76 flavors of gooey butter cake OR Why Missouri is the thirteenth most obese state in the U.S.
It is supposed that sometime in the 1930s, a German baker reversed the proportions of sugar, butter and shortening when making a generic yellow cake. The gooey mass that came out of the oven may not have been what he had expected, but, considering it was during the Depression, he went ahead and sold it in hope of making a profit.
This “mistake,” which looks a bit like a lemon bar minus the lemon flavor, soon became a unique St. Louis classic from the 1930s on. Exclusively appreciated in St. Louis, gooey butter cake is one of our proudest traditions and perhaps one of the primary reasons that Missouri is currently one of the top 15 most obese states in the U.S.
Most restaurants in St. Louis (and even Wash. U. dining services) have a version of this rich dessert, traditionally calling for a dense bottom layer of flour, butter, sugar and eggs with a gooey top layer made of cream cheese and eggs, dusted with powdered sugar.
But Park Avenue Coffee, a quaint coffee shop in Lafayette Square, has taken this classic and given it a fresh and modern twist. By adding special ingredients including fruit, caramel, cinnamon and coconut to its Mom’s Traditional gooey butter cake recipe (which uses farm-fresh eggs and real butter), Park Avenue Coffee has created 76 unique offshoots of this St. Louis dessert.
Since I have indulged in the original gooey butter cake quite a few times, I thought it might be nice to try one of the weirder Park Avenue favorites: red velvet. Blending traditional cake flavoring into the dessert, the red velvet gooey butter cake is much richer than the classic. The bottommost dark-brown layer looked almost like a brownie, sharply contrasting the bright, artificially red, gooey middle, and it was topped with a cream cheese frosting.
Despite its untraditional coloring, the taste retained that traditional gooey butter cake flavor, enhanced but not overwhelmed by a complementary smooth, chocolaty red velvet taste. The light, fresh flavor of the cream cheese coupled well with the rich cake. The frosting was generous but not overly thick, and it added to the cake’s flavor without overpowering the rest of the portion.
The second option I tried was the white chocolate blueberry, number seven on Park Avenue’s 2011 best sellers. Its light-brown cakey crust was covered with the gooey butter topping mixed with blueberries, giving it a slightly bluish-purple tint.
The sweet, confectionary taste of the white chocolate was front and center, complemented by a fresh blueberry taste.
The coffee menu offers flavored coffee, tea, smoothies, Frappicanos (Park Avenue’s version of the Frappuccino) and specialty coffee drinks prepared for you by the barista.
The Park Avenue Frappicano is one way that this small, local coffee shop differentiates itself from other chains. The espresso in the Frappicano is sharp and dark, but the flavorings (ranging from Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate to Real Vanilla Bean) and milk add a pleasant sweetness. The coffee both smells and tastes freshly ground and brewed, distinguishing this local specialty from anything you would find at your neighborhood Starbucks.
Where Park Avenue really sets itself apart, though, is its atmosphere. Compared to the bustle and confusion of a Starbucks where everyone grumpily waits for his caffeine boost, the quiet, intimate atmosphere of Park Avenue is an oasis.
The Lafayette Square venue is located right next to Lafayette Park, St. Louis’s oldest public park. The street is quiet and holds the storefronts for other local specialty shops such as Bailey’s Chocolate Bar and Ricardo’s Italian Café.
As you walk in the door, the baristas personally and genuinely greet you. Despite being an open room, the clusters of large, plush chairs and coffee tables scattered about the room give the setting a comfy, homey atmosphere, supplemented by a warm, brown-and-orange color palette. For the warm summer months, Park Avenue Coffee has transformed the back of its store (originally an unattractive parking area with fire escapes and an alley) into a cozy patio with wicker furniture and foliage. No one should be in a hurry—customers are content to sit and chat or read a book or newspaper long after their coffee is finished.
While Park Avenue Coffee might not be the closest option, its unique flavors of gooey butter cake, outstanding coffee and intimate atmosphere give students a chance to break out of the Wash. U. bubble for a rare and enjoyable experience.