AC Date Night: Emmer & Rye and Geraldine's

Temperatures rising on Rainey Street

Emmer & Rye (Photo by John Anderson)

While I don't make a habit of referencing Katy Perry songs, I'll admit that ever since the idea to pair hot toddies with newcomer Emmer & Rye's buzzworthy ice cream sandwiches, the superstarlet's hooky tune hasn't left my head: "You're hot then you're cold/ You're yes then you're no ...." (You're welcome.) But would this combo work well for a romantic night on the town, or would it have my date seeking more temperate climes?

I decided to gamble – in a place like Austin, where winter days regularly achieve "sunny and 70s" status, ice cream at night isn't such a wild idea. As someone who never saved room for dessert, I suggested we indulge solely in a last course. My date – whose nickname, it turns out, is literally "Sweettooth" – wholeheartedly agreed with this plan.

And oh, how we indulged. Perusing the list of Emmer & Rye pastry chef and partner Tavel Bristol-Joseph's desserts, each seemed distinctly unique from the next. The logical decision was to try all four. The goat's milk panna cotta arrived first, with pecan granola and a spear of airy honeycomb brittle. Next came a Meyer lemon tart, a ring of sweet, tangy custard surrounding a scoop of vibrant tangerine sorbet. Candied pecans, chunks of Texas grapefruit, and shards of meringue studded the plate, making it almost too pretty to eat. (That changed with the first swab of sorbet.) Tres leches cheesecake was varnished with a vivid fuchsia Malabar berry glaze. Dots of hibiscus "caramel" and edible flower petals circled a shallow moat of condensed milk, and cream cheese, made in-house, lent the dish an intentional mildness.

Lastly, the ice cream sandwich, whose reputation on social media precedes it, arrived adorably tucked into a delicate paper envelope. Two moist cookies – made from emmer and chestnut flours and a 75% cacao dark chocolate – encased a large scoop's worth of orange buttermilk ice cream. The emmer flour brought forward a robust and toasty flavor when combined with the chocolate; the ice cream recalled a Dreamsicle – just as comforting as that childhood treat, but not nearly as sweet. I convinced myself that the high-antioxidant chocolate would mitigate the calories I had just consumed.

Geraldine's (Photo by John Anderson)

After vowing to return to try executive chef Kevin Fink's dinner menu, we ventured north on Rainey Street on foot, to the swanky Hotel Van Zandt's music venue-restaurant-and-bar, Geraldine's. The temperature was finally starting to drop, and we had hot drinks on the brain. Elevator doors opened to a large, intimately lit dining room, and the host directed us to the Writer's Lounge, a cozy space of dark leather and brass horn-section lighting fixtures. We picked a corner overlooking Downtown's iconic Frost Tower and ordered two hot toddies (Maker's Mark and a clove-studded orange peel came standard). Houstonite Thomas Csorba's Americana filled the entire floor, echoes of Townes himself present in the soulful music coming from the stage.

Bar manager Jennifer Keyser tells us she is working on a full toddy menu that will include luxuries like a boozy hot chocolate with Branca Menta and Averna, a hot cider with brandy and cinnamon syrup, and several other classic toddy variations. With live music seven nights a week (last week's "menu" featured Ben Ballinger and Emily Wolfe, among other local favorites), this isn't just a spot for out-of-town hotel guests. We recommend it for a nightcap after an ice cream sammie around the corner, and hopefully the desserts and drinks are the only thing hot-and-cold about your date.

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Tavel Bristol-Joseph, Jennifer Keyser, Hotel Van Zandt

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