Decadent Dishes That Throw Moderation to the Wind
Chocolate Babka (Isaac's Bakery, Brooklyn)
The babka at Isaac’s is as beautiful as it is delicious: geologic swirls of sweetened dark chocolate and chocolate chips eddy around layers of doubled and twisted brioche dough under a dusting of streusel. Babka is thought to have gained its name thanks to its pan’s resemblance to a grandmother’s skirts, but its rich sweetness has an awful lot in common with a nana’s hug.
Margherita Pizza (Di Fara Pizza, Brooklyn)
Across the street from Isaac’s, Domenico DeMarco has spent half a century making every last one of his pies; Di Fara Pizza is closed when he’s not there. The most decadent thing about his classic margherita pizza (made with tomato sauce, mozzarella, Parmigiano-Reggiano, olive oil, and fresh basil) could be the time it takes to acquire it; pizza-lovers have been known to wait more than two hours for a slice.
Giant Family Seafood Platter (Blue Fish, Sydney, Australia)
If you find yourself unable to settle on a single offering at Darling Harbour’s Blue Fish, you can take a deep breath, tie on an extra-large bib and choose them all. This two-tiered, fresh-caught feast includes oysters, steamed mussels, Queensland tiger prawns, “Moreton Bay Bugs” (known to non-locals as slipper lobster), barbecued king prawns, crumbed prawns, octopus, calamari and squid—topped with a Western Australian Rock Lobster Mornay, Atlantic salmon, and barramundi. If you’re worried that you’ve depopulated the sea, rest easy: restaurateur Glenn Boyland is committed to preserving local marine life and purchases sustainable stock from Sydney fish markets.
Pavlova (City Extra, Sydney, Australia)
"Although one may fail to find happiness in theatrical life,” the Russian prima ballerina Anna Pavlova once said, "one never wishes to give it up after having once tasted its fruits." Pavlova toured Australia and New Zealand in 1926, and the airy concoction bearing her name has pirouetted across dessert menus Down Under ever since. City Extra’s Pavlova has a hard meringue shell that gives way to a chewy interior; it’s costumed with strawberries, passionfruit, banana and cream.
Khai Jiao (Raan Jay Fai, Bangkok, Thailand)
Foodies queue along Maha Chai Road in Bangkok’s Old City for a taste of Jay “Auntie with a Mole” Fai's celebrated crab omelet (khai jiao). After whipping generous lumps of crab meat with egg and fish sauce, Jay Fai forms a cylinder with spatulas and a few flips; with a quick fry over a coal fire, she gives the omelet’s surface a regal golden exterior (known as “wok hei,” the je ne sais quoi flavor achieved by cooking with a wok over high heat). No wonder she’s been called the "Mozart of the Wok."
Pad Thai (Pad Thai Thip Samai, Bangkok, Thailand)
Like Raan Jay Fai, Thip Samai sprouts a tail of several dozen hungry patrons-to-be as soon as it raises it gate each afternoon. Lovers of Thip Samai’s pad thai—sun-dried rice noodles, shrimp and egg stir-fried to smoky-sweet perfection with tamarind, palm sugar and fish sauce, then garnished with cilantro, chilies, bean sprouts and lime wedges—report that it dishes up the best version in Thailand.
Soft-Shell Crab (Captain James Landing, Baltimore)
This Charm City delicacy looks a bit like a crab wearing a sandwich because, well, that’s exactly what it is. In Maryland eateries, soft-shell crab (caught just after they’ve molted, when they have yet to harden up) appears much as it does when it’s hauled out of the Chesapeake. At Captain James Landing, it’s battered and deep fried, then served shell, claws and all.
Suppli al Telefono (Supplizio, Rome, Italy)
Suppli al telefono, or "telephone wires," refers to the luxurious strands of mozzarella that ooze out of the deep-fried risotto croquettes at Supplizio, a small-plates bistro near Piazza Navona in the historic center of Rome. Suppli are often served as the prelude to a pizza, but they could easily constitute a (rather magnificent) all-aperitivo meal.
Quesillo (Quesillos El Pipe, Managua, Nicaragua)
For Nicaraguans, quesillo is both an ingredient (a fresh, yogurt-like cheese that’s boiled and salted) and a street food; at Quesillos El Pipe, a roadside eatery near the capital city of Managua, the quesillo (which is made on-site) is wrapped in a tortilla, doused with pickled onions and crema, then wrapped and served in a plastic bag. The most delicious convenience food on Earth, or the most convenient delicious food on Earth? Call it a draw.
Candied-cherry raspado (Raspados Loly's, Managua, Nicaragua)
Eloisa Saenz perfected her recipe for dulce de leche served over shaved ice with cubes of panetela (dense cake) more than half a century ago. That achingly sweet dessert, raspado, is a national favorite; Eloisa’s family now serves it at Loly’s locations in Nicaragua and in Miami. “The raspado relleno is to die for,” one American visitor said. “And that could be literal. After consuming it you may die of a sugar overdose.”
Hot Pepper Chocolate Pie (Arnold's Country Kitchen, Nashville)
If you yearn for dessert with a kick to echo the sauce on your barbecue, Arnold’s Country Kitchen has the devilish dish of your dreams; the sweet chocolate-pudding filling in their hot-pepper chocolate pie carries a dash of cayenne pepper. The Arnold clan’s take on a traditional chess pie might sound unorthodox, but they know what they’re doing: They earned a James Beard Foundation Classics Award in 2009.
Fried Catfish and Hush Puppies (Ezell's Southern Food Express, Birmingham, AL)
Ezell’s Southern Food Express is the proud descendent of Ezell’s Fish Camp, a legendary Depression-era stop for catfish, slaw and hush puppies that started with “a single hook and a fishing line.” Alabama-raised catfish comes to the table at Ezell’s on the bone, breaded and deep-fried, with savory-sweet cornmeal hush puppies—and 80 years and two generations after CA Ezell decided to make a living on the Tombigbee River, it’s still one of the most popular dishes around.
Pelmeni (Café Glechik, Brooklyn)
Vadim Tesler named his NYC Ukranian outpost Café Glechik after the traditional clay pots used to serve pelmeni, his succulent meat-stuffed dumplings. This is Brighton Beach comfort food with a pedigree: Vadim’s grandmother and great-grandmother were famous a century ago for catering “the best and the biggest weddings” in Odessa.
Cheesecake (Junior's Cheesecake, Brooklyn)
Junior’s opened its doors at the corner of Flatbush and Dekalb in Brooklyn on Election Day, 1950; it’s been serving the city’s most celebrated cheesecake (hand-mixed with velvety sweetened Philadelphia cream cheese on a sponge cake base, since “it’s a cake, not a pie”) ever since. How many calories are there in a piece of Junior’s c-cake? In the words of J.P. Morgan, if you have to ask, you can’t afford it.
Biscuits and Gravy (Biscuit Love, Nashville)
Brunchers in Nashville flock to Biscuit Love for light, fluffy biscuits with all the trimmings. Traditionalists can cover their plates with ham, homemade pork gravy and eggs; early risers with a sweet tooth, in turn, can opt for chocolate gravy à la carte. If you’re feeling especially adventurous, you could attempt both—though you should probably change into sweatpants first.