If you're a dessert skipper, you're in good company. In a food-service system designed to satisfy diners with an entree and fatten them with small plates and sides, it's just overkill to drop a dessert menu at the end of all that. Especially for nickel-counting happy-hour goers — and we all know who we are. Crave Dessert Bar & Lounge is one of those dual-purpose sweet centers that pushes meticulously constructed cakes, pastries and the rest to sugar cravers while offering full savory dinner and lunch menus for everyone else. Crave is a spot that flies under-the-radar in foodie circles, despite taking up some of LoDo's most valuable real estate, but thousands of Facebook likes and bustling pre-and post-theater crowds mean that the appeal is real — and that it might extend beyond the fanciful creations on the dessert menu.
Crave's happy hour runs from 3 to 6 p.m. from Tuesday to Sunday, a strange, in-between time for this place. Theater and convention business slows to a trickle, while those in the know save their appetite for Crave's late-night desserts and drinks.
But drinking is fashionable at any time of day, no? On my late-afternoon visit, I returned to an old favorite: the Irish coffee ($8), one of the many tantalizing hot beverages on the cocktail roster. Sadly, this was not the same cup that ignited my Irish coffee fandom two years ago. Freshly whipped cream and the lovely tang of just-grated nutmeg was replaced by Reddi-Wip and caramel sauce — but the coffee itself, from Method Roasters, is as good as ever.
Aside from the steamy drinks, happy hour brings discounted cocktails, like $7 Moscow mules in every conceivable configuration and an $8 monster cup called Chocolate Is The Answer, with coffee, vodka, chipotle and chocolate syrup, vanilla and shaved chocolate. Now that's the kind of delirious excess you expect when you go to a place called Crave.
The other notable happy hour feature is a $2 discount on Crave's small plates and flatbreads. Like its comrade in confections, D Bar, the savory menu is a slightly twisted but familiar slate of comfort food and post-2010 foodie trends, mostly lacking in the sweet stuff. Beyond the duck wings ($6) and mac & cheese with fried prosciutto ($8), the glint of sugar within the sweet potato waffles ($5) lured me in. The waffles are quite fine, with a little bit of fall spice, and espresso-rubbed pork belly rests atop, making for a nice contrast in texture with a drizzle of maple-bourbon syrup. No trace of the promised grilled sweet potatoes or of spice in the ghost pepper butter, though.
The selection of flatbreads is quite familiar, from the mushroom to the Italian, but the ingredients in the bacon-fig version ($7) did pique my interest. This one sported Bayley Hazen blue cheese, baked to a brownish crisp atop a layer of fig spread and slices of pear and bacon shining with garlic oil. A legacy of the now-closed Organic Pizza Co., which was owned by the same team of Darrell Naughton and Allen Milham, this pizza pretender was far from flashy, certainly underdone, but satisfying.
And yeah, I left room for dessert. In a trial worthy of Joan of Arc, I scraped and budgeted my appetite to be able to sample one of Crave's vaunted desserts (I'm told my Presidential Medal of Freedom is on its way). Seeking something not sickeningly sweet and a little complex, I settled on chai créme brûlée ($10) and its laundry list of accompaniments. As expected, it was a beautiful plate, the ramekin itself surrounded with a smear of pumpkin-white-chocolate ganache, dotted with tiny bits of cinnamon meringue, grounded by pumpkin cake and cranberry compote. I say screw the haters: Pumpkin spice is cool year-round. This plate doesn't have the effortless elegance of some of the best high-concept desserts, just a killer concept and execution — the only thing I tried that really came together.
The lounge is still shiny and cool, even in this age of lo-fi restaurant aesthetics. The 2013 expansion added a dining room that lessened the claustrophobia of the original space, making after-ballet drinks a more welcome proposition. A well-worn copy of Mean Girls plays on a loop, a fine fit with what's on the menu and behind the bar. Like the Plastics, there's sex appeal and a touch of class, but a little something off. But taken in the proper context, say, at brunch or after 11 p.m., there's fetch happening here.
Perfect For: Got your tickets for Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story On Stage yet? Pair two guilty pleasures on one night, with a musical extravaganza across the street and apple fritter doughnuts at Crave for your Hungry Eyes.
Don't Miss: Unsurprisingly, Crave brings out the big weapons for brunch. Grab a mimosa carafe ($10) and a pile of bourbon chicken and waffles ($12), and watch 10 a.m. quickly turn into 1 p.m. and a Lyft ride home.
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