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 first in an occasional series.
By definition, dessert offers a conclusion. Growing up, if we wanted dessert at home, we'd first have to finish our greens. In restaurants we're only shown the dessert menu after we've finished eating our entrées. "Happy Endings," a new and occasional series, implies (among other things) that sweet should follow savory, but I could think of no better way to start a series of saccharine blog posts than to challenge convention and order something sinister to start my evening instead of ending it.
I had some practical reasons for my recent dinner inversion, too. Every time I've dined at Sissy's, the upscale fried-chicken hangout on Henderson Avenue, I haven't exactly been pressed to order a massive slab of chocolate cake after plowing through a bucket and two sides. Every time I've tried to stop in and have a drink and a dessert at the bar after a lighter meal at another restaurant, I've always decided my bed was a much more attractive option. I started to wonder if the best way to truly enjoy a dessert was before you fill your belly with gravy and mashed potatoes. Dessert can feel like a burden if you're already too full, but that slice of pie you have for breakfast the morning after Thanksgiving can be a revelation.
No matter when you order dessert, Sissy's is a good place to do it. Grab a seat at the marble bar and have a bow-tied bartender mix you up a riff on a classic. The Sazerac with a flaming absinthe rinse is a good choice, if you don't mind that the glass it's served in is a bit warm, as is the Presbyterian Bourbon Press, an elevated version of the whiskey and ginger ale cocktail you find yourself drinking while you're at a bar looking for the other kind of happy ending.
I ordered the bread pudding, partly because my bartender emphatically recommended it but mostly because I've had terrible renditions I desperately wanted to rectify. The offenders are typically massive hunks of tooth-achingly sweet bread that swim in their own custard and eat like a hot, wet mess of soggy confection. Others are dry and bready, no matter how much caramel and whiskey cream sauce is ladled over the top to save them.
The bread pudding at Sissy's? It's the best bread pudding I've eaten in years, and I'm certain should I find myself at the bar at Sissy's again, I'll have a hard time ordering any other dessert.
Maybe it was the challah, that festive, decadent Jewish bread with a dense but springy crumb that soaked up every last bit of the eggs and cream. The loaf was cut into chunks and then tossed in a baking dish where they fused together again like culinary cubism laced with salted caramel. Maybe it was that I got a slice from the edge, so the sides were a little extra chewy, a little extra browned and a lot more flavorful than any re-used bread dessert should ever be. Whatever the reason, I lamented that all bread puddings weren't this good and that this one disappeared so quickly.
In the three minutes that it took to clean the plate I wondered why dessert shouldn't replace all segments of a meal instead of just ending it. I also contemplated a nap in the coatroom, and after perusing the menu I contemplated a second dessert (bread pudding, please). It was the most pleasurable three minutes I've had in some time, while I have a new understanding of why my mother demanded I finish my Brussels sprouts before I got my ice cream, I don't think I care in the slightest. Happy endings are just as happy when they're had at the beginning.
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