Loaf Lounge, a new cafe, debuted last weekend in Avondale. While the owners prepared to open, co-owner and ace baker Sarah Mispagel (Sepia, Proxi) served as a consultant for The Bear, the FX TV show based on a fictional Chicago Italian beef stand. Mispagel created the sweets depicted on screen and allowed actor Lionel Boyce, who plays Marcus, to apply a final touch. Mispagel’s work included a scrumptious chocolate cake that made viewers take note. A hulking slice of that cake is now available at Loaf Lounge for $7.50. How does the cake taste? Read on to find out.
Below is a slightly edited transcript of a Slack conversation between Eater Chicago Editor Ashok Selvam and Reporter Naomi Waxman about said cake.
The Bear Chocolate Cake
$7.50 per slice
Made with Valrhona cocoa powder in the cake and icing and Valrhona 64 percent Tainori in the ganache.
Ashok: Instagram has ruined food pictures for a lot of us, how can the actual item match the over-stylized image that’s been posted? But you know what? The Bear chocolate cake matches the hype. That richness you saw through the screen? It’s in that first bite!
Naomi: Some people take enormous pleasure in eating cake for breakfast, which seems reasonable to me but isn’t a habit I typically partake in. But I am also nobody’s fool, and in the case of this particular cake, there’s a good reason for patrons to indulge in the morning. At its heart, Loaf Lounge is a bakery, which means Mispagel and her staff clock in around 4 a.m. Showing up early gives patrons a chance to taste the cake in its freshest, richest form.
Ashok: First of all, we should normalize “cake for breakfast.” Second, I had the cake fresh at the cafe and I took a slice home. Both times were fabulous, but eating it at the counter at the lounge was just better. The crumbs were more ...moist (sorry), the frosting — the ganache had a better richness, which may sound obvious. Mispagel tells me that this is one of her old recipes she perfected at Proxy/Sepia, a go-to for private events when customers wanted chocolate cake. It’s a pretty reliable flavor bomb. Well balanced and not too sweet or bitter. That being said, do you think you could eat more than one slice?
Naomi: “Reliable” is a good word for it — it’s not fussy or overly decorated (honestly, a welcome change from the elaborate buttercream mountains that have taken over #cakestagram), the cake is tender yet holds its form. It would be a hit at any birthday party, whether the guest of honor is eight or 80. But that brings me back to your point about quantity: I could not put away more than one slice, especially before noon.
Ashok: I could if I were on a cake bender, but I don’t want to talk about those dark, dark days. Chicago is home to some quality bakers. I’ll call out Jennifer Jones at Logan Square’s Dos Urban Cantina. That chocolate cake is a champion! Loaf Lounge’s entry is right up there. It’s not flashy, but there’s a lot of depth. Mispagel says it was Chris Storer, The Bear’s co-creator and Park Ridge native, who came up with the idea to serve the cake at the cafe. It’s a wise choice. It’s great bait to get folks through the door to taste the fresh bread, sandwiches, and other wizardry inside that small kitchen. Did I mention the bread?
Naomi: And, in a total surprise, arguably the best English muffin I’ve encountered in a long time! Another perk to a counter spot is the opportunity to peek through the expo window to see Lustbader running the show. The over-easy egg in my sausage-egg-and-cheese breakfast sandwich burst in that perfectly subtle, satisfying way, which to me revealed a lot of egg experience in that kitchen. Even though the cafe is brand new, it’s already a site for excellent people-watching. I got to enjoy a performance from three tiny boys in matching “best friends” t-shirts holding hands and jumping up and down in anticipation of their treats. I know the feeling, guys.
Ashok: Mispagel’s husband, Ben Lustbader, says they’re not worried if the cake overshadows the rest of the menu. Mispagel says they may eventually serve up Marcus’ “perfect doughnut” from the TV show. I do have one gripe: How can Marcus be this good this fast? He might be a natural talent, but annoying Star Wars fans whine about Rey “not having enough Jedi training” and being able to wield a lightsaber with ease right away. After eating the cake, how can Marcus be such a master of texture and flavor without formal training? The willing suspension of disbelief wouldn’t be a problem if I hadn’t tasted the cake (pushes glasses back up).
Naomi: That’s not the only suspension of disbelief The Bear asks viewers to entertain — I have found myself coming back to the problem of the (spoiler alert) can storyline several times since I finished the first season. But there’s still room to appreciate a little small-screen magic, especially when Marcus’ world is so closely intertwined with a real small business.
Ashok: Wrapping it up, I was very pleased that this “Bear” show — that has nothing to do with a terrible football team — pushed me to try some very fine chocolate cake, and hope other TV shows will take the initiative to hire Chicago kitchen workers so I can eat and write about their food featured on TV. Also, Jeremy Allen White hasn’t had the cake yet and it’s funny we’ve tried the cake and Carmy has been denied. JAW told me he wants to try the cake! Overall, let’s hope The Bear brings Mispagel back for Season 2 to bring to life whatever Marcus imagines. Do you have any closing thoughts, Naomi?
Naomi: I am also eager to see where The Bear takes Carmy, Sydney, and the team, though I think it’s safe to say we can expect some grimy kitchen behavior and — hopefully — more delectable delicacies from Marcus via Mispagel. As we wait for a new installment, I’ll be distracting myself over at Loaf Lounge.