Gooey butter cake no longer belongs solely to St. Louis. We can blame Paula Deen for that. (Just because it has the word "butter" in its name does not mean it belongs to you, Paula.)
In Memphis this week, Gut Check learned just how far beyond St. Louis gooey butter cake has traveled. While waiting in the check-out line at a Midtown Memphis Walgreens, we spotted this display:
"Those are so good! Go on and open it now and have a bite!" the clerk said, despite the rush-hour line waiting behind us.
We waited until we returned to the hotel. Not just because of the line, but because we didn't want to uncontrollably scream, "What the fuck have you done, putting our city's name on this processed crap?" in public. Not that it would be fair to yell this in a Memphis Walgreens, as the cake's produced in suburban Chicago under the "Cafe W" brand, a part of Walgreens' effort to infuse some coffeehouse vibe into its stores.
The ingredient list looks surprisingly like most St. Louis gooey butter cake recipes: cake batter, powdered sugar, cream cheese, eggs, vanilla, unsalted butter and four different stabilizers.
Okay, stabilizers aside, that's pretty much the real thing.
Out of the wrapper, the square of cake looks similar to a bakery gooey butter cake, with distinct layers of cake, goo and the crackly top. While not quite as sweet as the St. Louis original, and a little lacking in texture, it's a reasonable facsimile of the real deal.
Perhaps all those chemicals to make it shelf-stable dull the sweetness and the gooeyness. Or maybe we're just a little homesick for Park Avenue Coffee. But for people who have never had the real thing in St. Louis, it's not bad for a shelf-stable factory cake.
Then again, so are Moonpies.