In the mid-1800s, Black folks developed the cakewalk – a pageant of ostentatious dances mocking the absurdity of their plantation owners. And from the traditions of the cakewalk, you can trace a thread through the Black queer drag shows of the ’70s and ’80s to the NFL’s end-zone celebrations.
But I’d like to introduce you to a new type of cake walk – bakery hopping around a city, tasting all the cakes a town has to offer. (Think pub crawl, but without drunk dialing or a designated driver herding belligerent toddlers.)
Any Providence cake walk has to start at Pastiche, a beautiful blue colonial on Federal Hill that looks like it’s made of cake. Pastiche has been a PVD staple since 1983. And according to the baristas at the dessert café, it all started with co-founder Eileen Collins’ carrot cakes. But honestly, my favorite is actually the Old-Fashioned Coconut Cake. It’s gluten-free (but doesn’t taste like it). And it pairs surprisingly well with coffee ice cream.
Pastiche is at the higher end of cakes. But justifiably so. From what I’ve heard, they compensate their employees quite fairly.
SCIALO BROS. BAKERY
If you don’t feel like cashing in your war bonds, right around the corner from Pastiche you’ll find Scialo Bros, on Atwells Ave. Scialo Bros has been operating since 1916 and was run by the same family until it changed ownership during the pandemic. Their most famous creation is probably the Russian tea cake.
If you’ve never had a Russian tea cake in Rhode Island, you may be confused. In the Italian and Portuguese bakeries of the Ocean State, a Russian tea cake is not a sugar-coated butterball like it is in the rest of the country.
Instead, it’s a collection of all of a bakery’s leftover cakes, dyed in food coloring, slathered in raspberry jam, smooshed between two sheet cakes (under the heaviest book on your bookshelf: probably War and Peace), and soaked in rum. What does any of that have to do with Russia? No idea. But it tastes very good. The first Russian tea cakes available in Rhode Island were at LaSalle Bakery and Scialo Bros.
SEVEN STARS BAKERY
A Russian tea cake is probably the most moist cake you’ll ever eat. Seven Stars Bakery offers up a close second.
One of my favorite things to do on a snowy Sunday afternoon is sit with a book at a near-empty Seven Stars, and watch the steam billow and curl ’round my cup and saucer of London Fog as I pick at a loaf of their sticky black gingerbread. Simply heaven.
Ellie’s is fancy (some might even say schmancy). But there’s something glamorously undignified about cramming your face with colorful sugar. Don’t let the “Parisian way of life” fool you. Just because some of the words are in French doesn’t mean you have to eat with your pinky out. Grab any slice of their “daily cakes” (I recommend the Blueberry Elderflower).
They seem to be unreliably open since they often close for private events – which is, frankly, annoying when you just want a slice of cake. I guess that’s the Parisian way.
GEOFF’S SUPERLATIVE SANDWICHES
Now hear me out. Yes, Geoff’s is a sandwich shop. And yes, coffee cake is more of a breakfast snack than a dessert. And yes, Geoff’s doesn’t make their own pastries. And yes, the coffee cake is technically made by a wholesale distributor. But hear me out: It’s pretty good.
Grab a sandwich and some pickles. Get a coffee cake. Have a pleasant afternoon as the bustle hussles past your window.
Of course, no Providence cake walk would be complete without a final stop at Gregg’s. And what is there to say about Gregg’s that your grandparents haven’t already raved about – Gregg’s is a Rhode Island staple. But in a city-state where folks are always looking to show off, Gregg’s is that reliable restaurant-next-door.
It’s also one of the few places you can find a pumpkin cake (if you’re into that sort of thing). And the Old Hollywood cake is as beautiful as it is delicious. But for my money, I gotta say: you’ll never be disappointed by a slice of their Coconut Raspberry Cake.
Winter is a time of cold and darkness. The trees are gray, and the ground either barren or whitewashed with snow. To counter that, we string up colorful lights all over our homes. We pack on extra layers of blubber and wooly knits. And we celebrate beauty and love and all things warm.
All cake is celebratory. So find something to celebrate – and someone to celebrate with – and treat yourself to a winter cake walk.