The cookie skillet is a mash-up of two of America's most classic and popular desserts. It starts with an oversized cookie–of any variety, but chocolate chip is one of the most common choices–typically baked in a cast-iron skillet. Once it's out of the oven, the big warm cookie is then topped with a generous scoop or two of ice cream. Any flavor will do, but more often than not, it's vanilla. Chocolate syrup or other garnishes may get added, and voilà! That's the way the cookie crumbles.
Not every popular restaurant chain serves this straightforward dessert. Confections such as brownies with ice cream and cheesecake are more common. But, at the places that do, the cookie skillet is a singular sensation.
I recently tracked down five restaurants in and around my city of Columbus, Ohio, where the ice cream and cookie combination is consistently served. I tried every one to see which chain makes the tastiest version. Grab a spoon and dive into my rankings, ordered from my least favorite to one of the most scrumptious desserts of my life.
Denny's Lava Cookie Skillet
A restaurant with 24-hour nonstop service, Denny's is best known for breakfast—but that doesn't mean there aren't desserts on its menu. Buried on the menu under stacks of pancakes and scrambled eggs is the Lava Cookie Skillet, a cookie skillet variation. It comes with a molten chocolate center, caramel drizzle, and a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top–or at least, it's supposed to. When I visited my nearest Denny's location—the only one in my city—it was out of ice cream, much to my dismay. While I'm sure the brekkie joint does go through a lot of ice cream whipping up its creamy milkshakes, I got the feeling that this was a fairly common occurrence (a McDonald's tale as old as time).
Despite this flub, I ordered the cookie sans its better half and made the most of it. Without the ice cream, it cost me $5.29.
The look: Like a chocolate chip muffin turned over on its top. A bubbling puddle of caramel sauce surrounds the thick cookie. A light drizzle is served on top, and my server surprised me with a small blob of whipped cream (a thoughtful attempt to replace the ice cream, I presume).
The taste: The sweet smell of the caramel made me want to dig in immediately. I regretted that hasty decision as the dessert was boiling and burned my tongue on impact. The base is dense, cake-like, and not much like a cookie. It also wasn't moist. The sauce helped in this department, but not as much as a scoop of vanilla would have. One highlight was the surprise chocolatey center, which was warm and oozing. This was a feature that no other cookie skillet offered. But, it wasn't enough to yank this cookie calamity up from last place.
Chili's Skillet Chocolate Chip Cookie
Chili's menu is full of Tex-Mex favorites, from Southwest egg rolls to sizzling fajitas. The theme doesn't carry over into the dessert section. Instead of homemade churros and tres leches, you'll find classic American desserts such as a molten chocolate cake or skillet chocolate chip cookie to address those sugar cravings.
The skillet at Chili's follows a classic formula: America's favorite cookie topped with a dollop of vanilla ice cream. Hot fudge adds some extra razzle-dazzle, and the whole thing costs $8.49.
The look: Dry, dry, dry. The cookie came out in a darker shade of brown with cracks throughout, just like you would see on the ground in the desert. The ratio of ice cream to cookie is off. Another half scoop would have sufficed. The hot fudge looked thin, more like chocolate syrup, but it added to the overall presentation. It was drizzled carefully over the ice cream and pooled on the cookie below.
The taste: Thankfully, it is less parched than it looks. Once you break past the outer shell, the inside cookie layer is forgiving and soft. It's also balanced out well with the vanilla ice cream, which adds a rich taste and smooth, creamy texture to the dessert. My only real critique is that it didn't taste homemade. I felt that I could have grabbed generic cookie dough and any brand of vanilla ice cream and gotten similar results in my kitchen—and for a lower price.
Cooper's Hawk Reese's Ice Cream Cookie
With 54 locations, Cooper's Hawk is one of America's smaller dining chains. It's quickly becoming one of the country's favorites–and it has been one of mine for a couple of years. One of the largest draws for this dual restaurant and winery is its curated collection of vino that guests can enjoy in its tasting room, as part of a sit-down meal, or by taking bottles home through the wine club.
The food at Cooper's Hawk is not to be overlooked. The eclectic menu highlights flavors inspired by cuisines from all over the world. Start your meal with chicken potstickers or Over the Border egg rolls before digging into gnocchi carbonara or parmesan-crusted mahi-mahi for your main course. For dessert, why not try the Reese's ice cream cookie for $12.99? I was excited to taste the sweet dish and ordered it alongside the restaurant's suggested wine pairing, the Nightjar port-style dessert wine.
The look: Extra chocolaty with standard chips, Reese's cups, and sauce swirled on top. Eight Reese's cups—the mini variety—are visible on the cookie's surface. The ice cream comes in one simple white scoop.
The taste: More firm than gooey, and some spoonfuls tasted burnt. I think that the chips and some of the Reese's cups that came in direct contact with the cast iron became charred and gritty in spots. Otherwise, this skillet is agreeable. The peanut butter from the Reese's adds a nice change of pace. Plus, chocolate and peanut butter make for the best combo. The ice cream reminds me of sweet cream and levels out the rich pairing.
Outback Steakhouse Salted Caramel Cookie Skillet
Outback Steakhouse offers several decadent desserts such as the famed Chocolate Thunder From Down Under and the new Tim Tam Brownie Cake. If brownies and loads of chocolate aren't your thing, try the non-Aussie-themed Salted Caramel Cookie Skillet. The warm, salted caramel cookie comes topped with a vanilla scoop. A few surprise ingredients are thrown in, including white chocolate pieces, pretzels, and almond toffee. The confection cost me $8.79 at the casual dining chain.
The look: One of the smaller options. But, the dish extends deeper than you'd think. You can hardly see the cookie, as it's hidden under a massive, picture-perfect scoop of vanilla ice cream. Outback delivered the ideal cookie skillet proportions in my book. Caramel sauce stripes decorate the top.
The taste: A lot is going on here—in a good way. It tastes like a fusion of an extra salty sugar cookie and a white chocolate macadamia nut cookie. Undercooked slightly so that the center is doughy and irresistible, the cookie is served warm so the vanilla ice cream melts into it. That creamy sweetness helps to offset that added sodium. I couldn't pick out the toffee bits, and all the pretzels did for me was add a hardly noticeable crunch. Outback could simplify this dish by removing these two ingredients and still have a winning dessert.
BJ's Brewhouse Chocolate Chunk Pizookie
BJ's Brewhouse wasn't the first to scoop ice cream on a cookie, but the chain was the first to give the dessert a special name. On the restaurant's menu, you won't see the phrase "cookie skillet" but rather Pizookie (pronounced PIZ-ook-e). The menu item was created shortly after the chain opened in 1978 and became a sweet sensation nationwide.
At any given time, the restaurant offers around 10 different Pizookie flavors. Mini skillets are available for kids and as part of a tasting trio. I ordered the Chocolate Chunk, which is topped with vanilla ice cream and costs $7.95. Hot Fudge Brownie, Strawberry Shortcake, Cookies & Cream, Triple Chocolate, Salted Caramel, Sugar Cookie, White Chocolate Macadamia Nut, Cinnamon Roll, and a Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip were the other options competing for attention.
The look: The bottom cookie layer is big, with chocolate chips poking out, and it looks moist. The ice cream of choice is vanilla bean, and it comes as two scoops piled on top of one another for double the fun.
The taste: BJ's is clearly in the right business. The cookie achieves a mouthwatering texture that is not quite raw but also soft enough that it breaks down to a cookie soup with the addition of melty ice cream. The dough tastes homemade and gives off buttery notes and a smooth chocolate flavor. Like Outback's skillet, this one also adds a sufficient helping of ice cream, so no bite has to go without.
After nearly half a century of perfecting this Pizookie recipe, BJ's is a true master of its craft. If it weren't for the calories, I could end my night with one of these every single day.