New Orleans Cake Cafe & Bakery aims to be a quintessential Big Easy corner cafe, serving coffee, baked goods and extensive breakfast and lunch menus. Judging by the lines of patrons looking for doughnut and java fixes — or maybe a hearty Southern breakfast — locals appreciate what it has to offer.
The restaurant and bakery has a small but cozy dining room, its bright yellow walls adorned with paintings of bayou scenes and photos of Mardi Gras Indians and local legends such as Dr. John. On a first visit, one quickly feels at home; this would be a good place to share a lazy lunch with a friend or, as one solo diner did, enjoy a few cups of coffee while digging into a copy of A Confederacy of Dunces.
A counter display holds a trove of baked goods including gooey cinnamon rolls, large glazed doughnuts, savory croissants stuffed with ham and cheese and many other offerings. Custom-baked cakes are a specialty of the house and patrons are advised to order at least 24 hours in advance. Flavors include butter pecan, German chocolate, lemon and angel food cake.
For those simply in the market for a hearty meal, Cake Cafe is a good bet. A Reuben sandwich, fashioned with house-made sauerkraut, was appropriately hot, meaty and dripping with melted cheese and Russian dressing. This is hardly diet fare, and the sandwich calls for at least three napkins. Similarly satisfying, if not quite as messy, is a sandwich filled with local crabmeat, bacon, melted brie and sauteed spinach, which the cafe suggests pairing with its challah bread. That nonkosher combination (offered during Hanukkah) made me chuckle.
The lunch fare at Cake Cafe is solid, but the breakfast menu is where it truly delivers. Lumberjack-sized portions of eggs, biscuits, organic yellow grits and other familiar items are well-executed and cheerily delivered. A helping of fried eggs atop grits with a crispy fried boudin cake would have proved a filling meal on its own, but the addition of a generous buttermilk biscuit ensured I wouldn't be hungry for some time. A special of cornmeal-dusted oysters, also paired with eggs and grits, was cooked perfectly, as was a hearty omelet stuffed with roasted vegetables and goat cheese. A generous mug of steaming cafe au lait was a good complement to the meal.
Cake Cafe also offers one of its cupcakes for only $1 with a meal. This is a bargain worth the taking, if only to enjoy later. Of the three I tried, all were simple but tasty, including red velvet, wedding cake and an outstanding sweet potato cupcake with crumbled pecans and a drizzle of cane syrup. The thick and creamy frosting stands up well to the texture of the cake.
Not everything at Cake Cafe is outstanding. The Reuben was served with an undressed salad of simple mixed greens, and while generous portions beg for one to sit for a while to digest and chat, the staff encourages guests to relinquish tables quickly to accommodate waiting patrons, especially during busy weekend hours.
Still, I'm looking forward to returning before my New Year's diet begins. Until then: Let us eat cake.