Did you know Zelo has a pastry chef? Yes, that Zelo, the one that’s been open for 15 years on Nicollet Mall, the one you never talk about but always rely on because it’s good.
And it’s very good! Ben Spangler is its 28-year-old, incredibly tattooed, and very talented pastry chef. I first met Ben at the Share our Strength cakewalk, where his chocolate candy capped panna cotta was the talk of the event. “Did you try that dessert from Zelo? It’s good!” Ben was a cook at Bacio near Ridgedale, when two years ago he was asked if he wanted to try pastry, and he went for it. Good thing for us.
On Zelo’s dessert menu right now, I really recommend the chocolate and pretzel affogato. It’s a “Nutella” and vanilla gelato with espresso, caramel mousse, pretzel and cookie crumbles. It’s fun, it’s busting with flavor and it's just $7.
There’s a carrot cake that he does with a cinnamon cream cheese gelato as well, topped with carrot caramel sauce and spiced pecans ($9). It’s a bold mix of strong flavors and I loved it!
We tried a fried rhubarb and raspberry pie with a vanilla bean ice cream, and it was perfect and light. Sadly, it’s not on the menu, but hopefully Ben will bring back a version of it because that little fried pie is a fun dessert that looks great on the plate.
Ben is experimenting with different flavors, too. He took a log out of the impressive wood-burning oven, and used it to smoke some vanilla ice cream. My wife and I loved it—it was smoky enough to enjoy, but not so smoky that you felt like you were eating a campfire. His sense of whimsy and art in dessert has me adding Zelo to my list of places worth stopping by for a drink and dessert at night. (The list of wines by the bottle is deep and has plenty of options in the $30–$40 range).
Zelo is busy downtown and has been for years—for good reason. The service is outstanding, the bar is welcoming, and the food ranges from good to outstanding. So get to Nicollet Mall, and remember the name Ben Spangler. I bet this is not the last time you’ll be hearing about him.