Icons of sweet

Sacramento’s seminal dessert destinations

Rick’s Dessert Diner has its own delicious version of a Fruit Basket Cake (pictured left).

Rick’s Dessert Diner has its own delicious version of a Fruit Basket Cake (pictured left).

Photos by Reid Fowler

In the last decade or so, Sacramento has evolved into a foodie town with adventurous chefs and daring cuisines galore. Foodie-centric desserts, of course, are a big thing, too, and around here that usually means something seasonal and Farm-to-Fork. That’s a good thing, obviously, but what of comfort treats? It’s easy for some of this town’s sweet standbys to get overlooked in the rush to gush over trendy concoctions. Not anymore: SN&R has whipped up this list of five of the area’s most iconic dessert stops. Some have been open for at least a quarter decade, but regardless of their timeline all have proven their enduring popularity.

Rick’s Dessert Diner

Popular with families, teens and late-night sweet seekers, Rick’s Dessert Diner is often overlooked in conversations about Sacramento’s dessert landscape. It’s essentially so iconic that it’s taken for granted. Rick’s originally opened in 1986 at 24th and K Streets; in 2014 it relocated one block on J Street. Whatever its location, Rick’s has spent 30-plus years crafting its reputation as a go-to for a scrumptious array. There are the usual cakes and pies, as well an impressive menu of cheesecakes and pastries, tortes and tarts. The abundance of choice coupled with Rick’s retro ’50s vibe makes for a delightful visit. Bonus, it’s open until 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights. 2401 J Street, (916) 444-0969, ricksdessertdiner.com.

Tower Cafe

A Gunther’s 50/50 Fruit Freeze is a staple menu item at the historic ice cream parlor that wedges vanilla ice cream between fruity flavors.

Tower Cafe, open since 1990, is probably better known for its eclectic, global cuisine-inspired menu, but it’s also a sweets haven. Its dessert display, tucked in the back behind an array of leafy potted plants and trees, teems with an array of delectable treats. There are towering cakes, fruit-studded tarts, creamy custards and so, so much more. Overwhelmed? The German Chocolate Cake, Crème Brûlée and Black Bottom Cupcakes are menu mainstays for a reason. And, with the Tower Theatre as its neighbor, this is the logical post-movie stop for treats and good conversation. 1518 Broadway, (916) 441-0222, towercafe.com.

Gunther’s Ice Cream

Opened in 1940, there’s a reason you’ll often find a line wrapped around Gunther’s Ice Cream. From its whimsical neon Jugglin’ Joe sign to its hand-operated “Batch Freezer Method,” Gunther’s virtually defines Sacramento ice cream. Try old favorites such as Butter Brickle, Pecan Praline or the superbly simple French Vanilla, or get a little extra with the likes of Thai Tea or Coconut Pineapple. Gunther’s also offers sundaes, milkshakes, freezes, and Hawaiian shaved ices and, if you’re craving a savory base upon which to build, there are more than a dozen sandwiches from which to choose. 2801 Franklin Boulevard, (916) 457-6646, gunthersicecream.com.

Estelle’s Bakery & Pâtisserie

A relative dessert newcomer, Estelle’s Bakery & Pâtisserie opened in 2011 and has been charming Sacramentans ever since with its Instagram-worthy sweets. The bakery, which recently moved out of its original downtown spot to expand into two new locations, sells a gorgeous array of cakes, tarts, petit fours and macarons. Also on the menu: croissants, scones, muffins and, even, doughnuts. Make the dessert experience even more magical by booking a tea party. David J. Stern Walk, Suite 100 and 2530 Arden Way, (916) 551-1500, estellebakery.com

Freeport Bakery

Long before Freeport Bakery became social media famous for its LGBTQ-friendly “Ken Doll” cake, it has ruled hearts (and stomachs) for its selection of cakes, pies, cookies and more. Under the same ownership since 1987, the tiny bakery is beloved for its well-stocked grab-and-go case. Still, don’t miss a chance to order a custom cake. Be it a graduation, wedding, anniversary or other event, Freeport’s made-to-order confections liven up any celebration. The Fruit Basket Cake (buttermilk cake layered with whipped cream, strawberries and banana) and Vegan Cake (an impossibly rich chocolate and fudge delight) are local treasures. 2966 Freeport Boulevard, (916) 442-4256, freeportbakery.com.