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Best brownies in Philly

Where to go for classic brownies, brownie cheesecake, and more.

Second Daughter's fudge brownies are their specialty.
Second Daughter's fudge brownies are their specialty.Read moreMercedes Brooks and Rhonda Saltzman

“Our brownies almost didn’t make the menu,” said Rhonda Saltzman, one-half of the duo running Second Daughter Baking Co. Alongside her sister Mercedes Brooks, Saltzman developed a recipe for a fudgy, double-chocolate brownie that has recently taken over Philadelphia.

The challenge in developing the recipe was in the exact texture they needed to achieve — fudgy but not wet, crunchy on top, and very, very chocolatey.

“Everyone grew up eating boxed brownies, so everyone kind of thinks of that as the ideal brownie,” Saltzman said. “Our challenge was to make something distinctive but still comforting.”

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The brownie they landed on is all their own: no nuts, no chocolate chips, just a smooth, fudgy bite that gets its rich flavor from Dutch-processed cocoa and melted chocolate. It’s exactly what Saltzman and Brooks crave, but they know it’s not everyone’s perfect brownie.

“There’s no universal brownie,” Saltzman acknowledged. “Some people like them crunchy at the edges, some people want them thin, some people want them super thick.” Even if Second Daughter’s brownie isn’t for you — maybe because you’re more of a nuts-in-your-brownie person or you require a chocolate chunk — there’s a brownie for you in Philadelphia.

Here’s a guide to some of the area’s best.

Cake Life is famous for an ever-changing, seasonally driven menu (and for the fact that they’ve competed on Cupcake Wars three times). But the shop goes beyond just cakes — its selection of bars and brownies changes just as often as the cake menu, but look out for the cookies ’n cream bar, the signature (very fudgy) brownie topped with sweet cream and studded with crunchy chocolate cookies throughout.

📍 1306 Frankford Ave., Philadelphia, Pa. 19125 📞 215-268-7343 🌐, 📷 @cakelifebakeshop

Second Daughter’s brownies are deeply chocolatey, very fudgy, and free of any adornments except a simple sprinkle of crunchy sea salt. If you really fall in love with them and want to share with your non-Philadelphia friends (which is quite likely to happen), you can order them for mail delivery anywhere on the East Coast.

📍1901 S. 9th St., Philadelphia, Pa. 19148 📞 215-350-2207, 🌐, 📷 @seconddaughterbakingco

The highest evolution of the brownie is perhaps the brownie sundae, and the Mt. Vesuvius Sundae is the ideal version — the brownie is chopped into pieces for even distribution in the ice cream, allowing you to get a nice, chocolatey chunk in each bite. It’s a classic brownie sundae with one exception: They add malt powder on top, which gives the chocolate an exceptional depth.

📍116 Market St., Philadelphia, Pa. 19106 📞 215-627-1899, 🌐, 📷 @franklinfountain

You’ve probably had a chocolate stout beer, but have you ever had a stout brownie? At Dulce, the batter is made with dark chocolate as well as a dark stout beer, which highlights the bitter flavors in the dark chocolate. The alcohol bakes off, leaving the sizable squares thick and fudgy. They’re topped with a ganache frosting that puts the whole thing over the edge.

📍 740A Haddon Ave., Collingswood, NJ 08108 📞 856-942-0254, 🌐, 📷 @dulcecollingswood

Vegan baking can be challenging. Without the benefit of butter and eggs to bind and create flavor, things can get dry, flavorless, and overly complicated very quickly. That’s why we love Crust, which also sells vegan pastries (including rich, fudgy brownies) on a rotating basis.

📍 4409 Main St., Philadelphia, Pa. 19127 📞 215-532-7867, 🌐, 📷 @crustveganbakery

Frosted Fox is known for its elaborate wedding cakes — the team even won the Netflix baking competition Sugar Rush. But while you’re in the shop designing your dream cake, grab one of the dark chocolate chip brownies, proof that the bakers at Frosted Fox can do everyday treats as well as elevated, celebratory cakes.

📍 6511 Germantown Ave., Philadelphia, Pa. 19119 📞 267-900-5453, 🌐, 📷 @frostedfoxcakeshop

If you’ve ever struggled to choose between a brownie and cookie (a false dichotomy, if you ask us), Small Oven’s brownie cookie is for you. The top half of the bar is a chewy, brown sugar-laden chocolate chip cookie, layered on top of an even chewier, dark chocolate brownie. Because you really can have it all.

📍 2204 Washington Ave., Philadelphia, Pa. 19146 📞 215-545-2939, 🌐, 📷 @smallovenpastryshop

The Bakeshop’s signature brownie is called the Rittenhouse Square — named for the bakery’s location. Much like the neighborhood, this is perhaps the fanciest brownie in Philadelphia — it involves a rich caramel topping and salty pretzel crust that keeps it from becoming overpoweringly sweet. Call ahead to check for availability, as the bakery doesn’t always keep them in stock.

📍269 S. 20th St., #5632, Philadelphia, Pa. 19103 📞 215-644-9714, 🌐, 📷 @bakeshopon_20th

Clay’s is known for being the birthday cake capital of the Main Line. But if you’re lucky, you’ll also snag one of the cream cheese brownies, a rich chocolate-based bar with a tangy, surprisingly light cream cheese layer on top. The bakery also makes peanut butter brownies, constructed similarly with a mouth-coating peanut butter fudge layer.

📍 700 Lancaster Ave., Berwyn, Pa. 19312 📞 610-647-2119, 🌐, 📷 @claysbakery

Bredenbeck’s is a cozy neighborhood bakery and ice cream shop, which means an excellent brownie is a must-have, and customers have not one but two perfect bars from which to choose. Bredenbeck’s offers a classic brownie with no nuts and no chunks as well as a gussied up salted caramel version that comes iced with chocolate ganache and swirled with sweet and salty homemade caramel.

📍 8126 Germantown Ave., Philadelphia, Pa. 19118 📞 215-247-7374, 🌐, 📷 @bredenbecks,

Lots of people prize fudginess over all else in a brownie. Not so at Schenk’s, where the brownie skews more cake-like, topped with a rich milk chocolate frosting and served by the bar or in trays for events or parties.

📍 7951 Verree Rd., Philadelphia, Pa. 19111 📞 267-722-0997, 🌐, 📷 @schenksbakery

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About the writer:

Maddy Sweitzer-Lammé is a food and restaurant writer based in Philadelphia with roots in the South. Her work spans restaurants, home cooking, and all the ways food is intertwined with community, politics, and pleasure. Her work has appeared in Food & Wine, Bon Appetit, and Philadelphia Magazine.