naples’ most reputable bakeries with irresistible coconut snowballs, rustic apple tarts, old-school yellow cake with chocolate fudge and what some say is the best Key lime pie in town.

Almost any dessert made at the tearoom-chic European Maria D’anna Café is noteworthy, but what deserves brownie points is the owner’s layer cake with cherries and cream. She has an ease and expertise in combining flavors from her native Poland and adopted home (Naples) without cloying sweetness, from coconut to lemon to poppy seed.

When it comes to traditional cheesecake, two places take the cake: The Mad Hatter on Sanibel and The Continental in Naples. A modernist vision with a spiced gingerbread crust and a petite scoop of violet ice cream leaves an impression at Naples’ Lamoraga.

The Bubble Room on Captiva with kitsch galore feels like a Bennigan’s, but where the food falls a bit short, if your sweet tooth is a nostalgic one it will fall hard for a slice of one of their eight cakes that range from an orange cream cheese and almond crunch to red velvet.


Key Lime, Strawberry and More

Key lime, the diminutive Florida citrus, delivers outsize flavor in its sweet-tart pie with endless permutations. Some like it loose, others prefer it firm, but there’s no debate when it comes to a traditional graham cracker crust and a dollop of whipped cream. Aside from the aforementioned at Ridgway’s, more casual restaurants that dominate debates are Keylime Bistro on Captiva and Fish Crazy in North Naples; two joints selling pies to go, Sweet Melissa’s ice cream shop in Bonita Springs and Naples’ Wynn’s Market, also attract a loyal following.

Like good jazz musicians, many chefs try writing a new tune for the dessert. At Il Cielo on Sanibel, the in-house pastry chef whips up a Key lime sampler with a petite tart, flavored cookies and an infused crème brûlée.

The Bay House, a bastion of Deep Southern cooking, reinvents Key lime as a cobbler with vanilla meringue and huckleberry jam. Another twist is from Melissa Talmage at the casual fine-dining Sweet Melissa’s Cafe on Sanibel (no relation to the Bonita ice cream shop): a Key lime-white chocolate bread pudding with rum sauce.

Another bread pudding that feels very South Florida, or tropical at the least, is Greg Scarlatos’ guava-studded number using a rum-butter glaze at Fuse Global Cuisine.

With U-Picks as witness, strawberries are also a local delight. Wyld’s Cafe in Bonita Springs makes a sloppy but scrumptious strawberry shortcake with wedges of angel food, chopped berries and crème anglaise. In Naples, a new pastry chef at Pazzo! has perfected a “lasagnetta” mini-tower (pictured, left) with layers of phyllo, amaretto cream and berries coated in a fresh raspberry sauce.

Although apples don’t show up too often on menus, two places where you can count on them served warm and with caramel are Chez Boët in a traditional tarte tatin (not to mention it has a killer mille-feuille with fresh berries as well) and The Turtle Club’s deep-dish caramel apple pie with pecan streusel.


Pastries, Pies and Other Confections

True to its genteel Southern roots, The Veranda, Fort Myers’ grande dame, serves a warm Southern pecan praline tart with vanilla ice cream.

In Naples, for a selection of creamy retro pies, The Continental on Third Street South has become a category leader with choices like grasshopper, butterscotch-toffee crunch and raspberry-passionfruit. (Many swear by HobNob’s banoffee pudding with tuile wafer as well; it’s the restaurant’s liberal interpretation of a traditional English banana-toffee slice.) If you’re missing grandma’s cherry, rhubarb and blackberry pies (and don’t mind eating them in weathered cottage-like digs), Dolly’s Produce Patch in Bonita Springs is a good fit.

At Bleu Provence in Naples, crème brûlée achieves the perfect consistency for the custard and torched sugar, plus it often takes on seasonal flavors depending on chef-owner Lysielle Cariot’s fancy. (We also have great expectations for Vincenzo Betulia’s new restaurant scheduled to open in December, The French, as he has expertly handled the Italian canon, like tiramisu, at Osteria Tulia.) You can have quiche or coq au vin at Tartine & Tartelette, but to skip Jean Bechu’s desserts is a travesty. His ile flottante, a meringue in a pool of crème anglaise, is almost too pretty to eat, garnished with toasted almonds and a spear of spun sugar.

Even though chef Mike Mueller’s range is constantly on display with an ever-evolving menu at Café Lurcat, the restaurant knows that if it removes the warm cinnamon-sugar doughnuts, people might storm the streets in protest. The Local in Naples may draw attention for farm-to-table fare, but it also scores high with its lemon-ricotta zeppoli (Italian doughnuts). Yet another version of fried dough, gulab jamun at 21 Spices, does as well: The Indian specialty incorporates cooked-down milk in the batter and is later soaked in rosewater; a nod to Naples comes from a drizzle of chocolate and dice of strawberry.


Ice Cream

We’re in Florida after all, so it’s no wonder we can find ice cream everywhere. Many higher-end restaurants now make their own—and a few places have really cool grown-up frozen treats, like KC American Bistro (hot fudge sundae with candied walnuts), The Turtle Club (chocolate turtle ice cream pie) and Barbatella (eight different gelato “coppe speciali” sundaes). But when cravings strike and you want a quick fix, there are dozens of local shops to the rescue. Royal Scoop and Love Boat have scores of fans in both counties for their old-fashioned approach. Norman Love has emerged as fan favorite for gelato—and so, too, has a shop on Fifth Avenue in Naples called Adelheidi’s with its unique use of all organic ingredients and unusual flavors (lavender, strawberry-basil and chocolate-chili).


No Gluten? No Problem

Most of our finer restaurants carry at least one sweet catering to customers avoiding the protein (often a flourless chocolate cake or ice cream), but at Barbatella you won’t feel as if you’re missing anything with gelatos sandwiched with multiple types of gluten-free cookies; a gluten-free brownie sundae; and a mixed berry cup with lemon, wildflower honey and mint.



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