Talk about a wonderful use of re-purposing an aging vacant building. The long-abandoned Twardy’s Radiator Shop in Dyer is now a neighborhood bakery, Dessert Menu, that once inside gives you a feeling of being in an upscale pastry shop in the city with lots of French inspiration.
Opened last March, the building was completely renovated by owners Chef Renee Wilson and her husband, Jerome. The Dyer couple did much of the work with their own hands and with the help of local craftsmen when necessary.
“We saved a lot of the original woodwork and refinished it, placing it back on the walls with the original square nails. The front door is the original door, rejuvenated,” Wilson said. “Many residents familiar with the old building were excited to come in and see what we’ve done with the place. We’ve even had a few customers come in still looking to have their radiators repaired.”
Dessert Menu was about seven years in the making, the dream of Renee Wilson, a previous United State Postal Service worker, who wanted to make better use of her Purdue management degree. Last year, she got one step closer to her goal when she graduated from the French Pastry School in Chicago.
“They teach techniques for making everything from breads and breakfast pastries to pulled sugar work and chocolate sculptures. I received instruction from world-renowned chefs such as Jacquy Pfeiffer, Sebastien Canonne, Pierre Zimmerman, and Dimitri Fayard. They are featured in a delightful documentary, 'Kings of Pastry,' which shows how serious the art of pastry is in Europe.”
An admirer of the work done at the former Glen Park Bakery in Gary, Wilson said she aims to be regarded in the same way.
“It used to be the place you went to for delicious treats,” she said. “Dessert Menu wants customers to know that you do not have to travel to Chicago for fine dessert options like mousse cakes and French macarons. We also offer traditional items like cupcakes and homemade chocolate chip cookies. Even if you want something custom made from your personal flavor profile, we can create that, too.”
Along with Wilson is a talented team that helps to bring a taste of Paris to Northwest Indiana. Chef David Castillo, the executive pastry chef, is a graduate of the Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago (Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts) and worked for Labriola Baking in Schaumburg. “He spent seventeen months honing his craft in France,” Wilson said. “He is the mastermind behind many of the creations we feature.”
Jill Dolniak is a graduate of the French Pastry Program. “She is a talented young chef soaking up David's extensive knowledge like a sponge. She has become the macaron master in a short period of time,” Wilson said. “We also have had the help of an ex-tern, Crystal, and she has grown tremendously over such a short span. Our front counter staff is wonderful.”
Everything is made from scratch and selection changes daily, so you’ll likely find new items on repeat visits. Besides the typical croissant, you’ll find chocolate, spinach ricotta or ham and cheese croissants. Dessert Menu also offers a true Belgium waffle, the Liege waffle, which is yeast based and made to order with topping choices of gelato, fresh fruit and whipped cream. And speaking of gelato, all the gelatos and sorbets are made in the shop using fresh ingredients, with flavors that include Chocolate Hazelnut, Tiramisu and Bananas Foster.
“The signature Atomic cake is a crowd pleaser,” Wilson said. “Chocolate cake, chocolate mousse, cheesecake, fresh cut strawberries, strawberry whipped cream, banana cake, covered in fresh vanilla bean whipped cream.”
A favorite sweet that Wilson likes to prepare is Sweet Potato Pie, which will be available for the holidays. “We add a little banana to give a little extra kick you weren’t expecting,” explained Wilson. Other holiday tastes you can look forward to are Pumpkin Pie and Egg Nog gelato, Cranberry Chambord sorbet, and pumpkin pie.
In September, Dessert Menu held their first Dessert Flight Night with a Fall Harvest theme. “We knew we wanted to do an event that had a chic city vibe, minus the unbearable commute,” Wilson said. “Spanish guitarist Marco Villareal created the perfect ambience. We served meats and cheeses, Caprese appetizers, roasted chicken bruschettas. Then we served a dessert flight trio that you definitely would not find in Northwest Indiana.”
The trio included red wine plum soup with mascarpone gelato, poached pear tarts with Biscoff gelato and the finale — a pumpkin cheesecake. Fresh spiced apple cider was served in Mason jars. Wilson said she’s also seeking local artists to work with to display artwork for the Dessert Flight Nights. “We received an abundance of praise, and everyone that attended said they felt like they had been downtown Chicago. That is exactly what we hoped for,” Wilson said.