Decadent Desserts: 5 Favorites in Santa Cruz County

Decadent desserts: they’re not something you want to eat every day — but when you want to indulge, it helps to know where to get the best. There are many amazing Santa Cruz County desserts to choose from! Here are five favorites—all housemade—that we recommend for getting started on a sweet adventure.

#1 Oswald Restaurant

All photos by Serna Walker unless otherwise noted

The Chocolate Souffle at Oswald is pure bliss. It’s no wonder it has remained on the menu since Oswald first opened in 1995. Picture a small flourless cake with a fudgy but also souffle-like consistency, made from sensuous, dark Valrhona chocolate. Oswald serves a small pitcher of cream with the dessert, which enhances the souffle. If you’re visiting with two or more people, we suggest also ordering an Almond Custard Torte. The two dishes eaten together are an exhilarating experience. The Torte, with a fabulous bittersweet flavor, features almond shortbread dough, pastry cream, and coffee reduction. The nuts and accompanying housemade vanilla ice cream provide an enjoyable texture contrast with crunch and creaminess.

#2 Café Sparrow

The Bread Pudding at Café Sparrow will satisfy your sweet tooth, and then some. Although the varieties of this delight rotate, it’s on the menu every single day. There are many out-of-towners that have been visiting Café Sparrow for 35 years. They make the restaurant their first stop as they arrive and their last stop before leaving. The entrée they choose varies, but for dessert it’s the same every time: bread pudding. Like Cinnamon Raisin with crunchy pecans and a perfectly gooey caramel sauce. Although the beautiful golden-brown pudding is thick with many layers, it’s luscious without being too heavy. Other pudding flavors in the rotation include peach with creme anglaise and blueberry with yuzu creme anglaise. You can order a mini version if you want decadence in a smaller package. Not a bread pudding fan? Try Café Sparrow’s Profiteroles: light puff pastries filled with delicious cream and topped with rich Ghirardelli chocolate sauce.

#3 Bittersweet Bistro

Photo above and header photo by Tricia Morgensen, courtesy of Bittersweet Bistro

The Lemon Napoleon is the dessert star at Bittersweet Bistro. It is a work of art with two layers of yellow lemon custard and red raspberries encased by three meticulously layered filo dough rectangles—the top one featuring a dusting of powdered sugar. The flavors and textures are incomparable. The lemon custard is creamy and zesty, with just the right amount of tartness to contrast the dessert’s other elements including a yummy sweetness from a pool of raspberry coulis which surrounds the pastry. The filo dough is simultaneously crisp and airy. Fresh raspberries add another layer of flavor. All in all, the depth of flavor make it hard not to quickly devour this dessert, but it’s also wonderful to savor the complexity. Other fantastic desserts include Bittersweet Chocolate Mousse (pictured at the top of this article), which is served in an edible Florentine cup (an intricate basket with caramelized edges). Exquisite crème anglaise and bittersweet chocolate sauce accompany the dish.

#4 Chocolate Restaurant

The Chocolate Ecstasy Sundae at Chocolate is absolutely sinful in the best way possible: layer upon layer of luxurious ingredients. These include dark chocolate gelato, bittersweet ganache, and Ecstasy cake (which is made with dark chocolate—it’s also possible to get a slice of it on its own), plus whipped cream on top for good measure. We must mention the hot chocolate offerings here too. While drinks aren’t traditionally thought of as desserts, in this case the beverages are worthy of the dessert moniker. Like the exceptional Sofia which features dark Italian cocoa—the drink is thick and incredibly rich, pretty much decadence in liquid form. There are a dozen variations to choose from, including ones with chiles, hazelnut, or coconut milk, and each hot chocolate is available with a ladyfinger cookie topped with whipped cream.

#5 Shadowbrook Restaurant

Photo courtesy of Shadowbrook

The Chocolate Meltdown at Shadowbrook Restaurant is what you’d call “decadence squared.” You start by eating scrumptious chocolate cake and after you eat a few bites you get to the center. Warm, creamy chocolaty goodness flows out—hence the use of the word ‘molten’ on the menu. Part of what makes this dessert so special is the high-quality chocolate; Shadowbrook utilizes both Guittard and Scotland-based Oman. And a generous scoop of local Marianne’s vanilla bean ice cream accompanies the cake. Chocolate Meltdown, which is gluten-free, has been on the menu for many years; this particular version has been offered since about 2009. Another delectable Shadowbrook dessert offering is Jack Daniels Mud Pie: coffee crunch mud pie from Marianne’s drizzled with lip-smackingly-good chocolate-whiskey sauce.