I like an uncluttered desktop and Dock, and have used MoofMenu for years to allow easy access to various applications, utilities, and documents. MoofMenu places a Dogcow icon in the menubar. Here's mine:
Each of MoofMenu's items and lists and individual items are cascading and user-configurable, and easily reached quickly with the mouse or trackpad. I have more items in these menus that appear in the Dock, but fewer than are stored in SSD/Applications folder.
If you're very facile with navigation-by-keyboard in Finder windows, you can probably access items more quickly that way. But I'm not that good, and I enjoy seeing and easily choosing from a list of items that includes perhaps 95% of my regular targets.
IIRC, cascading menus were introduced in Mac OS 9. I found them very useful then, and with MoofMenu still very useful now.