Choose Desserts Over Dinner

The best places in Madison to splurge on dessert

Sep 20, 2012

By the time dessert menus are offered, a symphony of polite “No, thank you” appears. But try a novel concept: going out just for dessert. Think of it as going out for coffee or drinks—just sweeter. 

Gail Ambrosius Truffle Plate

Fresco offers not only flavor but ambiance. The sleek rooftop restaurant—set above the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art—boasts stunning views of Madison.

The Gail Ambrosius dark chocolate plate is a local treat, and can be paired with a dessert wine or port. Flavors fluctuate, and house made jellies and salted bacon caramels serve as accompaniments. Who needs cheese to complement after-dinner drinks when there’s dark chocolate?

Fresco, 227 State St., 663-7374,


Lombardinos’ dessert menu is unmistakably dolce. Or, as Americans translate it, “sweet.” 

Their spumoni intertwines American and Italian cuisines, layering molded Italian ice cream and sorbet, making your mouth do just what its translation suggests: “foam.”

“In Italy there are many rules of eating food, but for ice cream they throw all the rules out the window and like to have many different flavors, so that’s where the idea [of spumoni] is from,” says chef and co-owner Patrick O’Halloran.

For his rendition, O’Halloran aimed to “update it a little bit, make it for the adult palate, not overly sweet like a lot of the Italian desserts.”

Traditional toasted pistachio ice cream is accented with cherry ice cream derived from both tart Door County cherries and compacted, syrup-based Italian morsels. Topped off with French bittersweet chocolate sorbet, it’s a chocolate-lover’s nirvana.

Lombardino’s Restaurant, 2500 University Ave., 238-1922,

Italian Bread Pudding

Vin Santo Trattoria takes the cake for offering gluten-free options with their cheesecake and berry desserts. Traditionalists will appreciate the Middleton restaurant’s cannoli and tiramisu, but the most popular dessert, Italian bread pudding, goes back to basics.

“The customers love it, a simple European bread and butter pudding,” says chef Gregg Edwardsen.

Made in house daily, the pudding is lighter in texture and consistency than conventional bread pudding. Topped with a creamy caramel-flavored grappa sauce, this dish is guaranteed to melt in your mouth. 

Adhering to the stereotypical Italian tradition of large portions, these sweets can “easily feed two and probably four,” Edwardsen says, making the restaurant an ideal candidate for a double date.

Vin Santo Trattoria, 7462 Hubbard Ave., Middleton, 836-1880,


Back to Six Secrets to Dining Out in Madison

Brianna Wilson is a former editorial intern at Madison Magazine.

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