Festival vibe kicks off king cake season in NOLA Bywater

By JOHN E. BIALAS
Broadmoor Bureau Chief

I took the 90-mile trip from my home in Gulfport, Miss., on Sunday for the opening of the king cake season in New Orleans.

Bywater Bakery was my top destination, one of the many places in the city celebrating not only king cakes but also Kings’ Day, the start of Carnival season, which runs until Fat Tuesday on March 5.

After I parked my SUV a few blocks away, I thought I would just walk into Bywater Bakery, check out the variety of king cakes, perhaps buying one and then walking to some of my other favorite places in the Bywater such as Euclid Records and Crescent Park.

The sunny spring-like day brought out a lot more people than I ever expected to see. A line was out the front door of the bakery and folks were hanging out in the middle of the street waiting to hear the next band play across the way outside the Bywater Art Lofts.

One guy was selling Mardi Gras jewelry next to what looked like a small Carnival float serving  drinks and a juggler entertained kids on the river side of the street.

It was a festival atmosphere, but the bakery line barely moved. It was no second line, so I walked through the side door of the bakery with no fear of getting blocked or knocked down and I found treats I have never seen before: Carnival cinnamon rolls topped with sugary sprinkles in Mardi Gras colors. I got two of them, spotted an opening in the line, paid for the rolls and was out the door.

I’ll wait for another day to get a king cake.

I took a lot of iPhone photos outside and inside the bakery.  One is at the top of this post and seven more of mine are down here.

In the street at the corner of Dauphine and Independence, people wait for the next band to play outside the Bywater Art Lofts. 

The scene on the lake side of the bakery. In the background is what the shop called a king cake driveup and pickup.

It would have been more entertaining to see that guy juggle three King Cake Baby bobbleheads.

One of the King Cake Baby bobbleheads given to the first 8,000 fans before a Pelicans game in 2017.

The Carnival cinnamon rolls weren’t blurry. This picture just makes them look that way.

King cakes were also sold by the slice. The one at bottom left was filled with crawfish.

That’s king cake bread pudding. Is there a king cake bread pudding baby?

Because of that line inside the bakery, I bypassed king cakes for the rolls and made an easy exit through the side door.

Phooey on all the hype for Dong Phuong king cakes

This screen grab promotes king cake season at Dong Phuong in New Orleans. DONG PHUONG FACEBOOK PAGE

By JOHN E. BIALAS
Broadmoor Bureau Chief

I’m sick and tired of reading all the craziness involving New Orleans East Vietnamese bakery Dong Phuong and its fab king cakes.

Back when the 2018 king cake season was calm, my daughter got one at a Dong Phuong off-site in Mandeville a couple of weeks ago and said it’s the best  she’s ever had.

I’m happy for her and unhappy for me.

I wanted to get one of my own on Monday so I drove from Gulfport and took scenic Old Highway 90, also known as The Jayne Mansfield Memorial Road, in hopes of getting a cream cheese king cake for $16 at 14207 Chef Menteur Highway.

I arrived at Dong Phuong at 4 p.m., walked through the front door and saw a barren bakery. Nothing. Nada. No king cakes at all. Sold out.

Son of a brioche.

I suffered in silence while taking the back roads home. Old Highway 90 runs through Lake Catherine Island, the home of fishing camps and their creative signage, and I stopped a couple of times to take pictures.

This sign on Highway 90 is just east of New Orleans East. JOHN E. BIALAS
This sign on Highway 90 is just east of New Orleans East. JOHN E. BIALAS

The fish camps are just minutes from Lake Pontchartrain, the Rigolets, Lake Borgne and the Biloxi Marsh, and the waters are loaded with redfish, trout, flounder, drum and sheepshead. I wish they would also be loaded with Dong Phuong cream cheese, cinnamon and pecan king cakes.

One of the fishing camps on Lake Catherine Island displays the logo of a New Orleans soft drink company. JOHN E. BIALAS
One of the fishing camps on Lake Catherine Island displays the logo of a New Orleans soft drink company. JOHN E. BIALAS

When I stopped to take pictures, I didn’t dilly dally because I feared a gator might cross the highway and attack me. I was right in the middle of a swamp or a bayou or what have you and I wanted to be home for dinner.

The next three days, the Dong Phuong sugar hit the fan.

I blame the James Beard Foundation. The bakery was named one of the winners of the James Beard America’s Classic awards on Jan. 18. Since then, the popularity of the Dong Phuong king cakes has skyrocketed to the point that demand has overwhelmed the business this week.

A Dong Phuong Facebook post Tuesday said, “We will no longer be taking online orders. King Cakes are now ONLY available for walk-in purchase at the Bakeshop through Lundi Gras!”

Lundi Gras is the Monday before Mardi Gras on Feb. 13.

I suppose that’s a good thing, because The New Orleans Advocate reported on Wednesday that “the bakery has even heard reports of people buying their king cakes to resell at inflated prices – essentially, king cake scalping.”

A $14 king cake was going for $60. I would like to see where that transaction went down. Venetian Isles? The 24/7 Fort Pike boat launch? Outside Mr. Bubbles on the West Bank?

On Thursday, Dong Phuong suspended deliveries to other retailers, such as the Mandeville business where my daughter bought her king cake.

Dong Phuong said on Tuesday it would stop deliveries and the news led to an entertaining thread on Reddit where 107 comments were posted.

Someone under the name DongPhuongDriver  kicked off the thread with a “PSA” that cited “multiple fist fights at locations we deliver to, and King Cake fraud with our pick up orders.”

OK, I’ve had enough.

I’ll take my business to Nonna Randazzo’s, which is just a few minutes from my daughter’s office in Covington.

Randazzo’s has excellent king cakes and tasty Mardi Gras layer cakes as well.

I’ll go there next week and get a Mardi Gras cake.

And I promise I won’t scalp it.