The Happy Hour at Joyce and Gigi's Is Killer, and So is Dessert

Chocolate cheesecake with a cayenne kick. Pow! Right in the kisser!
Chocolate cheesecake with a cayenne kick. Pow! Right in the kisser!

It's 9 on Wednesday night when I drag my friend out to Joyce and Gigi's in East Dallas. She's in nursing school and should be writing a paper that's due the next day, but fortunately one of us has her priorities straight: half-priced drinks and dessert to share. The restaurant's two-year anniversary is coming up in December, but this will be our first visit. The South American bistro has garnered high praise for its desserts, so I'm eager to give it a go.

Like a beacon on the otherwise dark and deserted-looking Hall Street, the glow from their windows invites us in. We're greeted warmly and take our places at the bar, resting on two bright-red tractor seat stools. As we peruse the drink menu, the sultry voice of Astrud Gilberto sets the tone for a relaxed night out that feels like a world away from Dallas. I land on the Sour Joyce, a foamy pisco sour laced with papaya juice, and it's everything I want it to be -- bright, tangy, citrus flavors with the added theatrics of the cocktail shaker.

Not too far into conversation, the bartender brings out two thick slices of warm lime bread and chimicurri butter, presented on a wooden slab. Sold. I'm so sold. I can't wait to see what's next. It's starting to get late, but the bartender shows no signs of clock-watching. When we order the Choc G's cake and the picarones, he accommodates happily.

Our desserts arrive soon enough, and we waste no time digging in. It's clear that they could win a beauty contest, but we're eager to test for substance. The chocolate cheesecake is exciting and unusual, with a tart, luxurious cherry sauce and a surprising kick of cayenne pepper that sets it apart.

Pipin' hot picarones
Pipin' hot picarones

The hot, freshly-fried picarones are the perfect foil to the chilled cheesecake. These pumpkin-sweet potato fritters are comfort food that speaks of love -- the crispy exterior contrasting with a smooth, creamy middle. Drizzled in a warm cinnamon honey that has the deep complexity of molasses, savory and sweet are in perfect harmony. Traditionally formed into an onion ring shape, but here presented as dumpling-like gems, the dessert reflects what chefs Gigliola Aguilera and Joyce Stenvall are known for: a modern take on South American classics.

Upon seeing how quickly we've cleaned our plates, the bartender asks us which is our favorite. We can't decide. The two desserts have such different qualities, each impressive in its own right. But, thinking about it now, beyond the pisco haze, it's the picarones that will beckon me back soon, especially to take advantage of the happy hour specials. It's surprising more people weren't drawn in by the lure of their happy hour that night.

Maybe it's the somewhat awkward location -- blink and you'll miss it. Keep your eyes open and your GPS on. Between the food and drinks, and ambiance, and the service, this place is worth making a U-turn for.

Get your hands on half-price appetizers and cocktails Monday and Thursday 5-7pm and Wednesday 5-10pm.


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