Below is my review of Nonnah’s desserts and bar in Columbia, SC. For the larger eating tour of South Carolina’s capital city, checkout “A Little Bit(e) of Everything in Columbia, SC: Favorite Eats” or checkout my reviews of Harper’s Restaurant (here) and Mr. Friendly’s New Southern Cafe (here). – Helana
American | Desserts | Coffee
Location: 930 Gervais Street | Columbia, SC | 29201 | 803.779.9599
Menu (Ordered) & Price: Strawberry Amaretto ($8.25) | Honey Walnut Tart ($7.75) | Café au Lait with Bailey’s ($6-$9, estimate; price varies)
Review Grade: A-
Pictured: Nonnah’s Barista & Hostess spicing coffee with cinnamon. I cannot find the name of this beverage on the website (although they happily list their wine prices), but I do know it was a fancy coffee that had “flame” in the title. The cinnamon adds a fiery kick to a fancy cup of Joe.
I’ve long associated one too many “romantic” memories with Nonnah’s. It was the place to eat on Valentine’s Day 2008 and is the regular recipient of the coveted, “Best Desserts in Columbia” award for 10 years (see The Free Times’ “Best of” Reader-Voted Awards). Locals love this Gervais-street restaurant with its strong cups of gourmet coffee. Plus, Nonnah’s is well within walking distance of The Art Bar and other restaurants and shops.
How to Order: “Know What You Want” – when ordering, I surprised myself. I ordered with my eyes and not with my stomach (Roberts’s Golden Rule #3 for eating out).
Part of dining at Nonnah’s means lustfully peeping through the display case filled with chocolates and cakes. I’m a sucker for anything strawberry-flavored (as seen here and here), but I really should have listened to my gut when reading the menu descriptions.
I made the mistake of ordering the Strawberry Amaretto Cake ($8)—a light, but overwhelming dessert that should be split between two people.
Nonnah’s prices their cake slices on the $7-10 range with reason: the slices are so tall that it’s almost impossible to eat the whole thing in one sitting. Plus, the high-end frostings and syrups can wear you down half-way through the dessert.
Pictured: a not-so-great Instagram of the Strawberry Amaretto Cake ($8.25). But, you can tell from the candied strawberry on top that I ordered this with good reasoning. Unfortunately, I cannot really remember how this garnish tasted….
But, as the rule with southern layer cakes go – they should be “mile high” with frosting that slips seamlessly between the stacks. Although the Strawberry Amaretto Cake met this requirement spot on, it just wasn’t for me (too much sugar, and definitely too many “bells and whistles,” I believe).
But KB, a former classmate and Girl’s State friend from high school ordered the Honey Walnut Tart ($7.75). KB has always been the outdoors-y type with mountain gear in her car and granola bars in her pockets. When she ordered the tart, she admitted that it was probably a subconscious granola bar-inspired purchase right after she saw the words, “honey and nuts.”
It was genius.
Pictured: Nonnah’s Honey Walnut Tart ($7.75). A beautiful revelation in pastry, nuts, and honey. I’ve dreamt about this dessert since leaving town.
What made KB’s dessert stand out (and worth ordering again and again) is the sophisticated, fresh-tasting ingredients. Unlike the over-the-top Strawberry Amaretto Cake, the pastry in this Honey Walnut Tart cradles a simple, unadulterated honey-caramel filling that’s stuffed with chopped walnuts. I feel as if I can count all of the ingredients on one hand, and I love this feeling (it gives me a free hand with which to use my fork!).
Because the flavors are simple, natural, and likely unprocessed, the dessert wants for little more than a fork or spoon. Of course, there’s a caramel-inspired drizzle served with each slice, but the topping is never too heavy and feels just right no matter what ratio of filling or crust covers your fork.
Be sure to eat this item with coffee, but be ready to share—everyone at the table wanted a bite, and KB was kind enough to pass around her order.
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Written by: Helana Brigman