Gooey butter cake really is gooey and buttery, like a cross between yellow cake (which forms its underside) and moist fudge. Exactly how the St. Louis signature dessert first was created remains a mystery, most accounts speculating that some forgotten cake baker added the wrong proportion of ingredients to a recipe, but liked the soft, sweet, crisp-edged pastry that emerged from the oven. Until fairly recently, gooey butter cake remained a stealth specialty known only to St. Louisans, but it has hit the radar of traveling foodies; and a handful of restaurants far beyond the city have begun to offer it as a novelty.
To taste gooey butter cake in its glory, there is no better place than Lafayette Square’s Park Avenue Coffee, where 76 varieties are made, about a dozen every day, from Amaretto and Apple to White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookie Dough. I’ve very much enjoyed Turtle, Lemon Raspberry, and Red Velvet, and look forward to sampling Funky Monkey (chocolate and banana) and seasonal Eggnog; but the one listed as Mom’s Traditional is my favorite — the unbeatable original formula of eggs, butter, cream cheese, and powdered sugar baked until the edge gets chewy but the middle stays gooey. This is one grand coffee companion!
As you’d surmise from its name, coffee is not an afterthought in this place. Park Avenue roasts its own — light and dark, flavored and decaf — and serves a wide array of espresso drinks, iced and hot.
Cakes are sold as 9×9-inch squares, 9×13-inch rectangles, large and small hearts, and nice-size single portions for eating on premises in plush arm chairs or at cozy bare tables in the front room or out on the sidewalk.
There are three other Park Avenue Coffee locations: 4240 Duncan Ave.; 417 N. 10th St.; and 5105 Columbia Ave. That last one, in The Hill, is where beans are roasted.