Ah, yes, the Food!
One of the highlights of the most recent SETC Convention in Chattanooga, Tennesee, was discovering the rotating cake display at the City Cafe Diner. Getting to Chattanooga the day before the auditions started was filled with various travel woes (delayed flights, missing pilots, and non-existent hotel reservations), so I felt that I was more than qualified and justified to treat myself to something sweet after I had finally gotten myself settled into my hotel room. Besides, I needed something to snack on while I was watching "American Idol" that night.
I had been to Chattanooga once before when the SETC Convention was held there in 2004, but I had not ventured into the City Cafe Diner which is the house restaurant for the Days Inn by the convention center. I had thought about splurging on some room service that first night, but after thinking about it, I realized that I was not in the mood for dinner, just dessert. So, I headed out of my hotel, and across the street. I figured the Diner was bound to have some desserts, but little did I know that they would have quite the selection of cakes spinning around in a case by the front register. Sadly, I did not take a picture of that diabetes-inducing display, but there were at least twelve different cakes available each night, in addition to a selection of pies, tarts, Greek pastries and cookies. I decided to stick to the cakes.
For that first night’s indulgence, I took a chance on their Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Cake.
It was a tall slice of alternating layers of chocolate cake and chocolate-peanut-butter frosting topped off with a miniature Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. It was good, not great. Strangely enough, I thought the cake and frosting were not sweet enough, and both the chocolate and peanut butter flavors were somewhat muted. I only ate half of the slice, if that. The cake itself had a great texture and crumb, but, overall, tasted sort of bland to me. Maybe I should have tried the Butterfinger Cake instead? -Although, the almost-glowing neon-looking orange-brown coating of crushed Butterfinger bars kept me from exploring that option any further.
Well, after my first day of auditions – just under 280 people, I was definitely allowed to treat myself to another sweet indulgence that night. So, I headed back to the City Cafe Diner, and checked out my other options. I had noticed that they had just put something new in the display case. "That’s our Baklava Cheesecake. One slice and you’ll go into a sugar coma!" was the answer I got after I had pointed to the cinder-block slab of a dessert that was sitting in the bottom of the case. Sure! Cut me a slice to go! -And maybe a sugar coma would not be that bad a thing after watching the "American Idol" results show and "Lost" that night?
Once I was back in my hotel, I discovered that the Baklava Cheesecake was more of a layered affair. The core of it was a plain cheesecake that was sandwiched between two thin layers of Carrot Cake, and the top and the bottom were composed of inch-thick layers of baklava (phyllo dough, walnuts, butter and honey-syrup). Sadly, it ended up being too much of the sum of its parts. I questioned the Carrot Cake layers at first, but then realized that they were probable there to shield the crunchy, flaky layers of phyllo dough from the moisture of the cheesecake layer. However, the baklava portion of the dessert had not been protected from the moisture of the display case, and the flakiness of the phyllo dough ended up having a bit of a chew to it. The cheesecake center was decent, but could have probably benefited from a few less minutes in the oven initially. And just like the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Cake from the night before, the whole concoction seemed somewhat on the not-so-sweet side, however, I’m guessing that whatever sugars were in the various components of the dessert may have cancelled each other out. The Baklava Cheesecake was not a total waste of $4.95 (yes, all the cakes were just $4.95 a slice!), but I think it would have worked better if it were assembled á la minute rather than giving all the layers time to meld. I finished maybe a third of it, so, alas, no sugar coma.
Day Two of the auditions came and went, and since I had managed to have quite a nice lunch at the Tallan Cellar restaurant (a good ole "meat & three") that day, I decided all I needed to eat during that "American Idol"-free night was another slice of cake. I decided to pick something basic: Caramel Cake.
No problem with this slice of cake not being sweet enough! Slathered between the layers of amazingly fresh and vanilla-infused layers of Yellow Cake were generous heapings of Caramel Buttercream. Caramel Cake is one of many Southern Classic Desserts, and this rendition was most certainly insuring that Classic status. Yes, my teeth did ache a little bit as I took my first bite, but they were supposed to! The Caramel Buttercream and Yellow Cake layers complemented each other perfectly, and, yes, the dessert was most definitely rich, but it was not at all heavy. I ate half of it. Then ate the other half about a half hour later. I had to pace myself.
The third and final day of auditions came to a close, which also meant that the convention was also ending that night. Of course, I had to celebrate that night with another piece of cake! So, it was back to the City Cafe Diner for my final visit and my final selection of the trip. There was a gentleman in front of me who was inquiring about the various cakes; he, too, was getting a slice to go. The manager was answering all his questions, but then referred him to a young woman who had come out of the kitchen bearing a few just-made creations. She was affectionately called "The Cake Guru". She explained what all the various layers were in the Chocolate Chip Cannoli Cake. She showed him the California Cheesecake with it’s it’s layers of plain Cheesecake and Angel Food Cake, and fresh fruit topping. Then there was the Key Lime Pie she had just made that afternoon. The Devil’s Food Cake, the Red Velvet Cake, the Oreo Cake, the Checkerboard Chocolate Mousse Cake with it’s alternating blocks of White and Dark Chocolate Gooey-ness. After he had walked away with a slice of the Strawberry Mousse Cake, I then turned to the Cake Guru and explained my situation, "It’s my last night in town. I’ve come here every night for the past three nights, and I really want to have a great piece of cake tonight. What should I have?" Without any hesitation, she proclaimed, "The Sampler Cake."