Crawfish king cake: Daphne business creates a savory sensation


Does your king cake even have to be a cake to be the most coveted king cake of the season? Evidently not, to just from the success that Daphne-based Gourmet Goodies is having with its crawfish king cake.

This unconventional “cake” is an eight-pound, $75 torus of crawfish dressing rolled in homemade bread and topped with crumbled bacon, chopped shallots and a crawfish cream sauce. Gourmet Goodies invented it last year and the partners in the business knew they had a hit. But top honors in a recent New Orleans king cake tasting led to a surge in demand.

To say the small catering and meal-prep business is slammed trying to keep up with interest would be an understatement. “We haven’t been sleeping a lot, but business is great,” said Gourmet Goodies founder Laura Stafford.

As she spoke, things seemed calm enough in the kitchen at Gourmet Goodies. Out front, an employee had just opened a box to show a customer the crawfish king cake she was picking up and to give them some guidance on how to prep it for serving. The toppings were in separate containers so that the sauce didn’t make the bread soggy, she explained.

In the kitchen, Candace Callister flattened out the dough for one of the cakes, then cut open a premeasured bag of filling and began spreading it out. She then painstakingly rolled the dough into a heavy cylinder. It took the help of a second person to transfer the tube to a baking sheet, where Callister shaped it into a ring so that it was ready to go into an oven.

“We still hand-roll everything,” said Stafford, who has an aversion to preservatives. The cakes are sold the same day they’re baked, and purchasers are encouraged to eat them within a couple of days, she said.

She started Gourmet Goodies about six years ago in the café space at Coastal Church, where she’s a pastor. The business outgrew the location and now operates out of a strip-mall storefront along U.S. 98. About three-and-a-half years ago, Barbara Sylkatis joined as a partner.

The two of them invented their novelty king cake for the 2022 Mardi Gras season, Stafford said. They had the notion of making a savory alternative to the sugary standard version, and since they’re both from Louisiana they thought about something that would reflect the influence of that state. Something involving boudin came to mind, but Stafford said she’s not particularly a fan – so they settled on crawfish. Sylkatis came up with the bread, Stafford concocted the filling.

Related: Five signs this whole king cake thing is getting out of hand

“It was an instant hit, then people came to inquire about it,” she said of the 2022 season. But as it turned out, it wasn’t just locals whose interest was piqued. Word got around. As the crew at Gourmet Goodies returned to work after Christmas break, they got a call from a guy who wanted to order one to carry to New Orleans.

When he arrived to pick it up, he identified himself as one of the organizers of the King Cake Extravaganza, a fundraiser presented by the Friends of St. Alphonsus Art & Cultural Center in New Orleans. He was collecting entries from the Florida Panhandle and coastal Alabama, he said, and Gourmet Goodies’ crawfish cake was on his list.

Stafford said she’d never heard of the Extravaganza beforehand. But soon she was hearing that her cake was in the Top 20, then the Top 10. King Cake expert Brendon Oldendorf had a hand in the judging, in which the Gourmet Goodies entry ended up ranked as the top Alabama entry, the top savory entry, the best new contender and the third overall, out of 150 entries from five states.

“Seriously, I was shocked,” said Stafford. “And they sent us the list of who all was in it and then I was really shocked. I’m like, are you kidding, all these 100-year-old famous bakeries in New Orleans? What? It just kind of went crazy after that.”

A “king cake bomb” from Gourmet Goodies in Daphne is a downsized version of the company’s popular crawfish king cakes. (Courtesy of Gourmet Goodies)Lawrence Specker | LSpecker@AL.com

Since then, Gourmet Goodies has been trying to keep up with demand for its award-winning product. The business specializes mainly in take-home meals and catering. Its baked goods include traditional king cakes ($35, with cinnamon sugar) and stuffed version ($40, with various toppings, ranging from cream cheese to churro and banana pudding).

Because Gourmet Goodies’ regular meal prep and catering business accounts for a lot of its kitchen production, Stafford and Sylkatis couldn’t just drop everything and crank out cakes. But they’re doing everything they can to meet the public’s appetite for crawfish king cakes. They’ve added employees, Stafford said, and they’ve been thinking about adding a night shift.

At the moment, Sylkatis said, there’s a two-week wait to get a crawfish king cake. Orders can be placed through Facebook Messenger at www.facebook.com/gourmetgoodiesdaphne.

To augment the limited supply, they’ve been putting out batches of smaller “king cake bombs,” suitable for one or two people, at $20 for four. But you’ve got to be fast to get those, too: In a recent Facebook post, they said a batch of more than 200 had sold out in less than two hours. (Keep an eye on their Facebook page for word of fresh batches.)

She offered one to a visiting reporter. The bomb was every bit as savory as one would hope. It wasn’t a stunt: The filling wasn’t super-spicy (though a pepperiness did linger on the tongue afterward); there was no sweet-and-savory mishmash of flavors; and the overall effect was hearty rather than overwhelmingly rich. This was a king cake that would fit in perfectly with the other comfort foods in a Thanksgiving spread, rather than on the dessert table.

The King Cake Extravaganza wasn’t the final round for Gourmet Goodies. They’ll be among the competitors at Mobile’s own King Cake-Off, a Jan. 27 challenge that benefits Big Brothers Big Sisters of South Alabama. The event takes place from 5-7 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 27, at the Mobile Civic Center Expo Hall.

At this event, ticketholders vote on the best king cakes and king cake-inspired treats. It also features live music, local vendors, kids’ activities and more. For more information or to order tickets, visit www.kingcakeoff.com. (Advance ticket prices are $15 for adults, $5 for children ages 3-12 and $50 for VIP access.)

Gourmet Goodies is a meal-prep and catering business in a strip-mall storefront  off U.S. 98 in Daphne.

Gourmet Goodies is a meal-prep and catering business in a strip-mall storefront off U.S. 98 in Daphne.Lawrence Specker | LSpecker@AL.com

Stafford said she and Sylkatis are happy to support the event, because they’ve both had foster children in their homes. And for all the work this unexpected boon has brought, they’ve got no complaints.

“Let me tell you, we know where this blessing comes from,” Stafford said. “This is a blessing from God. If we had tried to have done this, we’d have messed it up. It’s just our prayer every day, we pray every day as a staff together before we get the day started, we say, God, this is a gift for you, help us to steward this gift well.”

It’s clear the impact will go beyond king cakes and that it will last well beyond Fat Tuesday.

“It has not only increased our business with king cakes, but then people come in and they’re like, wait a minute, I didn’t know you did dinners and other stuff,” said Stafford.

Ash Wednesday tends to bring an abrupt end to the demand for regular king cakes. But that’s not the case with the crawfish king cake.

“We’ve got orders out after Mardi Gras,” Stafford said. “We sold crawfish king cakes at Christmas, on our Christmas menu. So it’s something that we do a lot.”



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