“Guess we won’t have much dessert for two weeks,” I said as we left our house for the airport, assuming that baklava was all that awaited my voracious sweet tooth in Greece. “That’s okay. I’m going for the sights anyway, not the food,” I considerately reassured my mother.
When we arrived in Athens the following morning, hungry and tired and desperately in need of some quick food, we followed the advice of our hotel concierge and walked to Monastiraki Square. Before even crossing the street to get to the main square area, we spotted a gelateria and a creperie. Too exhausted to explore in depth before making a decision, we headed straight for the creperie with plans of gelato for dessert. To my surprise, their menu of sweet crepes had options that far exceeded any I had found at similar establishments in the U.S. – both in terms of variety and originality. It was a hard choice, but we settled on a white chocolate praline, Oreo, and strawberry crepe and a milk chocolate caramel, banana, and biscuit crepe. They tasted just about as good as they sounded. The gelato next door (I had bannoffee and brownies and cream) was a little icy in texture for our tastes, but still passable. We were just happy to find a creperie and gelateria in Greece at all, let alone next to each other and within walking distance from our hotel.
Once we began our walk around the square, we passed several more gelatarias and creperies, many claiming to also serve waffles. We literally couldn’t travel a few feet without finding another dessert shop. I had attempted some research before leaving for Greece, but I must not have even known what to look for, since the existence of all of these places came as a total surprise. After that first day walking around Athens, I did a lot of research at our hotel so that we wouldn’t miss out on the very best desserts. People raved about Da Vinci Artisan Gelato online, which we had passed that day after we had already eaten, so we chose that as our next culinary destination.
I got marzipan gelato and “Da Vinci’s Blend” gelato (sweet cream, chocolate cake, and honey) topped with Bueno sauce the first time we went. It was divine. I gave it the highest praise one could give to gelato and exclaimed, “This is as good as Grom!” We hadn’t even been able to find a second gelateria in Italy that rivaled Grom.
Of course, convinced we had found the best gelato in Athens (and maybe Greece), we went back the next night. This time we were more adventurous. We ordered vaflaki. I am forever grateful to Greece for introducing me to vaflaki. Imagine a waffle. Now imagine each pocket of the waffle enlarged and separated so that they can be enjoyed on the go with one hand – all you need is a fork! I got cookies and cream gelato and stracciatella gelato topped with caramel and chocolate pearls.
Cookie or “biscuit” flavored gelato – and pretty much all other desserts for that matter – were everywhere. As a cookie lover who is obsessed with cookie ice creams and cookie crusts (I famously requested m&m cookies to be mixed into the buttercream that filled the center of my 12th birthday cake), I was in heaven. And I was simultaneously appalled that the U.S. shows such little cookie love in comparison. Something else to note – whenever you see “cookies and cream” gelato in Greece, it usually refers to chocolate chip cookies, while gelato containing Oreos is simply called “Oreo.” This vaflaki topped with high quality gelato was one of the best desserts I’ve had in recent memory.
As my mother and I walked around the Plaka and its various squares, we repeatedly passed a restaurant called Cookie Land. There weren’t multiple locations; we just really had no idea where we were going and had zero luck following our map. Despite its suspiciously American title, we finally decided to try it.
I was immediately intrigued when I looked over their menu and realized that they had cookies, gelato, waffles, pies, cakes, and “bowls,” which they used to refer to their layered dessert cups. I made the obvious choice, a cookie bowl from Cookie Land. Before they served it, they even brought a few complimentary cookies to our table.
I’ll take that over a bread basket any day of the week! I’m still dreaming of their cookie bowl. It has secured a coveted spot toward the top of my list of favorite desserts ever. Its base was a mix of chocolate mousse and chocolate cookie crumbs, which was topped with cookie flavored custard (that was so airy it was like a mousse), a hidden star-shaped shortbread cookie and some more chocolate mousse, another layer of cookie custard, and then a final layer of milk chocolate ganache and a star cookie to finish it all off. The combination of crunchy and creamy textures and chocolate and cookie flavors was perfection. Basically, it is the dessert I would have created if I had been asked to design my ideal dessert. It’s the dessert that I didn’t even realize my life was missing. I plan to recreate it at home as soon as possible.
I also tried their mille-feuille bowl, which was whipped cream layered with puff pastry coated in powdered sugar, and it was also great for what it was, but not nearly as complex and potently flavorful as the cookie bowl.
By a stroke of unprecedented luck, we left Athens right before Greek banks started to close and ATM withdrawals were limited to 60 Euro a day. We escaped to Santorini, an idyllic island driven by tourism that remained seemingly unaffected (at least to a couple of foreigners only there for a few days) by the financial crisis. More desserts awaited us there! Stay tuned…