Sweet Surrender 

Food Review: Version 2.0 of dessert cafe Shyndigz is Richmond’s New It Girl.

click to enlarge Shyndigz’s fresh fruit cake features chunks of blackberry, kiwi, strawberry and pineapple adrift in cream cheese icing over vanilla cake.

Scott Elmquist

Shyndigz’s fresh fruit cake features chunks of blackberry, kiwi, strawberry and pineapple adrift in cream cheese icing over vanilla cake.

When I first walked into Naked Chocolate Cafe in Philadelphia in 2007, I was bowled over at the notion of a dessert cafe. At the time, Richmond's restaurant scene didn't seem nearly hip enough to support such a thing. Fast-forward a few years, and along came Shyndigz. It opened on Patterson Avenue offering sky-high cake slices, milk and limited seating. It was the germ of a good idea but hardly fully realized.

Smart entrepreneurs will turn away only so much business before reacting, as shown by owners Bryon and Nicole Jessee, who lured their devoted following two and a half miles east to experience Shyndigz 2.0, the equivalent of the original Shyndigz with a bigger sugar rush.

The former Bogart's space, once dark and claustrophobic, has been opened up with a white ceiling, bare windows and enough eye candy on the walls to distract even the most impatient waiting for a seat. In all likelihood, there's liable to be one, because Shyndigz is Richmond's It Girl. It isn't unusual to see lines out the door and people milling on the sidewalk, waiting for their parties to be called. On a Wednesday night, our 25-minute wait affords a front-row seat to a flawed system that requires the host to walk the length of the block to round up the people being called.

I'm not advocating for beepers or calling cell phones, but rather for people to be courteous and attentive enough to notice the overtaxed worker trying to corral dessert eaters. On a Thursday visit, the wait is shorter but not much. Unlikely as it sounds, the wait on a Friday is the shortest, but perhaps a steady rain is responsible.

Milk is still on the menu, but it's been joined by Blanchard's coffee ($2.75-$3.95), Rostov's teas ($2.50), sodas, floats and limeades. For those hoping for something a bit stiffer, the menu offers draft beer ($6-$7), bottled beer and cider ($4.50- $18) and wine ($6-$12 glasses, $21-$36 bottles). It would be nice to see more dessert wines on the menu because conventional wisdom suggests that when choosing wine to pair with dessert, the wine should be sweeter than the dessert, and those choices are few.

Richmond put its collective stamp of approval on the salted chocolate caramel cake ($6.99) at Broad Appétit in 2012, and it remains Shyndigz's No. 1 seller. Deservedly so, because the dark layers, finished with chocolate icing, sea salt and caramel sauce, exemplify what a memorable slice of cake should be: a marriage of flavors resulting in moist, rich satisfaction. Ditto for the fresh fruit cake ($7.49) — less flashy perhaps, but every bit as titillating, with chunks of blackberry, kiwi, strawberry and pineapple adrift in cream cheese icing over vanilla cake. Look for German chocolate cake ($7.49) periodically offered as a special for a rare chocolate and coconut treat.

Key lime pie ($5.99), so often cloying in less experienced hands, balances a subtle tang against a buttery, slightly sweet graham-cracker crust. But if overly sweet is what you're looking for, there's no shortage of ways to make your teeth ache. If the name crack pie ($5.99) doesn't scare you off, perhaps the oatmeal-cookie crust filled with a sticky sugar filling will. Just as over-the-top saccharine is the chocolate chip ice-cream sandwich ($6.59), which is sized for a Viking with four half "sandwiches," each as thick as a fist. Pecan-streusel bread pudding ($8.49), the priciest dessert on the menu, is massive and brown-sugar sweet. Shyndigz doesn't make desserts for the faint of stomach.

Hardly surprising given the season, the cobbler of the day ($7.99) is peach, which charmingly arrives with a square of paper copied from a cookbook doing doily duty between the bowl and plate. But the peaches taste canned and the topping is the biscuit variety, so be aware that if your preference is the old-school sweet cobbler with hints of spice, this isn't it.

Cakes rule at Shyndigz, which has proven that Richmond was overdue for a dessert cafe. On one visit, I sit next to a couple who says it's their third visit of the week. Granted, they live only a few blocks away, but that's a frequency seldom seen in the business. Are there better desserts in Richmond? You bet. Is it clear that Shyndigz is filling a niche with nothing but sweets and drinks? Waiting lists don't lie. S

Wednesday 4-10 p.m., Thursday- Friday 4-11 p.m., Saturday 3-11 p.m.
1903 W. Cary St.

Editor's note: This story reflects a change from the print version, in clarifying that the reviewer found that the peaches tasted canned rather than fresh.

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