Sweets in the City
by Tyler A. Thomas author of Nebraska Beer Great Plains History by the Pint and founder/managing editor of NebraskaFoodie.com
Growing up in a big Italian family, there was never a meal that we didn’t end feeling stuffed and wishing for a little more stretch in our pants. It wasn’t just the appetizers, loads of bread and carb heavy entrées, it was the fact that we always ended with some kind of dessert. And no matter how full we might have felt, there was always room for dessert. Now with a family of my own, the tradition of dessert continues in the capital city as I continue to feed my addiction to rich desserts and my constant cravings for sugary goodness.
For over a decade I spent time on the campus of the University of Nebraska–Lincoln both as a student and then as a staff member. During the first week of classes freshman year, I was introduced to one of my favorite sweet shops in the city, the UNL Dairy Store. Since 1917, the Dairy Store on UNL’s East Campus has been serving up dairy products including ice cream, cheeses and meats all handmade by students and staff on-site. The meat and cheese are delicious and highly recommended, but there is nothing like their ice cream. Served by the scoop in a cone or dish at their newly renovated East Campus store or a single serve from their food truck, it’s not a UNL event if there isn’t UNL Dairy Store ice cream. From their Big Ten flavors like Black Walnut Fudge, Bavarian Mint and Carmel Cashew to seasonal favorites like Strawberry Rhubarb and Chocolate Cookies and Cream you can’t go wrong. My personal favorite is the Scarlet and Cream, I even served it at my wedding! This rich vanilla ice cream with a generous swirl of strawberry is named for the official colors of the University and is as big a tradition as Husker football!
I was lucky growing up that I spent two years in Belgium living in a suburb of the capitol city Brussels. Throughout the city there are European inspired bakeries with fresh breads, desserts, coffee and other delicious treats. When I first moved to Lincoln, I experienced something similar to my childhood the first time I visited Le Quartier Bakery & Café. Inspired by bakeries of Montreal and Paris, Le Quartier is a taste of Europe right here in Lincoln. With an extensive fresh bread menu and amazing breakfast and lunch specials there is nothing like being transported back to Europe in every bite from their desserts. The Pain Aux Raisins and the traditional Pain au Chocolat are two of my favorites. My wife and kids love the cinnamon rolls! We usually have to order double the amount, some for now and some for later. If pastries aren’t your favorite, their flourless chocolate torte and 3 bite mini pecan pies are absolutely killer!
If you’re in downtown Lincoln and suffer from that dreaded 2:00 pm slump, The Cookie Company is that trusted confidant. Family owned since 1981 and located at 12 & P streets (and Gateway Mall), the Cookie Company features cookies the size of your hand and they’re served in singles or by the dozen. I often find myself swinging by the cookie case searching for my favorite staple, the E.T. at least once a week. This extra tasty chocolate cookie is studded with peanut butter chips and is out of this world. Paired with a 50 cent Coke®, it’s my go-to to get me through a case of the Mondays. Other fan favorites include the monster cookie, sugar frosted cookie, ginger and pumpkin with burned butter frosting. No matter if you’re looking for a personal pick-me-up or want to the be the office hero, Cookie Company has your back 6-days a week.
Lewis Carroll is famous for writing The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland and while there are plenty of places in Lincoln to get lost in a good book, small batch baking and top quality sweets is a rabbit hole I often find myself going down. And lucky for me, hidden below the Haymarket at 8th & Q streets is Lincoln’s own The Rabbit Hole Bakery. Since 2016, this hidden gem has been serving up slices of scratch made heaven in a whimsical space tucked away from the hustle of downtown life. From cake by the slice and cake pops to assorted tarts and rich brownies and cream puffs, the confections of The Rabbit Hole change daily, making it always a good idea to come back by. In addition to delicious treats, specialty cocktails and other alcoholic beverages are on the menu, so if tea isn’t what you want in your cup, you can always order something with a few more bubbles.
If you have any food allergies or limitations, or if you’re interested in trying custom pastries, Goldenrod Pastries has something for you. Founded in 2014 and located on the corner of 48th and Prescott streets near Union College, Goldenrod Pastries’ menu includes pastries designed for vegan, gluten-free and other alternative diets. The desserts are definitely Instagrammable—from yummy bars, French macarons and desserts with edible flowers to gooey cinnamon rolls and fresh fruit cakes to their use of over-the-top sprinkles. If you want to bake your own, owner Angela Garbacz recently published, Perfectly Golden, a book that features her gluten and dairy free recipes right along side the butter and flour versions. Goldenrod’s pink pastry boxes are head turners in Lincoln and bring the same excitement as the little blue boxes from Tiffany & Co.
Anyone can bring wine or beer to a gathering, I prefer to bring dessert. And to make it as easy as grabbing a few bottles from James Arthur Vineyard or a six pack of local beer, I swing by Butterfly Bakery in central Lincoln on 33rd Street. This full service bakery is one of my favorites in the city. But my admiration goes beyond beautiful occasion cakes, I’m in love with Butterfly’s “bite size” take on dessert. From Lemon Curd Tarts and Mousse Cups to Truffles and Petit Fours to my absolute favorite dessert Chocolate Cigars, you can’t go wrong with these bite sized concoctions. I prefer to mix and match a few dozen of my favorites with a few dozen of whatever is seasonally on special. Their selection never disappoints and you’re sure to be the crowd favorite no matter what you choose.
For Mexican and international delights, visit family owned Pan Dulce Bakery at 801 S. 11th Street. It is absolutely worth a visit—it’s like walking into a delicious fairytale pastry world. All around there’s flaky puff pastry filled with yummy fruit and creamy fillings plus traditional baked goods like fresh rolls, biscuits, donuts, breads, cakes and Mexican favorites like cinnamon-spiced sweet breads.
No matter if you’re looking for a pick-me-up or something for a dinner party or for that special someone’s birthday, Lincoln is a city of sweet treats. And the local entrepreneurs mixing up these delicious morsels are committed to doing it in a fun and unique way, so not only will your treats taste great, you’ll have the perfect post to make your Instagram followers jealous.