Wine, beer and cocktails are often paired with the food menu, but dessert tends to be overlooked. That may be changing as the bar and the back-of-the-house are teaming up at some restaurants to offer dessert and drink pairings designed to elevate the end-of-the-meal experience.

At Easy Bistro and Bar in Chattanooga, Tenn., chef and owner Erik Niel and head bartender Laura Kelton are pairing classic desserts with unexpected cordials, wine and beer.

“As a chef and wine director, the idea of pairing food and drink is like breathing,” said Niel. “It just makes sense.”

Current dessert pairings include a house-made Kumquatcello and a seasonal Strawberry Shortcake. Niel and Kelton put the two together because they like the way the shortcake’s savory biscuit goes with the sweet citrus and how the richness of the cream is cut by the high proof of the liquor.  

Also offered as a go-together is the Bourbon Bread Pudding and Green Flash’s Double Stout. While bourbon might be the obvious beverage choice, Niel wanted to do something subtler. He explains that the stout’s rich body of chocolate and coffee boosts the sweetness of the bread pudding, and its mild effervescence draws out the heat from the dessert’s candied and spiced pecans.



“With these pairings, especially in the dessert realm, you can create new flavor profiles in tried and true dessert,” adds Niel.

End-of-meal combinations are the whole point of Red Light Cocktails & Dessert Bar in Washington, D.C., a recently opened concept dedicated entirely to desserts and craft cocktails that pair well. Diners can order from a prix fixe menu featuring a selection of thoughtful unions culled from executive chef Robert Underwood’s daily seasonal selection of desserts and a distinctive cocktail menu created by brothers Ari and Micah Wilder, or pick and choose their own pairs. Desserts currently available include items such as Black & Tan Donuts, Quinoa Brulee Pudding and Pistachio Tea Cakes. The Wilder brothers’ dessert-like cocktail menu features concoctions such as the Cake Shake, made with red velvet cupcake, homemade ice cream, dark rum, velvet falernum and cocoa bitters; and the Cherry Bomb, made with bourbon, Cherry Heering liqueur, lemon, Prosecco and Angostura bitters.            

At North End Grill in New York City, pastry chef Tracy Obolsky offers a Cherry-Cola Ice Cream Sundae, made with cherries, cola ice cream, cola granita, vanilla whipped cream, and fizzy cherry candy, that is paired with Bugey-Cerdon La Cueille, a sparkling dessert wine.  The dessert was inspired by Obolsky’s childhood love of cherry cola, and she says the pairing was made because the Bugey-Cerdon has a ripe candied cherry note that complements the cherries in the sundae and adds the essential fizz needed to complete the nostalgic experience.

At Robert’s Maine Grill in Kittery, Maine, the pairing doesn’t come from the bar, but the purpose is still about improving the dessert experience. The farm-to-table meets-big-Maine-seafood-house restaurant offers the Whoopie Pie and Milk, a made-from scratch Maine classic (it’s the state dessert) and a cold glass of milk.

“[The Whoopie Pie and Milk] has been wildly popular and has a bit of a cult following,” said Robert’s owner Michael Landgarten. “Pairings in general are so much more interesting—[it] turns a one-dimensional experience into a multi-layered one.”