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by Daniel Walker
Lena’s Fried Pie Shop in DeValls Bluff, AR: Those making the sometimes lonesome drive along I-40 between Little Rock and Memphis need only take a short detour through DeValls Bluff to find something sweet to make the trip a whole lot merrier. Ms. Lena’s fried pies have become about as close to “legendary” as any other dessert in the Natural State. Hers are fried to a crispy golden brown with a tender, flaky crust that cracks under the slightest pressure. They’re filled with all sorts of spectacular flavors, but it’s the apricot and coconut that really sing the sweetest notes.
Muddy’s Bakeshop in Memphis, TN: There ain’t much this Memphis favorite doesn’t do right. You’ll find everything from thick, creamy banana pudding to chunky chocolate chip cookies within Muddy’s display case. They’ve built their reputation on above average cupcakes like the chocolate buttercream “Prozac” and “Elvis’s favorite cupcake,” their banana cupcake with peanut butter icing known as “The King.” But Muddy’s talent extends well beyond cupcakes…making them a must-try for any sugar lovers in the Memphis area.
Dude, Sweet Chocolate in Dallas, TX: Katherine Clapner is the most recognized name in Dallas chocolate. Her ability to fuse interesting and often exotic flavors into approachable and delectable creations has brought chocolate lovers from all over Texas to her tiny shop in the Bishop Arts District. You should always enter Dude, Sweet with a resolution to be a bit adventurous…you never know for sure what you’ll find. Maybe it’s a Yerba Mate green tea truffle with lemon and honey, or a pure Varohna chocolate scented with flowers of bergamot and jasmine and orange…you’ll always be surprised by something here.
Christophe Artisan Chocolatier-Patissier in Charleston, SC: For Christophe Paume, chocolate runs in the family. Paume grew up surrounded by some of the finest sweets in the world, immersed in the world of chocolate from a young age in his father’s patisserie in Toulouse, France. Christophe’s chocolates and truffles will impress anyone with their intriguing flavor profiles. One particular chocolate finds a miniature marshmallow center surrounded by strawberry white chocolate ganache, another blends dark chocolate ganache with Kentucky mint. But anyone who’s set eyes on his hand-painted chocolates know there’s a lot of artistry that goes on behind his beautiful handiwork.
Gourdough’s in Austin, TX: Their slogan: “Big. Fat. Doughnuts.” And they really don’t stray too far from that mantra. This immensely popular Austin trailer has expanded into a brick-and-mortar location of late (Gourdough’s Public House), but the trailer is still a must-visit for me on any trip to the Texas capital. The doughnuts are definitely big and fat…they’ve got a denser texture than most other ordinary yeast raised competitors…better eaten with a fork and knife than with the fingers alone. And if I had to pick just one, it would undoubtedly be the “Funky Monkey” with grilled bananas, cream cheese icing, and brown sugar.
Las Paletas Gourmet Popsicles in Nashville, TN: Mexican frozen treats that are a cut above anything you’ve ever pulled out your grocer’s freezer. Their secret to success comes down to a few things…fresh ingredients and exciting traditional Mexican flavors such as tamarind, avocado, and pineapple with chili peppers. They serve simple, unpretentious sweets…perfect for any hot summer day in Nashville.
Hazelnuts Creperie in Charlotte, NC: They offer their delicate crepes in savory flavors as well, but make no mistake, it’s the sweet side of Hazelnuts that make this place a must-try in Charlotte. The crepes come to you warm, soft, and stuffed with a variety of ingredients. What should not be missed? The “Chunkster,” for one, with peanut butter, banana, chocolate chips, trail mix and maple syrup. And probably the “Not French Toast,” with maple syrup, cinnamon, powdered sugar, vanilla ice cream, and crushed walnuts. Bon Appetit.
Charlotte’s Eats & Sweets in Keo, AR: There are many reasons to visit this quaint sweets shop in the small town of Keo, AR…most of them are round and rest in a pie tin. But if you’ve ever wondered what is meant by a “mile-high pie,” you need to get over to Charlotte’s and feast your eyes on one of their merengue pies. In particular, the coconut cream pie is something that should not be missed. It’s an exemplary pie in every way…chock full of chewy toasted coconut, tall and airy meringue so light it seems it would blow away with the slightest breeze. It’s perfection in pie form.
Trailercakes in Dallas, TX: Sure, the whole “cupcake craze” may have slowed down a bit…but that in no way means they are any less delicious. Trailercakes began as an mobile operation, shelling out spectacular baked goods from a converted 1965 vintage Airstream trailer. Now they’ve added a beautiful storefront, making it unnecessary to hunt down the trailer, but the magic is equally existent no matter where you get your Trailercakes fix. What you’re ordering? Anything really, they’re all good. But the “PB&J” with white cake, grape jelly center, and peanut butter fluff frosting remains my favorite cupcake in the universe. (The salted caramel topped “Caramel Eileen” is not far behind.)
Daniel Walker is a native of Salt Lake City, but has spent his last few years obsessing over food in Dallas and Little Rock. He currently writes for the Arkansas Times reviewing restaurants and contributing to the food blog “Eat Arkansas.”