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Wednesday, April 24 Living

Jane Stern: A Mexican restaurant beats Greek diners in the cake category

Now this may sound odd, but odd things often happen to me.

I was leaving Home Goods in Bethel, wheeling my shopping cart, when a man walked up to me and inquired, “Do you like cheesecake?”

I don’t think this was a pickup line, but it would have been a rather good one.

I looked to see if he had a tray of samples, like they do at Costco, but both hands were free. “Yes” I said, “I love cheesecake.”

“Well, I know where to find is best in the world,” he exclaimed.

He continued with no explanation about why he chose me to enlighten. He did not seem psychopathic or like he had plans to stuff me in the trunk of his car, so with the promise of “great cheesecake” he recited the directions. “If you drive past Target on Stony Hill Road, across the street from the Big Y you will see a Mexican restaurant that’s where the best cheesecake in the world is.”

My mother taught me that “huh?” was never a polite reply, but I could not think of any other way to respond. As the mysterious stranger walked toward his car, I, with a slack jaw, said, “Huh”?

I had errands to do, but seriously, what is picking up a gallon of Tide at Target compared to eating great cheesecake?

1,2,3 Let's Eat

68 Stony Hill Road, Bethel

203-616-5567

The directions were pretty clear and from the road within a few minutes I saw the rather festive looking facade of a Mexican Restaurant called 1,2,3 Let’s Eat.

It is a long, skinny establishment which looks like three storefronts had the walls between them removed and strung together. It seemed too large for a simple restaurant to fill, but I parked and walked in.

On the far right part of the building is the sign for “bakery.” Figuring the “world’s best cheesecake” must reside here I pushed the door open. It was a bakery but set far apart from where the tacos and burritos are served.

I walked in, looked at the refrigerated cases and saw not a single thing that looked like cheesecake. I guess flan might bear a slight resemblance to cheesecake if you were from say North Dakota but me, a born-and-bred New Yorker, would not fall for the con.

“Do you sell cheesecake?” I asked the lady behind the counter. She looked at me with the same kind yet uncomprehending look I get when I am in another country where I don’t know the language.

Not to push this cheesecake conversation too far (as she had no idea what I wanted) she instead pointed at the layer cakes on display. Some were whole, others sold by the slice.

One thing you should know is I love cake. I could eat cake for breakfast lunch and dinner. I grew up on cake when Manhattan was dotted with the greatest bakeries anywhere. Most of them were tiny “mom and pop” shops owned by Hungarians or Germans and the Sacher Tortes or hand-pulled apple or poppy seed strudels are to this day unmatched. In my dreams I can still taste them.

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I hate to make a negative statement, but Connecticut has very few good bakeries. Yes, I have tasted the fancy French ones, the popular Italian ones, and the cupcake places where one tiny confection in a fluted paper sleeve costs as much as my monthly car payment.

When I order a slice of lousy cake and it costs $10, I would rather eat a roll of Butter Rum Lifesavers.

The cakes at this Mexican restaurant looked interesting, so I ordered two slices. Then I revised my order to four slices and then left with six. It would be hard pressed to put them in any cultural category. They were not American layer cakes, not French, German or Italian. As I pondered them I remembered having a cake slice at a bakery next door to a Mexican restaurant in Norwalk, and yes … this was the same style.

The cake slice was moist and generous. The filling in the middle and around the edges was not buttercream, nor ganache, certainly not old-fashioned boiled icing, but I was hard pressed to identify it.

Suddenly it all became clear, it was like whipped marshmallow: fluffy and sticky and not overly rich. In the layer in the center of the cake was more of the same, some mixed with grapefruit, some with ribbons of dulce de leche, some with strawberry. The slices (each packaged separately) were huge, about two and a half times the size of a normal slice of cake. I am tempted to compare them to Greek diner cakes, but I can’t stand Greek diner cakes. They are far too sweet and the diners I frequent seem to have the same cake in the cooler forever. They look like they were baked in the 1970s, and formulated to never go stale.

I am now solidly devoted to Mexican cakes. Maybe one day a magical cheesecake will appear, but I am not holding my breath. If I can ever pull myself away from the layer cakes I might saunter down the aisle and try some flautas, tacos, burritos al pastor or a Oaxaca omelet. It may be a wonderful way to broaden my culinary horizons, but would it be wonderful enough for it to compare to the cake? Uh, no.

Jane Stern co-authored the popular “Roadfood” guidebook series.

Jane Stern|Columnist

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