Gambino's traditional king cake

The most wonderful time of year: An Interactive King Cake Guide

We ramped up with warm-up celebrations like Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. But now we’re at the real deal.

by Matt Haines | January 16, 2019

Friends, neighbors and fellow citizens of New Orleans — we have arrived.

We persevered through the summer heat. We put our heads down and stayed afloat during the daily deluges of early-fall. We ramped up with warm-up celebrations like Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.

But now, we’re at the real deal. It’s Carnival season, baby! And this year it’s is so long, that we’re still a couple of weeks away from the parade portion of the festivities.

Still, I can tell what time of year it is.

I see a dance krewe perfecting its routine in Crescent Park when the work day is done. During the day, I can hear school marching bands in full rehearsal. And, I swear, every other friend’s house I walk into is covered in clothing half-covered in red beans.

Then, of course, there’s the king cake — and that’s where I can help.

Everyone has their Mardi Gras area of expertise. Some of us are costumers. Some of us throw great parties. Some of us participate in parades.

I eat king cake. All of it.

In fact, for a week in early 2017, I became New Orleans semi famous when it was discovered I had eaten 66 different king cakes in one Carnival. (I had ACTUALLY eaten more than 80, but who’s counting? Me. That’s who.)

I was keeping track of my progress on a Google Doc spreadsheet, and was surprised to see on that Fat Tuesday that more than 400 others were viewing the document, as well!

And now we are truly in a king cake renaissance. When you hear longtime New Orleanians talk about their favorite versions as a kid, it seems like everyone grew up eating Haydel’s or Randazzo’s. Today, it’s like every baker, chef, and — even — insectarium wants to take a stab at putting their signature on Mardi Gras’ most famous treat.

But I’m not complaining. Some people love to stick with the oldies-but-goodies, and I respect that.

But — me — I want to try everything.

And, with a Carnival season this long, trying everything sounds possible! Of course, there are caloric consequences to trying every single king cake in the city. So here’s what I’m going to do:

I’m going to try a ton of them, and then I’ll break down my favorites later on. This way, you only have to eat the best of the best!

Who’s got the best traditional king cakes in the city? Is it McKenzie’s? Dong Phuong’s? Gerald’s Donuts?

Where can you buy the most creatively stuffed cake? Is it Bywater Bakery’s Pontchatoula strawberry and cream cheese? Is it Cochon Butcher’s peanut butter and banana-filled Elvis king cake? Or maybe it’s District Donuts’ salted caramel and cream cheese masterpiece?  

And don’t even get me started on the slew of savory options! Taco king cake from Casa Borrega? A BBQ-stuffed king cake sandwich from Central City Barbecue? Muffeletta king cake from Cartozzo’s?

Yes, please! I’m going to try them all, because like the song goes, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” and this is how I celebrate.

So feel free to pop into the spreadsheet to see how things went back in 2017 and follow along here — as well as on my Facebook, Instagram and Twitter feeds to watch the progress — and to tell me which cakes you think I should be trying!  Because an adventure like this takes a village.

Looking forward to the journey!

Matt Haines

Matt Haines

Matt Haines lives in New Orleans and writes about all the cool stuff.
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