This month we welcome Yvette to helm our food column. A born and bred New Orleanian, Yvette loves old buildings, thrift stores, and of course, going out to eat. She’ll be all around town so if you have any tips or suggestions, let her know!
I’ve never cared much about parades or costuming or wild parties. Mardi Gras, for me, is all about the king cakes and every year I hunt for the perfect one. Below are some of the winners and losers this year.
I went to a Twelfth Night party where the hostesses had wisely procured Dong Phuong ’s king cake! Oh sweet, delicious, moist (I know people hate the word moist, but you’re just going to have to suck it up) Dong Phuong. This beautiful gem has been the victor for three years running, and holy hell, it may win again. The cake itself is intense—a nice, dense, bready texture, not overly cinnamon- y—whereas the icing is sweet without being cloying and has a good mouthfeel. Mouthfeel is one of those terms that people use that always sounds pretentious but I honestly don’t know how else to describe the phenomena. It literally feels good in my mouth, heavy and sweet and I just want to hold it on my tongue. Aesthetically speaking it’s no stunner, but still pretty in the traditional way.
10/10 Trips to New Orleans East
Glittery and fancy pants, calling this one traditional is a stretch; it’s round but lacks the race track shape of the traditional cakes, and it’s coated in an iridescent glaze which faintly resembles the sheen of those Trapper Keepers that I had in 7th grade (you know, the ones that sort of crunched when you touched them). This cake is also dusted with edible glitter. So basically what you have is a big round poof of bread that literally shimmers in the light, like fish scales or a lamé ball gown. Already I’m hooked, right? This cake is glamorous.
Now, I’ve seen the Sucré cake before, but this was my first time actually trying it. Could something so beautiful actually be delicious? My first thought was, damn this thing is heavy, as in it weighs a lot. That could be good or it could be very bad. What if this was a big dry brick? I needn’t have worried, though, as one bite assuaged my worst fears. The texture of this cake is great: nice and dense, but still bready. Be warned that if you’re a fan of the flakier cakes (the ones that are like Hawaiian bread), Sucré’s offering won’t appeal to you; this is a truly substantial king cake. Flavor-wise, I’d say tasty- sweet but not over the top, however there was no cinnamon to be found? I’m not saying there wasn’t any in the cake, I’m just saying I couldn’t taste it if there was. We could start a philosophical debate about what makes a king cake a king cake (is it just the New Orleans style, the French style, the Rosca de Reyes…) but maybe it’s not important. I’ll leave you with this to think about, though: the Sucré king cake looks marginally like a king cake and tastes (even more) marginally like a king cake, but is it properly a king cake? I don’t know! It was delicious and it’s gorgeous. If I was trying to impress a new date or someone’s non-New Orleanian parents, I’d bring the Sucré cake.
9/10 Edible Glitters
All the props to my coworkers who buy these grocery store king cakes and leave them around my office. It would have never occurred to me to go to Fresh Market, the grocery store curiously housed in an old funeral home (hey, I’m a general fan of adaptive use, but even I was stunned by that one), to pick up a king cake. So when did edible glitter become a thing? I mean, what an advance in king cake technology; this is the second cake this year that I’ve seen that looks kind of like an elementary school craft project—glitter everywhere! On to taste! Well, here’s where it gets wonky; someone thought that buying a strawberry cream cheese- filled king cake was a good idea. Y’all, no. I’m sorry, but much like shimmer body spray, fruity king cakes are not a game that I personally play. However, I’m very serious about my role as a reviewer and I’m also not willing to make a trip uptown to Fresh Market to procure another king cake, so my only option if I wanted to review this, was simply to eat this abomination. I actually ate a slice of strawberry cream cheese-filled king cake from a grocery store that’s based out of North Carolina. Now, I’m not throwing shade at North Carolina—come on and raise up—but what the hell do they know about king cake? As it turns out, they know nothing. This thing was wrong on all the levels. I could barely make it through one slice. Why is this even a thing? It was dry, overly sweet, the icing was cloying, the texture was straight up weird, and whatever the hell the strawberry paste was made of, I doubt it ever had anything to do with strawberries. Sigh… At least it was pretty.
1/10 Shimmer Body Sprays
A friend had been insisting I review Norma’s guava and cheese-filled king cake, and I’m embarrassed to admit I’d never even been to the little bakery. I pass it all the time, but I’m so busy! Never too busy for king cake, though, and when he invited me over with the promise of Norma’s, I couldn’t say no. This is the least traditionally New Orleans king cake I’ve had this year. Guava?! In a king cake?! Whhhaaaa??? Now, I love guava paste; that weird flat can of Goya guava paste is always in my fridge (it’s the perfect “I’m feeling lazy” snack with some salami, Laughing Cow cheese, and soda crackers). And that’s kind of what this cake reminded me of. It tasted homey, like an afterschool snack. The texture was dense, not flaky at all, and there was no cinnamon whatsoever (which is probably a good thing, considering this particular flavor profile).
As I mentioned before, I’m not usually a fan of the filled cakes and I think it’s because the traditional flavors of a king cake don’t lend themselves to fruity insides, but this really doesn’t taste like a king cake, which is probably why I wasn’t bothered by it. The icing was an afterthought, unimportant to the whole experience, really. The guava and cheese were the stars of this beauty. On the subject of beauty, this was a no-frills cake, which is fine by me. Not a looker but not heinous, a perfectly physically recognizable king cake that tasted nothing like a king cake. Still, it was delicious, so I refuse to rate this one poorly. This one would be a fun cake to bring to a king cake tasting party; I’ve never had anything like it before!
8/10 Cans of Goya Guava Paste
This is kind of like a king cake, I guess.
Gerald’s Famous Donuts & Burgers
I’ve eaten at Gerald’s a few times, and I remember enjoying it. Cute little diner; I think I ate BLTs every time, but never tried the donuts. I say all this because it never would have occurred to me to hit up Gerald’s for a king cake, which is perhaps why a friend knew he had to literally deliver this to my front door in order to get me to try it, and I’m so glad he did!
I have to mention that this cake smells good. Like I opened the box and was almost overwhelmed by the king cakey smell. Immediately nostalgic, I was transported back to being at St. So-and-So’s, wearing a plaid jumper, waiting with baited breath to see who would get the baby. This cake is hyper traditional; it really tastes like the king cakes I ate as a kid: the nuns would pass them out on little napkins and you’d never get a big enough piece. I have no idea where the king cakes of my youth came from. My guess would be McKenzie’s. My dad worked nights my whole life and when I’d wake up for school he was usually just getting home with a McKenzie’s box full of donuts for our breakfast, so I’d have to imagine that’s where we were procuring our household king cakes as well. At school, though, who knows?
Anyway, this seriously tastes like a damn king cake. The texture is bready yet dense, rivulets of cinnamon interwoven within the dough. The icing is magnificent, sweet, creamy and with an amazing mouthfeel. This is the cake you’ll want to bring to NOLA old timers (read: anyone who self identifies as a Yat, has a Saints throw on their loveseat, calls you baby the second they meet you, and has definite opinions on whether Bob Breck or Margaret Orr has it right). This cake isn’t pretty, there’s no glitter, no airbrushed shimmer, but goddamn it’s beautiful anyway.
10/10 Nuns Hoarding the King Cake