Review: Sugarmill could become a real sweet spot in the Ballpark neighborhood
2461 Larimer Street, #101
Hours: 8 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 8 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m.-11 p.m. Saturday
Ever see that magnet that says, "Life is short. Eat spinach first"? Of course not; it doesn't exist. People don't go crazy for vegetables, not even heirloom ones plucked straight from the ground. You can blame that on biology, or too many chocolate chip cookies eaten as kids. Whatever the reason -- be it nature or nurture -- the reality is that most of us can't resist sweets, which is why Sugarmill has the potential to be such a hit.
See also: Behind the Scenes at Sugarmill
Launched early this winter in a rapidly evolving section of the Ballpark neighborhood, the restaurant is a collaboration between pastry chef Noah French and prolific restaurateur Troy Guard, who crossed paths more than a decade ago at Roy's in New York. Designed by the same team behind Los Chingones, Guard's Mexican restaurant that opened next to Sugarmill in December, the dessert bar has a vibe all its own (even if the bathrooms are shared).
Noah French behind the chef's counter at Sugarmill.
The color palette is elegant, with soft blues, browns and greens. Walls are covered with patterned wallpaper and a mural of a nineteenth-century factory, with men in top hats and women in gowns ambling near gigantic wheels and gears. Glass-globe bulbs hang from the ceiling and cast a romantic glow. Despite the case of pastel-hued macarons and tarts by the door, this clearly wasn't intended as a grab-and-go environment. It's a place to settle in, preferably at the marble chef's counter, and watch French in action. What better way to impress a date or extend an evening spent elsewhere than with desserts promising to be every bit as refined as the surroundings?
Yet what stands out most about Sugarmill is not the dacquoise or cheesecake or crème brûlée, or the appetizers or entrees from a savory menu initially designed by Guard and executed by chef de cuisine and TAG alum Jeff Hickman. (Hickman now handles the monthly menu changes.) French himself commands the attention here -- and that says as much about the charismatic Jersey native as it does about the fare his kitchen is putting out.
Danielle Lirette Quiche makes a quick lunch at Sugarmill.
As you walk through the door, French, in chef's whites embroidered with his name, is quick to shout out a hearty welcome. Sit at the counter and he's as apt to strike up a conversation as he is to turn on the propane torch or squirt mango coulis from a plastic bottle. It is French who realizes that an ice cream float just went out without the red-and-white-striped straws, French who reminds a server to update the menu on the sidewalk. If you come just for dessert, he'll prompt Hickman to extend a morsel of mushroom toast to let you know what you're missing, and give you a menu so that you'll consider coming back next time for dinner. Even on nights when French is in the weeds, he'll make time for small talk before apologizing and returning his attention to a sheet pan of cake.
Made-to-order desserts are elaborate creations, with a host of flavors and textures, often mousse next to cake next to multi-colored sunbursts of sauces. A dried, syrup-poached carrot slants toward the ceiling. Crumbles of red-velvet cake cascade like a waterfall from a crisp macaron. Hot caramel spills from a pitcher over a chocolate globe, melting the shell to reveal a cloud of fluffy whipped cream. Rarely does a plate arrive at a table without eliciting some sort of audible gasp. "We want it to be a show, a 'wow,'" says French, a Culinary Institute of America grad who cut his chops at Disney World before traveling the country as the corporate pastry chef for Roy's.
Many Sugarmill desserts have that wow factor. Shades of Red, one in a series of color-themed plates that French is rolling out, combined the chewy pop of strawberry boba with the silkiness of raspberry mousse, the airiness of a raspberry macaron with cubes of red-velvet cake; berries and a dollop of housemade rosé champagne sorbet called the tongue to attention, providing welcome pops of acidity. Bunch of Carrots was more homespun, with praline cream, an ice cream float, and carrot cake finished not with cream cheese frosting but cheesecake, with a springy layer of gelatin-laced caramel on top. Those flavors were echoed by streaks of caramel and a spiced carrot-cake purée on the plate. Even the simple-sounding apple-almond tart was far from simple, with a very rich, sweet base of almond flour, butter and sugar supporting caramelized apples, maple-walnut ice cream and a drizzle of orange-scented honey.
Keep reading for the rest of the review on Sugarmill.