In Happy Endings, food critic Scott Reitz travels part of the globe that says "Dallas" in search of great desserts and great places to eat them. This is the third in an occasional series.
"This has been on your menu for a long time hasn't it?" I asked my waiter, when he asked how I was enjoying dessert.
The dessert had landed on my table a few minutes before, and I didn't know how else to answer his question. He'd already assumed I was enjoying Hibiscus' icebox pie. In a way I was enjoying it -- the same way a bite or two of cheap candy is satisfying when it resurrects childhood memories of plastic pumpkin pales, your mother's hand-made costumes and fun-size candy bars eaten 10 at a time.
The problem with Hibiscus' icebox pie is that it required far more than a bite or two. The first mouthful of cool ice cream and crisp, crumbly crust was satisfying if only because it was creamy and sweet, the second seemed redundant and a third seemed overwhelming, mostly because the three bites in tandem seemed to have no effect on the dish as a whole. It was massive.
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I'd gotten myself into the mess because of the couple sitting to my left. They were young and pretty, and based on their fawning, very in love with each other. "Get the ice box cake," the brunette cooed. "You won't be disappointed." She'd heard me capitulate in front of my waiter while trying to choose my closing act for what had been an also massive, but impeccable, steak. Her boo raised his eyebrows and nodded his head slowly in reassurance. "You won't be disappointed," he seconded.
I was disappointed. This dessert was nothing more than several pounds of mediocre vanilla ice cream packed like mountain snow into a passable crust. Butterfinger candy bars were crumbled and sprinkled over the top, and if that weren't enough sugar, there was not one zigzag of sauce squirted over the top, but two.
This is a dessert that could beat down the most enthusiastic sweet eaters, a dessert that will expand waistlines not just through sweetness and richness but also through brute force. It's a dessert that would seem more at home in a Chili's or a TGI Friday's than a restaurant that boasts grass-fed steaks that run for more than $50 and stunning French Bordeaux wines.
Which is probably why the waiter shrugged a bit when he nodded yes, confirming the dessert had been on the menu since the beginning of time. The icebox cake is a favorite of diners who've been patronizing the restaurant since it opened almost a decade ago, and it likely won't be going anywhere for some time -- a shame, really, considering the kitchen is clearly capable of more.