He and She Said:
People love to vote.
This Wednesday, Fahy’s Irish Pub on Toulouse and Burgundy hosted with us the First Annual French Quarter King Cake Death Match. There were no casualties (with the possible exception of a few sugar-comas) and we were unable to document a single sleeper-hold or figure-four leg lock, but great fun was had by all.
Truth be told, Quarter residents can be a bit of a jaded group. Spray-painted mimes battling in the street with pirates; naked bicycling jugglers: For some, signs of the apocalypse. For us, just another Tuesday. So we knew we needed to bill this as a lethal armageddon just to keep people’s interest. We did learn that showing up anywhere with twelve King Cakes will always make you more popular.
Many thanks to the incredible Jack and Katie, owners of Fahy’s, and the participating bakeries: Tartine, Maple Street Patisserie*, Randazzo’s, Sucre, Cake Cafe, and Rouses. Thanks in particular to Randazzo’s, Cake Cafe, Sucre, and Rouses, who provided cakes gratis for the event, including the folks from Rouses very literally meeting one of us in the middle of Royal Street with a priority king cake delivery (a great way to make 100 tourists jealous simultaneously). Below is a brief note on the sophisticated statistical methodology devised by our IT department (two dogs) and info on each cake. Click on the hyperlinks above to get the lowdown on ordering from them. And, because this isn’t one of those self-esteem soccer leagues that doesn’t keep score, we’ll crown the winner in just a few paragraphs.
We considered the idea of tasting the cakes blind but we honestly couldn’t figure out a good way to do it. It was very important to us that our voters know which was which so they’d know just where to get their pastry-fix of choice in the future. With that in mind, we set out one cake from each bakery with an identifying label, provided a flier with address information on each, and a ballot for voting.
There are many great bakeries in town, but we were asked specifically about Antoine’s and Haydel’s numerous times (Haydel’s actually received several write-in votes). So we may need to figure out how to add them next year, although after last night the prospect of tasting eight different cakes is pretty daunting.
We counted 32 ballots, including a second stop at The Ugly Dog in the Warehouse District, and every single cake received first place votes. This wasn’t all that surprising; we felt it was a very strong field and our voters seemed to agree. You’d think that folks would prefer to just eat and you’d have to nudge them to do the work of filling out a ballot. Not so. We were amazed at how engaged and instantly passionate people became the moment we made it clear we wanted their opinion. People freakin’ love to vote. Unless it’s an actual, like, election (an astute observation made by one participant). Go figure. This being the French Quarter, completion of the ballots was predictably individualistic. People ranked the various cakes from one to six, or from six to one. or by Mardi Gras adjectives (more adjectives = better cake: ‘Happy, happy mardi gras’ was one level above just ‘happy mardi gras,’ for example. We are not making this up). There were fractions, decimal points, the metric system, and what appeared to be Linear B. Final tallying of the ballots required many cocktails, but it was at last accomplished.
Consistent with the spread of first place votes, there was in fact a near deadlock at the top of the heap, with first and second very narrowly decided.
Everybody knows the quickest way to insult a Quarter resident is to ask them if they’re from Metairie, so we thought there might be an inherent bias against suburban Randazzo’s. If so, any such concerns were easily overcome by the quality of the cake as the Metairie bakery missed taking the crown by a hair. People were impressed by the moistness of the cake. This is not a brioche, but rather a soft, dense, incredibly fresh bread, and it drew raves all night.
King Cake aficionados in NOLA seem to fall into two distinct camps: New school lovers of the filled variety and old school connoisseurs of the firm brioche topped with granulated sugar. At that end of the stylistic spectrum, people loved the classic take of the Maple Street Patisserie, the bakery opened last year by Ziggy Chicowski, formerly of the Windsor Court, and Patricia Ann Donahue. It was that more traditional approach that stood out in the offering from Rouses as well. Also unfilled but with a heavy accent of cinnamon that made it very distinct was the offering from Tartine, the new bakery and restaurant in Riverbend run by Cara Benson, the former pastry chef at Muriel’s. Lunch there is very nice, and you’ll see a review in this space next week.
The runaway winner for prettiest cake was Sucre, whose beautifully glazed cakes look like little works of art. Sucre may have been handicapped a bit by the fact that the cakes were unheated; the subtle cream cheese they incorporate into their cakes is divine when warmed. But in fairness everyone else was on the same playing field.
And that of course leaves us with our winner: In a close race, the mind-blowing apple and goat-cheese offering from Cake Cafe and Bakery in the Marigny took the prize. We both agreed, ranking this as our favorite as well. Cake Cafe managed to perfectly balance the tartness of the goat cheese with the sweetness of the icing for a masterpiece of pastry engineering.
So, our thanks and congratulations to Steve Himelfarb and his staff at Cake Cafe, who also do a terrific breakfast. Among a group of extremely worthy challengers we crown you the winner of the 2011 He Said/She Said King Cake Death Match, and we look forward to seeing you defend your title next year.
Thanks again to all participants, and to all our voters. If you participated, leave a comment and tell us why you voted the way you did. And tell us how we can improve things next year. We already have a request for champagne. Right up our alley!