(ONLY IN RENO is an irregular mailing from stalwart NEWSgrist pal and correspondent Marjorie Vecchio):
For those of you who know me even remotely, you would know that one of my favorite Brooklyn indulgences was/is to score a piece of Cake Man Raven's Red Velvet Cake (famous from NPR) after an hour in line on Fulton St in my old 'hood of Fort Greene, Brooklyn.
The $5/per jumbo slice is mysteriously sublime and simply cannot be replicated, represented, recreated or even resurrected in any way possible except from the chef himself (since we have all tried, though Nina D. came pretty darn close). So, of course, leaving New York meant losing a pound or two and missing a slice or three on the occasion of my birthday, and my friends' birthday. I haven't had a good dessert in Reno yet, but I imagine they exist and do not balk at the possibility if only I had more time to go out on the "town." However, you may imagine my surprise and at-first-passed-by-with-complete-cynicism-and-fear of eyeballing a box of Mrs. Freshley's "Red Velvet Cream Cakes," Individually Wrapped potential treats in the local Walmart (I was there only for bird seed, I swear!). How could I be so lucky? I don't know how much they cost, but they made it to my home and the first night I ate so much healthy avocado and salad I was full and couldn't sample the strange alien. But the following evening I did the unthinkable: I cheated on Cake Man Raven, I cheated on New York, I cheated on my heart and flesh, left behind with the sweet-wheat rolls and crappy service at the Fulton storefront: I ate a bite of Mrs. Freshley's Quality Snack.
The results: 1) more soft/moist/smushy than Cake Man, but not in a good way, 2) not much flavor though somewhere in the back of my mouth I can remotely taste the Red Velvet part (i.e. the mystery part!), 3) the inner (too)-white cream has no taste, which is especially disappointing since Cake Man is a wiz at butter cream frosting, 4) I had a second one the following night and found the same results. Disappointing but no weird aftertaste or stomach upset.
To be honest, the box was more interesting. At first I was afraid to turn it over, to reveal the white and black section with all the revealing information that makes you pine for caveman days. However, I did wonder one thing: will Raven's secret recipe finally be betrayed on a box of Mrs. Freshley's in Reno, Nevada? Did I have to come all the way out here to ruin the intrigue? (Even Martha Stewart's recipe doesn't hold a candle to the Raven's mystery kitchen.) Had I finally discovered the Holy Grail of Southern delicacies that render most of us not very delicate after ten bites I was sure that Raven uses fresh fairies and tree nymphs from the British countryside to add flavor and exquisite sugary detail to the cake, however, Mrs. Freshley figured out that sorbitan monostearate and xanthan gum work much better for keeping the Walmart crowd happy. (By the way, note to Mrs. Freshly, distributed from Tucker Georgia: If you have to use sodium propoinatewhatever to preserve freshness, you were never fresh to begin with.)
ONLY IN RENO can one find pre-simulated, post-industrial, anti-original, progressively mediocre Red Velvet Cake in the form of a Twinkie...