In a recent article written by Timbergrove resident John Nova Lomax for Texas Monthly, the author opined that “Houston might actually be the biggest city in Louisiana.”
Lomax asserted that there are so many LA transplants here, that their influence has shifted the culture of the city. In specific, he continued – the Houston Heights – resulting in its popular White Linen Night (originally a NOLA tradition), an occasional second-line parade, and a rich collection of Cajun and Creole-influenced eateries.
That said, one would think we could find a good King Cake to celebrate Mardi Gras. Sure, we can snag one at a local grocery chain but they taste like sweetened, glittery mashed potatoes. It took some hunting, but The Leader finally found the authentic, elusive treat in – you guessed it – the Houston Heights.
The King Cake is a Mardi Gras tradition dating back to the 1800s, with baking launched on Jan. 6. This is said to be the day that baby Jesus first revealed himself. To celebrate, we place a tiny plastic baby inside the cake for a lucky sweet-eater to find.
A good King Cake tastes like something between a coffee cake and a French pastry. It’s decorated in the colors of Mardi Gras: purple for Justice, green for faith, and gold for power. In the past two centuries, many items have functioned as the baby Jesus – coins, fava beans, and pecans were popular. The person who gets the slice with the treasure in it is expected to host the next King Cake party.
Native New Orleanian, Wayne Gonsoulin, moved from Louisiana to Timbergrove with his wife five years ago, but missed authentic Crescent City crawfish.
“In Houston, crawfish boils lean more toward the Vietnamese style,” Gonsoulin stated. “My business partner farms crawfish in Louisiana, so we decided to opened our Boil House in the Heights. That way, we could share our love for authentic NOLA mudbugs.”
Modest Boil House’s menu includes only boiled crawfish, sausage links, potatoes and corn. However, it also hosts a most bona fide King Cake in Houston. Gonsoulin imports NOLA’s coveted Gambino’s King Cake twice a week. As far as The Leader could find, it’s the only place to get it outside of Louisiana.
“When you only have five items on your menu,” Gonsoulin continued, “you have to make sure that everything is very good, the real thing. It all boils down to cultural authenticity.”
Houston’s own Three Brothers Bakery on Washington Avenue also offers an authentic King Cake. This bakery has been operated by the Jucker family since 1949, and earned its place among Houston baking royalty.
“We started baking King Cakes about five years ago and would sell about 50 each Mardi Gras season,” stated co-owner Janice Jucker. “But, to tell the truth, those cakes weren’t very good. Then we went to Louisiana and tried nine of the best King Cakes in the state. We learned everything we could about them, and came home to apply it. Today, our King Cakes are ordered by people all over the country. We’ll sell a couple thousand in just a few weeks,” Jucker said.
Let us take a moment to celebrate the city of Houston. If there’s another place in America where residents can routinely enjoy the rich variety of flavors and fare that we do, we’d like to know where it is.