Confection Perfections: North Country desserts tantalize our taste buds

Three deserts from Rainbow Shores, located in Pulaski, are featured on a table.

BY: Norah Machia
A large variety of timeless treats and sinful sweets are available at venues throughout the north country, and when indulging your sweet tooth, nothing tastes betters than a freshly made dessert to finish off a meal or accompany a cup of coffee.

    Some customers like to try different taste combinations when it comes to dessert – even inquiring about innovative items they may have seen on various social media sites. Many others, however, prefer the classic and traditional desserts that have remained popular for decades, not only in this region, but nationwide (think cheesecake and brownie a la mode). 

    Even if a dessert offers a new twist to a classic favorite, the most popular “flavor profiles” have remained the same, according to several restaurant and bakery owners. These include peanut butter and chocolate, blueberry and lemon, and strawberries and cream. 

    As a result, many Northern New York culinary experts have adopted a two-fold strategy when it comes to offering their customers a variety of desserts – creating new and rather unique items to serve at their venues, and at the same time, keeping classic favorites on the menu. 

Sydney Schaefer/NNY Living
Kyle Hayes, an owner of Gram’s Diner, stands in front of the restaurant located in Adams.

Gram’s Diner, 13 Main St., Adams 

    This diner has been located on Main Street for many years, earning a reputation as a casual family-friendly restaurant serving a variety of daily meal specials, including breakfast, lunch and dinner. The establishment has also earned a solid reputation for its homemade desserts. 

    Gram’s Diner was purchased nearly seven years ago by its current owners, who sought to keep that same “sense of community” that had been present at the establishment since its early days as Fran’s Restaurant. People still come to the diner to catch up on the latest news, or to share conversation with friends or family over a good meal, and in many cases, a delectable dessert. 

    Gram’s Diner even has a sign that once hung in the landmark Woolworth’s Department Store lunch counter in Watertown, which reads “Two best places to eat, here and home!” 

    “When we took over the diner, we wanted to keep it a classic diner, but at the same time, we also wanted to modernize it,” said Kyle Hayes, one of the owners. 

    “We took what was here, and added more items to the menu, with better and fresher ingredients.” 

    “That carried over into our desserts as well,” he added. 

    The diner still offers many of the popular desserts that have been on the menu for decades, such as carrot cake, coconut cream pie and strawberry shortcake (made with fresh local strawberries when in season). Other popular desserts include cheesecake and the chocolate cream/peanut butter pie. 

    But those classic desserts are “rotated” on the menu, giving the owners the opportunity to introduce their customers to other new and tempting dessert options, said Mr. Hayes. 

    Some creative desserts at Gram’s Diner have resulted from special requests by customers, who discovered dessert photos on various social media sites, and asked the owners if they could recreate them with their own special twist, Mr. Hayes said. Other new desserts were created by the owners themselves, who are always keeping up to date on the latest dessert trends. 

    “We’ve had people send us photos and ask if we could try making that particular dessert,” Mr. Hayes said. “But we also keep our eyes open for things that strike our fancy, and that may be something we see on Pinterest, Facebook or Instagram.” 

    “Then we may take an idea and make a Gram’s Diner version of it that will work for our customer,” he added. 

    Some examples of new desserts that have been featured at Gram’s Diner in the past include a funnel cake with blueberry pudding, and a “birthday cake hot chocolate” comprised of a white-hot chocolate with a chunk of cake and sprinkles – a great cold weather treat. 

    Earlier this year on Valentine’s Day, the diner offered a “dessert flight” featuring several different types of mousse in “tasting glasses,” including red velvet, chocolate fudge, orange creme and raspberry. 

    Brownie “shots” that were baked and filled with peanut butter frosting, and topped off with ice cream, were another special “limited edition” dessert item on the menu. An upcoming and popular fall dessert will be the Gram’s Diner version of a cookie butter cheesecake. 

    “We will often post on Facebook some of our specialties, and the sweet things are what people like to see the most,” Mr. Hayes said. “We do have a lot of people that just come here for coffee and dessert – that’s been a tradition since the inception of the American diner.” 

    “Sometimes people will order more than one dessert and share with others at the table, making it more of a communal experience,” he added. 

    The Gram’s Diner dessert menu is a balancing act of offering new items to “keep things fresh,” and at the same time, still providing the classic dessert options on a rotating basis, he said. 

    “We will always keep traditional favorites on the menu, especially the tried and true ones that we are really known for serving,” Mr. Hayes said. 

    They don’t get too many requests, however, for alternative options, such as desserts made with low-calorie artificial sweeteners, he said. 

    “When our customers come here for dessert, they want real dessert,” Mr. Hayes said. 

Sydney Schaefer/NNY Living
Rebekah Alford, owner and chef at Rainbow Shores.

Rainbow Shores, 186 South Rainbow Shores Road, Pulaski 

    This business is located on the eastern shore of Lake Ontario, and has a deep-rooted history in the Pulaski area, according the restaurant’s history. 

    It operated as a “bootlegging country club in the early 20th century” and now bills itself as a “summer dining hot spot” open for its 10th season, offering a unique place to dine and enjoy a beautiful sunset, and on some evenings, even listen to live music. 

    It’s also a place where chef and owner Rebekah Alford enjoys the art of food presentation, also referred to as “plating,” a technique used to enhance and improve the appeal of the specialty desserts. 

    The “plating” technique involves creating the right combination of tastes, colors and textures to creatively enhance both the look and the taste of the food being served. 

    “I like to try new decorative things every now and then, so I don’t fall into a rut” of creating the same desserts each day, she said. 

    Her desserts are often presented on white plates, and some will have a mix of smooth and crunchy textures. The white plates allow for the color of a special dessert glaze or powder to better stand out from a visual perspective. 

    Some of Ms. Alford’s specialties have included a special lavender and rosemary cake, and she even used beer as an ingredient to make ice cream, noting “I really enjoy being creative.” 

    There are, however, items that have regularly appeared on the dessert menu for years. Some of the most popular are the Brownie Pie A La Mode (brownie, ice cream and fudge sauce) and the Opera Cake (made with thin layers of almond cake soaked in special coffee syrup, with expresso-flavored butter cream, bittersweet chocolate ganache and a glaze topping). 

    While many customers will order dessert after dinner, some plan well in advance to “save room” for dessert by ordering just an appetizer as their “main meal,” she said. Other customers just stop in for coffee or drinks and dessert. 

    The restaurant does offer some gluten-free options, including a crème brulee (a rich custard base with a topping of hardened caramelized sugar). For those who “want something lighter” to finish off their meal, there are a variety of ice cream and gelato flavors on the menu. 

    On special occasions, such as weddings, the restaurant will offer an assortment of “sweet bites” for all tastes – including the flavors of brownies, lemon bars, macaroons, cheesecake, chocolate chip cookies, peanut butter cookies, oatmeal raisin cookies, shortbreads, biscotti, key lime bars, chocolate cherry chunk cookies, truffles and petit fours. 

Sydney Schaefer/NNY Living
Jayme Casler, owner and chef at Beefcakes BG, stands with his apple cider donut cake with Burrville Cider Mill donuts and homemade glaze.

Beefcakes BG, Watertown 

    The chef behind these dessert creations, Jayme Casler, does not have a storefront bakery, but offers special order desserts and distributes baked goods at Rezcko’s Fried Dough at the Salmon Run Mall. 

    It might seem like an odd choice for a bodybuilder who has worked diligently to lose weight and get back in shape, but he’s also living proof that it doesn’t hurt to have a sweet treat every once in awhile. 

    Last fall Mr. Casler formed a DBA with the name “Beefcakes BG” to reflect upon his personal weight loss journey, he said. But he has always remained passionate about baking – especially desserts. 

    “I would make things for friends and family, and they really encouraged me to start my own business,” he said. 

    Mr. Casler specializes in donuts, cupcakes, and custom-order cakes, including gluten-free variations. He takes special orders through his social media network (Facebook and Instagram), along with sales through Reczko’s Dough in the mall’s food court area. 

    Reczko’s Dough specializes in fried dough, homemade sweets, cupcakes, cannoli and lemonade, among other items. 

    When it comes to special requests for baked goods, some of the most popular taste combinations have stood the test of time, Mr. Casler said. Particularly the combination of peanut butter and chocolate for cakes or cupcakes. “That’s definitely one of the most popular requests,” he added. 

    Mr. Casler has also experimented with other taste combinations, including smores (a graham cracker, marshmallow and chocolate combination), and the infamous Girl Scout thin mint cookies. 

    He is currently trying out a new recipe for protein doughnuts and cupcakes to offer customers a healthier baked good option in the future.