Because I walked up and down the airplane aisle 57,289 times and I deserve it.
I'm not really sure why I didn't create this post a lot sooner, since sweet treats are one of my favorite things to seek out on layovers. Some people relax with wine, beers...or other vices. Sugar is mine. I can't help it. One thing I've also found is that while a city may not be particulary known for its good food, or my layover hotel happens to be a godforsaken Holiday Inn Express in Podunk Nowhere, USA (Population: 3), I can still find a good dessert usually; somehow, someway. I've been to several of these places more times than I can count over my seven plus years as a flight attendant, and I really don't want to know how many calories that all adds up to. Like I said, I walk up and down the aisle a lot.
Food is the greatest ice breaker of all time, and I find that to be especially true with dessert. With my job I work with many different people with whom I have very little in common-- days and countless hours spent together away from our home and our families. If we've gone out for ice cream or cake or whatever on the first layover of the trip, it completely changes the entire dynamic. Amazingly, we're all friends now because we shared churros in Mexico.
99.9% of these places are in the US because you have to have approximately one trillion years of seniority as a flight attendant before you get to go anywhere fancy.
KOPPS FROZEN CUSTARD
Before I tasted authentic custard from Wisconsin, I really didn't think it was anything special, because how good can something really be? Good ice cream is already pretty delicious, so what makes custard think they can improve upon an already pretty much perfect food? The answer lies within the well-oiled operation that is Kopps Frozen Custard in Wisconsin. They take their dairy very seriously in Wisconsin. Behind their counter are dozens of machines churning and churning custard into buckets, and since the custard doesn't stay in there for longer than a few hours because it melts so fast, you're likely to get scoops that have come straight out of the machine and into your cone. The flavors change daily and range from strawberry fool, spumoni, or mint chocolate chip, but every day you can get chocolate or vanilla . Some people seem to be irritated by unpredictability of flavors but I love the surprise factor. I would, without hesitation, fly to Milwaukee right this minute just for their strawberry fool custard. f I could get it every time I had a layover there, it just wouldn't be as special! After a few trips to Kopps, I realized I love custard so much because it comes the way I've always liked my ice cream-- melty, dense, super creamy, and with all of the air smushed out of it with the back of my spoon.
The fried dough part of the donuts at Gourdough's are almost an afterthought with intense creations such as "The Fat Elvis" (grilled bananas, bacon, peanut butter icing and honey) and "Blue Balls" (blueberry filling and blue icing). Pretty sure my gallbladder exploded immediately after eating the "Funky Monkey", but the cinnamon cream cheese frosting and caramelized bananas made it completely worth it. They also have burgers and chicken strip sandwiches made with donut buns, but I have yet to be brave enough to try them.
SUGAR CANE ON TUNNELS BEACH
In the parking lot in front of Tunnels beach, there are vendors selling perfect treats for cooling off: fresh ice-cold coconuts which they will open for you with their machete, fruits, and something you don't find just anywhere--sugar cane. I had never had it before so I had no idea you can't just pop it in your mouth and eat it as-is. I mean, techically you can, but it's much more enjoyable if you peel the outer bark and eat the insides, or squeeze the juice out of the pieces of cane.
CAFE DU MONDE
New Orleans, Louisiana
A trip to New Orleans just wouldn't be complete without a visit to the iconic Cafe Du Monde. Just don't wear black or dark colored clothing or you'll walk out looking like you got into a fight with a beignet, and the beignet won (this was me). Powdered sugar is the glitter of the food world! It just never. comes. out. I don't really need to explain what's so good about fried dough topped with mountains of sugar, I don't think, but I will say the iced chicory coffee is actually my favorite part of this place because it cools me down and gives me a jolt of caffeine for walking around in New Orleans swampy weather.
OCHO AT HOTEL HAVANA
San Antonio, Texas
The reason I went to Ocho for the first time was for their mojito happy hour, but I returned the next morning for their sweet plantain griddle cakes with berries and crema to soak up said happy hour mojitos. I'm usually more of a waffle or crepe girl but I'll always make an exception for griddle cakes when I'm in San Antonio.
CHURROS AT CENTRO HISTORICO
León, Guanajuato Mexico
After walking down from El Pipila, winding down the narrow alley staircases and going through the maze he colorful houses (always different houses since I don't actually know where I'm going) I still find myself dropped off in the historical city center with live music, street vendors selling fruit with tajin sprinkled liberally on top, ice cream, bags of mini donuts, and my personal favorite- churros. Only if they're fresh though! If you've ever had the misfortune of eating an oil-soaked and stale old churro, you know what I mean.
BIG CITY COFFEE
Big City Coffee is a popular downtown Boise pot that has sticky buns, magic bars, rice krispy treats, and peanut butter and sriracha cookies that are bigger than your head.
COPPER CAFE AT THE MADONNA INN
San Luis Obispo, California
In the central coast of California, there is an over-the-top kitschy retro hotel called the Madonna Inn. Each room is themed differently, but Millenial Pink overwhelms most of them, and even seeps into their food. Their bakery and cafe is well-known by roadtrippers that specifically stop by for their pink champagne cake. The fluffy and airy white cake is good enough on its own, but the excessive amounts of huge pink-hued white chocolate shards that are pressed into the icing on the sides of the cake is what makes it truly memorable.
Los Angeles, California
Sure, you can buy mochi ice cream from the frozen section of Trader Joe's, but for the most melt-in-your-mouth pillow mochi dough, and a wider variety of flavors such as coffee, plum, or cookies and cream, you'll have to go to Mikawaya Los Angeles' Japan town.
Porto's is a Cuban bakery that usually has a line that snakes out of its doors and into the street at all times of the day, but I would wait in a line ten times longer than that for their cheese rolls, dulce de leche kisses (butter cookies filled with chewy and creamy caramel and dusted with powdered sugar), and ham croquettes. Everything is also crazy inexpensive, so it's hard to leave without 20+ items that you said you would share...but end up eating in your hotel bed at 2am.
DOMINIQUE ANSEL BAKERY
New York, New York
I first heard of Dominique Ansel around when the Cronut craze first rolled around several years ago, but I've actually never had one because after walking into the packed and tiny pastry shop, I couldn't take my eyes off the deeply caramelized and glistening canelés, DKA (dominique kouign amann) and the frozen s'mores, which were way more compelling to me than the croissant-donut hybrid. Maybe next time!
*There are many, many more places that I left off of this list, but the only photos I have of them are blurry ones I took on my first generation iPhone several years ago, so in the name of "research" I'll need to get to work on part two...