It’s been a landmark year for Denver dining, and the dessert scene is no exception. Desserts in Denver just keep getting better and better—more restaurants are hiring talented pastry chefs, and a fresh wave of artisan bakeries, creameries, and doughnut shops are popping up left and right.
303 Magazine rounded up a list of our favorite desserts in honor of celebrating the best of the year as it draws to a close. From mouthwatering pastries at hole-in-the-wall family bakeries to gorgeously plated desserts at Denver’s best restaurants, here are our favorite dessert picks of 2014.
Note: this is a chronological list of past reviews, to see the most recent reviews scroll to the bottom. Also for your viewing pleasure, all photography was created by 303 Magazine.
What: Cheesecake Therapy
Where: 7401 Ralston Rd, Arvada, CO
Pros: Adorably cozy space to relax and enjoy your cheesecake, tons of different scratch-made flavors to choose all at great prices. The toffee caramel is to die for.
Cons: Might be a bit of a trek for Denverites—but totally worth it.
“Walking into shop, fittingly located in an old house in downtown Arvada, friendly owner Heather Halldorson immediately makes you feel right at home. Halldorson told me she wanted Cheesecake Therapy to feel like “a trip to your grandmother’s house,” and she’s succeeded …” Read the full review here.
What: Church of Cupcakes
Where: 1489 Steele St. (Until February 15th, when the shop will move to a new, yet-unknown location.)
Pros: Organic, locally-sourced cupcakes are moist and delicious with deep, balanced flavors. The devil’s food cupcake is ridiculously, over-the-top chocolatey, and the pillar of salt-ed caramel is a must-have.
Cons: No vegan cakes at the moment, and to those more accustomed to light, sugary cakes, the intensity of the flavors might overwhelm.
“Ah, the cupcake. The darling of the early two thousands, when hip proponents of the little beauties were lining up in droves outside of bakeries like Magnolia and Sprinkles in New York City. When I set out to find the best cupcake around, it was clear from the sheer amount of cupcake establishments in the area that the trend isn’t fading ...” Read the full review here.
What: Beet Box Bakery & Café
Where: 1030 East 22nd Ave., Denver, CO
Pros: An all-vegan bakery that makes pastries and bread so good you’d never know it was vegan. Well-balanced, thoughtfully crafted flavors with healthier twists, like the beet brownie.
Cons: Some of the gluten-free pastries taste like, well, gluten-free pastries. That being said, it’s awesome for those with dietary issues that they’re even available.
“Brownies may not be the most sophisticated of all pastries. Rarely are brownies exceedingly beautiful, or overly fancied. Truth be told, these treats don’t need to be. I love a good brownie because it provides a healthy dose of chocolate and chewiness in a simple square package. It can be a delicious little piece of nostalgia, and if you’ve only had it from a box mix, you are in for a treat. Denver has some tasty brownies out there (no, I’m not talking about the medicated sort). Here’s where to find the best…” Read the full review here.
What: Pierre Michel French Café
Where: 201 Wildcat Reserve Pkwy, Suite C-10 Highlands Ranch, CO
Pros: These organic French pastries are made daily with skill and love. The family atmosphere is warm and authentic, but most importantly, all of the food is absolutely delicious.
Cons: Highlands Ranch may be a bit out of the way for many Denverites. You’re going to have to get here early, especially on the weekends, as the pastries often sell out quickly.
“Though I’ve never been to France, I often find myself dreaming of it—and my dreams always revolve around the food. Since I can’t afford a plane ticket to Paris anytime soon, I took a trip to Highland’s Ranch to visit Pierre Michel French Café and Bakery. If you’re looking for some of the best pastries around, I suggest you do the same—you will not be disappointed…” Read the full review here.
What: Guard and Grace
Where: 1801 California St., Denver, CO
Pros: Chef Troy Guard’s new restaurant is gorgeous. The modern steakhouse menu includes memorable desserts that use innovative and healthy ingredients to create mouthwatering results.
Cons: You’re going to have to drop some cash to make it happen, but know that it’s well worth it. A happy hour menu is currently in the works.
“Troy Guard’s newest addition to Denver’s vibrant dining scene, Guard and Grace (named after his daughter), is a serious stunner. Located at the base of one of Denver’s tallest skyscrapers in an area largely devoid of restaurants, it may be the most beautiful restaurant in Denver…” Read the full review here.
What: The Duffeyroll Café
Where: 4994 E. Hampden Ave.,Denver, CO (among others)
Pros: Now with four locations across the Denver area, there’s no reason not to try one of the namesake rolls. They are light and flaky, unlike most cinnamon rolls, and they come in a handy two-bite size if you just wanted a little taster. You can also choose from six different glazes, but my favorite has to be the Pecanilla.
Cons: If you were looking for the cinnamon roll of your youth, you may be disappointed. These are definitely not the gooey, doughy confection that you may be accustomed to.
“I don’t think I’ve ever met someone who doesn’t love a good cinnamon roll. That’s why I went everywhere from truck stops to cafes searching for the best cinnamon roll in the Denver area. While many claim to be the best, I wanted to find the real winner. It wasn’t an easy decision— the rolls I tasted ranged from bread-like and heavy to croissant-like and flaky. And the icing on top? Everything from thick cream cheese to toffee drizzle to melted butter. Hungry yet? Here, a rundown of the best of the best…” Read the full review here.
What: Olive & Finch’s Bakery
Where: 1552 East 17th Ave., Denver, CO
Pros: Organic food and pastries are all made fresh and can be purchased rather quickly for those on the go. I’d be hard pressed to think of another place in Denver where you can find organic breakfast, lunch, dinner, juice, coffee, and such great desserts under one roof. Also, the prices are more than fair.
Cons: The space is not huge, so at busy times it may be hard to find a seat.
“Olive and Finch is the perfect spot to spend a sunny Denver afternoon. From patrons enjoying an afternoon glass of wine on the patio, to the display case brimming with tarts and petite cakes, chef-owner Mary Nguyen has managed to capture the relaxed, informal European cafe setting that she was going for…” Read the full review here.
What: High Point Creamery, a new ice cream shop in the Hilltop neighborhood.
Where: 215 S. Holly St., Denver, CO
Pros: Upscale and unique flavors like basil blackberry swirl and Earl Grey with shortbread cookies share space with classic strawberry and vanilla options (all made with organic cream). Don’t miss the ice cream flight, complete with the house-made toppings, or the cake-like molded ice cream and meringue bombes.
Cons: For those accustomed to ice cream made with flavor additives, the flavors at HPC may not taste as intense. Using simply organic fruits and herbs for flavoring makes for purer tasting ice creams, but it may taste quite different than others you’ve tried.
“Walking into the brand new High Point Creamery in Denver’s Hilltop neighborhood, it’s hard not to be won over by the vibrant and cheery space (not to mention the heavenly smell of fresh waffle cones). The sunny yellow stools and accents lend a whimsical touch to the gray marble counter tops. With matching yellow-gray garlands draped overhead and fresh flowers on the tables, the space feels both chic and kid-friendly at the same time…” Read the full review here.
What: Session Kitchen
Where: 1518 S. Pearl St., Denver, CO
Pros: Session Kitchen is the place for edgy, gorgeous food and cocktails. The menu has become far more cohesive and easy to follow since the restaurant’s opening, yet the creative deliciousness is still in full force. The desserts here are awesome, with something to please every palate. Never tried a cronut? Check out pastry chef Levi Kuettel’s version. Or go adventurous with the exotic passion fruit panna cotta. You can’t really go wrong. Also, look for Kuettel’s biscuits and the house made jams, which SK will be selling at the South pearl farmer’s market.
Cons: The menu, including the dessert list, changes quite frequently. While this approach always guarantees a seasonal, inspired dish, you can’t necessarily expect enjoy it twice. That being said, the kitchen is planning on slowing down the pace and sticking to menus for longer amounts of time.
“Session Kitchen is really a showstopper. A fantastic addition to the funky and fun South Pearl neighborhood, the large space, formerly home to Izakaya Den, boasts thirteen original art installations and a dynamic clientele to match…” read the full review here.
What: Old Major
Where: 3316 Tejon St., Denver, CO
Pros: Pastry Chef Nadine Donovan is one of Denver’s rising stars. She crafts well-balanced, creative, and utterly delicious desserts to compliment the farmhouse cuisine at Old Major. While most of her desserts rotate seasonally, don’t miss the french macarons, or the maple bacon creme caramel (which never leaves the menu).
Cons: Old Major isn’t open for lunch, so you’ll have to stop in for dinner (or perhaps just dessert?).
“It’s hard to believe that Old Major, Chef Justin Brunson’s woodsy, pig-centric spot in the Highlands has been open for over a year now. We’ve covered the buzzy restaurant from the beginning, documenting the overall experience, the brunch menu, and the happy hour. What haven’t we covered yet? Pastry chef Nadine Donovan, the mastermind behind all of the breads and desserts at Old Major. Donovan has been turning heads with her top-notch desserts since OM opened, but her career is really heating up…” Read the full review here.
Where: 2134 Larimer St., Denver, CO
Pros: Trillium is Denver’s only dedicated Scandinavian restaurant, and award-winning chef Ryan Leinonen presents the flavors and techniques with restrained minimalist elegance, immaculate ingredients and a true passion and love for food. Pastry chef Kendall Mathews crafts seasonal desserts firmly rooted in American traditions yet with plenty of Scandinavian inspiration for good measure. Try “Boompa’s” Swedish Pancake’s for an elegant take on a beloved family recipe.
Cons: Parking can be difficult at times in this neighborhood. If you’re looking for super straightforward, no-frills desserts, this isn’t the place for you. Expect classics to be abundantly updated and redone, and plenty of possibly-unfamiliar ingredients to be thrown in for good measure.
“While many chefs are constantly developing new concepts and playing into the current food trend of the moment, there are some chefs out there who are simply cooking food from the heart. Ryan Leinonen, the chef/owner of Trillium, and his pastry chef Kendall Mathews, are both the latter type of chef…” Read the full review here.
What: Glaze by Sasa
Where: 1160 Madison St., Denver, CO
Pros: Glaze and Sushi Sasa have teamed up to offer a dining experience unparalleled in terms of uniqueness. Sushi Sasa dishes up some seriously distinctive, mouthwateringly good sushi with unexpected ingredients like strawberries and goat cheese. And the dessert from Glaze is an adventure all its own—you won’t find authentic Japanese Baum cakes like this anywhere else in the States. My suggestion? Take a seat at the sushi bar and let the talented chefs guide you on a culinary journey. Prepare to be awed by the precise plating and techniques.
Cons: Glaze’s confections are not cheap. This is understandable considering the high cost of the imported ingredients and equipment–and still much cheaper than a plane ticket to Japan.
“While being a food pioneer is commendable, it’s certainly not always easy. Heather Alcott learned this lesson the hard way, after opening and closing Glaze, her shop specializing in unique Japanese baumkuchen cakes. Luckily, this story has a happy ending, as Glaze reopened in June at the same location, this time partnering with Sushi Sasa to offer a more comprehensive dining experience…” Read the full review here.
What: Azucar Bakery
Where: 1886 Broadway, Denver, CO
Pros: As Denver’s only Peruvian bakery, you’ll find some seriously amazing South American sweets at Azucar (as well as some French and American ones). Don’t miss the dulce de leche napoleons, coconut flan, or the alfajores. The savory empanadas, served with aji sauce, are also fantastic. Azucar has its own parking lot, and the prices are also very reasonable.
Cons: Azucar is popular, so seating options can get limited.
“While Denver might not have a ton of options for Peruvian food, the few Peruvian establishments we do have more than make up for it in quality and authenticity. After covering Los Cabos II, Denver’s oldest Peruvian restaurant, I was happy to discover that Denver also has an authentic Peruvian bakery—Azucar…” Read the full review here.
Where: 494 East 19th Ave., Denver, CO
Pros: An expanded dining space, as well as a new coffee bar and full bar will be a welcome sight for patrons who frequented the original tiny space. Both the dessert and savory menus have been expanded. Desserts are still the star of the show, however.
Cons: It seems as if the kitchen is still working through a few small flaws–but these mistakes were confined to tiny details that didn’t detract from the overall enjoyment of the experience.
“Dessert lovers rejoice: D Bar, Denver’s preeminent spot for playful yet impeccably executed sweets, has finally reopened for business. The doors of the original location were shuttered last March, and owners Keegan Gerhard and Lisa Bailey planned to reopen a bigger, better rendition of D Bar just a mile away from the original in Uptown. Though D Bar was supposed to open in August, the new location didn’t end up opening for business until late November…” Read the full review here.