Chocolate goosebumps. Sounds like the fanciful premise for a children’s book, but I actually saw them popping up on the arms of my companion as we dug into our slice of deep chocolate cake at St. Paul’s Café Latte.
Café Latte, 850 Grand Avenue, St. Paul. For hours and menus, see cafelatte.com.
For over 20 years Café Latte has been a standby for Grand Avenue shoppers, and on a recent late-evening dessert stop I was pleased to see that it’s as bright and bustling as ever. A wall of windows affords a wide view of the tony Grand-Victoria intersection, and if the interior is a little dated—well, you can keep yourself entertained trying to spot a forbidden liaison between Michael Douglas and Glenn Close.
Once the first bite of turtle cake—or amaretto torte, or fudge swirl cheesecake—hits your lips, though, your thoughts won’t be drifting far from your plate until the last crumb has been cleaned. The goosebump-inducing chocolate cake that we sampled is baked without flour, so there’s no distraction from the rich cocoa flavor. We also enjoyed the banana chocolate chunk cheesecake, in which crunchy hunks of chocolate swim seas of banana. In both taste and texture it was deliciously apparent that this was real banana, not artificial flavoring.
For those who must pursue savory sustenance, the café offers pizza as well—along with soup, salad, and sandwiches. There’s also wine, if the beer-and-popcorn brouhaha at nearby Billy’s isn’t your preferred tippling scene. For my part, however, I had a hard time making it past the dessert case positioned prominently near the entrance. Tempting options I wasn’t able to try included New York tart, cookies and cream cheesecake, and the “famous” turtle cake.
If the chocolate and sugar put you in danger of entering a coma, the café’s proprietors will snap you out of it with one of their eponymous beverages, which are available spiked with syrup and topped with whipped cream—though not so much cream, I learned, as to support an Andes mint. (By the time we’d climbed the stairs to the café’s upper level, the candy topper had descended through the whipped cream and become one with my mint chocolate latte. Fortunately, I was able to use the provided wafer to fish out the wrapper.)
The café was comfortably crowded even at 9 p.m. on a Thursday. Bag-laden members of shopping posses compared their finds, while dating couples traded bites of torte and Ugg-wearing teenagers mugged for photos. In a town that’s short on late-night dessert destinations (or late-night anything, some would say), we’re lucky to have this converted Studebaker showroom full of warm atmosphere and chilled cheesecake.
Jay Gabler, assistant editor of the TC Daily Planet, writes on the arts—including the culinary arts when there’s banana chocolate chunk cheesecake involved.