Sharing Sweets with Your Sweetie
Decadent desserts on Valentine’s Day at home or dining out
By RAY LINVILLE » Photos by Brandon Williams
Move over, chateaubriand. Step aside, filet mignon. When it’s time for sweetness with your special Valentine, nothing conveys a romantic message like a decadent dessert.
As pandemic concerns rise and fall, significant occasions like Valentine’s Day still have to be honored. The singularly distinctive desserts of the Sandhills, whether you dine out or take home, need to be planned first well ahead of entrees and beverages. To turn your significant other into a doting romantic (if they’re not already one), what should you plan?
Nothing is better than sex, right? No, not exactly, particularly at Pik-n-Pig in Carthage. Its “Better Than Sex Cake” actually has two versions, one with a vanilla cake base and a pineapple coconut creamy topping, but the one with Devil’s food cake with a sweet caramel filling, turns the most cantankerous curmudgeon into a romantic fool after only one bite. It’s just that good. It’s pure chocolate delight. Because taking home two servings may raise the eyebrows of curious onlookers, mask your intensions with an order of barbecue, too.
All dessert choices at The Bakehouse in Aberdeen, which always has a wonderful selection of fine European pasties, are tempting. Make up your mind what to order before you enter; otherwise, you’re stymied by the variety. For me, it’s asking if today is a tiramisu or black forest cake day. The chocolate sponge cake with a rich cherry filling won last time, but the coffee-flavored Italian dessert will be my choice in February.
The “mile-high” key lime pie at the Ryder Cup Lounge in the Carolina Hotel has been the star of many romantic celebrations. It’s my wife’s favorite, and we usually share one serving because it’s so huge. With meringue heaped higher than you’ve ever seen before, it’s an Instagram story. Adorned with raspberry coulis, vanilla chantilly, candied macadamia nuts and seasonal fruits, its contrasting pleasing and tangy key lime flavors make any sweet tart beg for more.
If you want to order a filet mignon for your Valentine, head to Beefeaters in Southern Pines where classic cuisines and new traditions on the menu are tempting. But check out the desserts first. Although the dessert special is appealing, most locals find their favorites on the regular dessert menu. “The featured dessert is always popular, but the best seller is the coconut cream pie,” says Tammy Waterbury, the restaurant’s owner and operator since 2011. And for good reason: Sweetened flaked coconut can make even the most bashful confess, “I love you.”
Scott’s Table in Southern Pines is well-known for being a Carolina Roots restaurant, bar, and caterer. However, one of its desserts — banana beignets with bourbon caramel — will take you instead to Cajun country. Inspired by the culinary traditions of New Orleans and coated with cinnamon sugar, the beignets would be delicious without the banana, but the fruit complements the bourbon caramel sauce perfectly — an amazing way to stir romantic passions. “It’s the most popular dessert,” says Karen Margolis, who owns the restaurant with chef Scott, her husband.
Want a distinctive Italian house-made dessert with a specialty coffee, dessert wine, or cognac, check out the desserts at Villaggio Ristorante in The Magnolia Inn in the heart of Pinehurst Village. The millefoglie ai fruitti di bosco – a puff pastry berry compote with a faintly sweet and enticingly smooth zabaglione cream – is astonishing.
At Ashten’s in downtown Southern Pines, pasty chef Zarah Wetmore has been delighting out-of-towners and regular patrons with her imaginative desserts. Throughout the week, Wetmore also always has a vegan dessert. “She has a strong following because she’s very thoughtful in incorporating crunchiness and creaminess in her sweets,” says owner Ashley Van Camp.
Lynette Bofill of Lynette’s Bakery & Cafe in Aberdeen has created amazingly sweet treats that have Cuban roots with a twist of American culture. Although her Cuban flan is my favorite throughout the year, on Valentine’s Day nothing is sweeter than her cuatro leches (four milks) cake. A soft, tender, moist, and sweet cake that has been soaked in four different flavors of milk is singularly distinctive.
Baklava is the perfect ending for a dinner at Theo’s Tavera in Pinehurst, but it’s also scrumptious by itself to celebrate a special occasion. The perfect drizzle of honey added to a flaky pastry filled delightfully with nuts and spices was first fashioned more than 28 centuries ago. Celebrate world history and romance at the same time with this delight.
Certified by the state to operate as a home bakery, Alison Reed recently opened Grace Filled Baker as a local sugar shop and books well in advance, so order early. Her creative cupcakes rival the other sweets she prepares such as macarons, cookies, pies, and cakes. A treat box from this artist in sugar may be more appreciated than flowers or perfume.
Since Gary Clark opened G. Charles Bakery in 2016, sweet tooths have trodden a well-worn path to his doors in Aberdeen. Without realizing it, you may have enjoyed his desserts in area restaurants such as Southern Prime Steakhouse in Southern Pines and Homegrown Restaurant in Vass. Some of his amazing chocolate truffles, macarons, or cannoli might be just what you need for a Valentine’s celebration at home.
Italian desserts from Thyme & Place Café are the perfect complements with a cup of coffee or the finish to a great dinner with your significant other. Owner Leslie Philip continues to be amazed by the creativeness of Jari Miller, whose baking inspirations are influenced by the Italian culture of Upstate New York where she once lived and owned her own bakery.
At C Cups Cupcakery, more is on the menu than only cupcakes, but those are gourmet, made from scratch, topped with signature homemade icings, and can make romantic dreams come true. Two are never enough, so order a dozen and have an extended romantic celebration. Although 12 favorite flavors are available each day, consider a specialty one such as pink champagne.
Ever zip into a drive-through lane on the spur of the moment to order ice cream? Even just before a meal? That’s a way to celebrate Valentine’s Day throughout the year. But better than ice cream is banana pudding. When you’re in the Carthage area, you can find the best Southern banana pudding to go at Ronnie’s Chuckwagon. You’d be surprised how sharing banana pudding in a car with a significant other can be romantic, well at least for Baby Boomers.
To avoid being disappointed, call well in advance to order if you have your heart set on enjoying one of these favorites. Desserts say love better than anything. Just be careful what passions you unleash!