Remember red velvet cake?
That ruby-red, spongy sweet layer cake with cream-cheese icing was trending a few years back. You could find it in bakeries and restaurants where you’d least expect it, including one Rochester pizza restaurant, as I recall.
One of the best cakes was at Melissa’s on Second, the last restaurant to occupy the Chardonnay house on Second Street Southwest. They served a massive slab of brick-red chocolate cake, wrapped in icing and topped with a sprig of mint. Unfortunately, the restaurant didn’t last long, and the nearly 120-year-old house was reduced to rubble last year.
(For the record, not a thing has happened on that site since then, for all the rush to get it out of the way.)
Anyway, I was planning to do a Four Stars column on the area’s best red velvet cake back then, but the trend faded, and it’s harder to find now. The Gingerbread House, the prize-winning bakery on North Broadway, has a good one — a blend of white cake batter, chocolate batter and a dash of garish food coloring. That’s been the secret of red velvet cake since the Texas-based Adams Extract company in Texas first concocted it.
Ideally, the cake should be as red as a cowgirl’s boots in a Texas rodeo parade.
The Rochester bakery makes it year-round, $11 for a 6-inch round cake, perfect for two, and they’ll also do special orders, says Mike Fish, whose father owns the place.
If you know of other red cakes ready for prime time, tell me, and I’ll add them to the list next week.
Fat Tuesday preview
Next week, I’ll have the Four Stars of Fat Tuesday — four places where you can pretend you’re in New Orleans for Mardi Gras, which is on Feb. 17. On the menu so far: jambalaya, etouffee, red beans and rice, and the last one is a tossup. All are available in Rochester, no metallic beads required.
I discovered some excellent NOLA-style cooking at the Blue Stone Steak & Seafood restaurant in Eagan, along U.S. Highway 52. They’re just outside the area, so ineligible for a Four Stars award, but otherwise, they’d be in the winner’s circle for their Ragin’ Cajun Jambalaya, the spicy simmered chicken and andouille stew — no shrimp or fish — and the kielbasa also is a problem for purists, but it’s just $12.95 for a heaping portion served over rice.
Also on the “N’awlin” menu of rice bowls and pastas is Voodoo Pasta ($13.95), fettuccine topped with a creamy Creole sauce, andouille and shrimp, and the Ragin’ Cajun Red Beans & Rice, the quintessential Louisiana dish with andouille, kielbasa and smoked ham hock ($8.95).
If the Ragin’ Cajun name is familiar, you’re either a political junkie or a State Fair fan — the people who own the Blue Stone have a food stand at the fair, and they’re also connected to the Nicollet Island Inn, the limestone landmark on the Minneapolis riverfront.
Blue Stone has Yankee favorites as well, including an excellent 3-inch-thick filet mignon, certified Black Angus and grilled precisely to order. You can have it blackened, in keeping with the Cajun theme, or go for straight up, and they have the best smoked cheese hash browns this side of Pescara.
The restaurant is in a cavernous space that was home to Time Out Sports Bar, and vestiges of the former tenant remain, including the flat screens and the centrality of the bar. But the menu is a lot more interesting than a sports bar’s, and they make a truly ragin’ sazerac, with a delicious Pernod rinse.
Also, don’t miss the salt-water fish tank at the back of the restaurant, where they have rare tropical fish as well as live coral waving and wiggling in the black light.
Blue Stone is at 2864 Minnesota Highway 55, a few miles north of where Highway 55 and U.S. 52 diverge. If you’re northbound, don’t miss the driveway just north of Dodd Road or you’ll drive a few more miles to fix your error. They’re open at 11 a.m. and the kitchen closes most nights about 10 p.m.