This taunting display goads lunch patrons to order dessert on empty stomachs and demands that they sit facing their desserts, hungry and vulnerable, until lunch is ready. Men occasionally outnumber women in Flour Power's dining room, but that doesn't lessen the impression that this sunny bakery-cafe is a ladies' lunch kind of place. And as you may know, a lady is meant to save her dessert until after lunch. Incidentally, these pastries break men too -- I once had to slap my own father's hand because he tried to sneak a slivered almond from the rim of my raspberry tart as we waited for our salads.
In exchange for feeding on human weakness, the pastry case bears pleasures that call into question how spoiling one's appetite ever got such a bad rap anyway. Individual vanilla creme brulee tarts smell of toasted marshmallows, and biting into their thin, crisp-bottomed tart shells mimics the satisfying sensation of breaking through a creme brulee's brittle burnt sugar shell. Three-bite squares of red velvet cake artily bedecked with cream cheese frosting, white candy sprinkles, swirled whipped cream, white chocolate shards and red sugar dust are cupcakes for grown-ups. Not too grown-up, though; you're still compelled to lick the top off first. The uniformly plump and sweet raspberries on that fruit tart my father tried to snitch indicated a pastry chef whose product fetishes are as demanding of taste as they are of appearance.
Doyle DeForest's blood runs thick with sugar. His grandfather owned a bakery, and his mother deals in pastries in Nashville. He baked his way around New Orleans, including in the Grill Room's pastry department, before taking batters into his own hands a few years ago and starting a garage pastry and cake-decorating business. Last winter DeForest and his wife, Ronda, moved indoors, introducing the St. Bernard Parish public to Flour Power's reasonably healthy lunches and appropriately decadent pastry case.
Finding a space for the cafe was tricky, says DeForest, since no landlord in the area believed they could make rent without the support of video poker machines. Let's see, where would the video poker corner fit in the gingerbread cottage set back from Paris Road beneath a canopy of greenery they wound up buying? In the far corner near the Zen-like bubbling table fountain and cutesy Periodic Table of desserts? Near the restrooms scented with potpourri and candles? Up by the front windows, where one afternoon a friend and I nibbled finger sandwiches and sipped English Breakfast tea to a soundtrack of Mozart and contemporary jazz? Situated within sprinting distance of a major industrial park, Flour Power is as atypical of Chalmette's current food scene as a black dress on White Linen Night. Which is probably why it's so vogue at the moment, experiencing a crush of business from locals as well as customers who travel from outlying parishes.
There's no fast track to Chalmette from most of Orleans, Jefferson or St. Tammany parishes. People inclined to the English custom may justify the drive by scheduling a tea time. The staff tacks on a miniscule service fee considering their hustle from kitchen to table with ceramic teapots, hand-held sieves to catch falling tea leaves, and an assortment of tea-friendly snacks. I do recommend marathon-steady pacing, though, as the third-course grande finale -- a selection of coconut cream, key lime and other tartlets the size of postage stamps -- is love lost if you're already stuffed. And stuffed you get on finger sandwiches, the best of which involve ham salad on sunflower bread and avocado-bacon spread on caramelized onion focaccia; and on the weighty scones webbed with delicate layers of sweet baked dough and served with cream, lemon curd, butter and jam.
Most customers seem to use lunch as a means of getting to Flour Power's desserts, which is not a bad plan even if none of the salads or sandwiches I tried could lure me back on their own. A Salmon Nicoise salad that successfully paired hot, herb-roasted potatoes and a just-grilled salmon fillet with smooth feta cheese and a cool, creamy herb dressing made the best case I tasted for lunching there. Unfortunately, this and the two other salads I tried came in edible bowls that were inedibly stale. Roasted and sliced pork served on onion focaccia with a sweetish, cumin-spiced sauce was also pretty good, however misleading it is to call it "The Cuban."
Such gripes are the price a kitchen must pay when its specialty sets the bar as high as the pastries at Flour Power do. Few things are more precious than a fruit tartlet, hardly bigger than a thumbprint, whose single fat blackberry, slivers of kiwi and strawberry and airy pastry cream imprint the memory like an unexpected kiss. I'd skip lunch for that.