Of the pleasures that are acceptably indulged in public, few are more guilt-inducing than digging into a decadent dessert. Gluttony, after all, is the most measurably deadly of the seven so-called deadly sins.
But don’t you deserve to treat yourself? Who knows, maybe you don’t. Luckily, you don’t need our permission. What we can offer is guidance. Below is a list of top-shelf West Michigan spots that will fill the dessert-shaped hole in your life.
There are hipper and newer restaurants in Grand Rapids with deeper dessert menus, but Tre Cugini’s $10 tiramisu — airy and spongy, yet sinfully rich — turns me into the enraptured food critic at the end of Ratatouille.
Try: Also check out the Cannoli Alla Siciliana, a delicious take on the traditional Italian cannoli; and Sfogliata di Cioccolato Al’Amaretto, wispy sheets of rich chocolate filled with an amaretto-chocolate mousse. trecugini.com
Marge’s Donut Den
You can keep your fancy artisan donuts. Marge’s, which last year celebrated its 40th anniversary, has been appearing on best-of lists since before you were born. And it’s still a local treasure, unstuck from time. Its iconic logo against navy blue also was the coolest T-shirt in Grand Rapids from approximately 2005 to 2007.
Try: Anything. Just approach the massive glass cases and point at something. It’ll be good. margesdonutden.com
San Chez - A Tapas Bistro
The popular Mediterranean/Spanish restaurant has a sweets selection that matches the eclecticism for which the rest of its menu is well-known. The list of $9 desserts includes a vegan sweet-potato pie, goat-cheese cheesecake encrusted by ginger snaps and drizzled with chocolate sauce and a hot chocolate cobbler topped with raspberries and mousse.
Try: Tarta de Chocolate al Whiskey, a whiskey-soaked pound cake with caramel-pecan gelato, brownie and white chocolate mousse kissed by raspberry and chocolate sauces. I mean, come on. sanchezbistro.com
The brilliant idea behind this small local chain — with locations in Ada and Eastown and Knapp’s Corner in Grand Rapids — feels like American capitalism stretched to a perverse but logical end: Grab a container, choose a custard, ice cream or yogurt, load it up with toppings and pay according to the weight of what you’re about to consume. More anything? More everything!
Try: For the richest experience, start with one of Spoonlickers’ custards: Pumpkin, cinnamon donut, Cookie Monster, super chocolate, peanut-butter brownie, chocolate almond toffee — then go nuts. spoonlickersgr.com
Le Bon Macaron
Visiting this adorable boutique bakery/cafe in Cherry Hill is like stepping into a world designed by Wes Anderson, where every color and tiny detail is meticulously curated. The macarons, delicate French confections filled with flavored ganache or buttercream, are a transformative joy.
Try: Grab a box of a half-dozen or dozen and sample from the buffet of available options. Start with chocolates and then branch out into fruity and nutty flavors. (Pictured above: Lavender, Vanilla, Jasmine and Fruity Pebbles varieties.) lebonmacaron.com
Cakabakery and The Salted Cupcake
The cupcake craze has abated in recent years, which means the places that remain have lasted for a reason. Jason Kakabaker has built a dessert operation of national renown (as seen on Cupcake Wars) from the charming windmill building in Eastown. And the Salted Cupcake, obscurely located on 32nd Street and Breton Road SE, is fairy-tale delightful. Both businesses excel at special events but offer substantial daily cupcake and cookie selections for visitors.
Sweetie-licious Bakery and Cafe
Linda Hunt’s signature pies have picked up more national and regional accolades than there’s room here to list. Most recently her Aunt Ella’s Cherry Pie was named “Michigan’s Best Dessert” on MSN.com and we see no reason to dispute any of it. Two West Michigan locations — one in the East Grand Rapids Gaslight Village, the other in Grand Rapids’ Downtown Market — means more windowsills (figuratively) for pie cooling.
Try: The menu varies by season to include as many Michigan ingredients as possible. The cherry pie is worth the hype, but I was born and will die a key lime man. $4.50 per slice; $10.99 6-inch pie; $24.99 9-inch pie. sweetie-licious.com