Cake Cafe & Bakery
2440 Chartres St
New Orleans, LA 70116
Napoleon's Rating - ***/*****
Cake Café had established some pretty solid credentials in New Orleans long before it opened in 2007. Founder and chief baker Steve Himelfarb first made his name as a wandering cake salesman, bringing slices of his sweet creations to shops and offices all over town. He opened the first incarnation of his café in the French Quarter not long before Hurricane Katrina, though it didn't reopen there afterward. Reborn in the Faubourg Marigny a few years later, Cake Café is now a bustling bakery operation making custom cakes on special order and racks of bread and pastries daily and it is also a casual breakfast and lunch eatery.
This corner spot had been a grocery back in the old days and it was the home of La Spiga bakery in the more recent old days, just before Katrina. La Spiga was a local favorite and it seems fitting that another fine bakery and neighborhood spot has taken over the space. The building fits seamlessly with its Marigny surroundings and attracts a local crowd, plus people making a special trip for a load of the baked goods. The indoor dining area is colorfully decorated with local art and infused with the appetizing smell of baking bread.
Order at the counter and a few minutes later someone will deliver the meal to your table. There's a cluttered area for self-service coffee. The folks working the counter are friendly and laidback in the way you'd expect from a neighborhood café.
Side salads and frequently-changing soups are about the extent of first courses here, unless you cheat and eat your dessert from the pastry counter first, which I highly recommend. Given how good the pastries are, you might as well get another for after the meal too.
The bakery operation here feeds the café. Breads for sandwiches and biscuits for breakfast plates are the foundations of the menu and are prepared within view of the tables. Lots of hand-made and garden-fresh touches go into the dishes and daily specials, like colorful bursts of vegetables and fruit as garnish. The breakfast panini served here are among the best breakfast sandwiches in town, with eggs, bacon, cheddar and roasted tomato on the bakery's excellent ciabatta. Cake Café has made an interesting specialty of serving seafood for breakfast. Options change frequently, but you can usually count on getting a thick-cut tuna steak grilled and served with a pile of eggs and a biscuit. Crab has been all over the specials menu lately too, folded into omelets or crammed in a sandwich with bacon, spinach and brie on that crusty ciabatta. Of course there's also the classic smoked salmon with all the trimmings and a bagel. Café Café bagels are worth a trip here on their own, thanks to their chewy interior and crisp, shell-like crust. Another great choice is the Rueben with its dense rye, coarse sauerkraut, and thick planks of corned beef, all made in house. My only complaint about the cooking here is that it would really shine more with some better seasoning or even the occasional sauce. Salads are fresh though still want a little more sparkle. A dose of hollandaise could go a long way to revving up some of the egg dishes.
It's impossible to forgo something sweet here. Tarts and brownies and cupcakes stare at you from the bakery counter like pound puppies. A personal favorite is a strudel filled with dark chocolate and cherries. The cupcakes are a great way to sample the café's whole cakes, with varieties like red velvet, German chocolate and coconut cake all consistently moist, dense and vividly fresh. Get lunch here and you can add a cupcake for a mere dollar.
Cake Café functions as a limited-service coffee shop, with a few coffee drinks. The hot coffee is great, though the iced coffee always seems watery.
Nothing on the regular menu is above $10, though the specials frequently break into the low teens. The quality of the baked goods, seafood and vegetables justifies the prices, and this is an easy place to visit often.
Cake Café is the kind of place you alternately wish would open on the corner of your block and pray never does for the sake of your waistline. It's a great neighborhood bakery and café with a lot of color and personality and a place to come for a harvest of breads, cakes and pastries for home.