Hot Cakes

tl;dr: skip the molten chocolate cakes and go for the grilled chocolate sandwich if you want a hefty dessert. For a light dessert, try any of the cookies or the chocolate almond rocher. The ultimate dessert experience would be alternating bites of the rocher and the grilled chocolate sandwich.

You would think that a restaurant’s namesake would be its best item, but at Hot Cakes, getting one of the molten chocolate cakes they are famous for is just about the only thing you can do wrong. That’s not to say they aren’t delicious. They are, for the most part, but after its inclusion on every single dessert menu from Chili’s to El Gaucho, it is unreasonably hard to impress me with a molten chocolate cake.

seasonal coconut pecan hot cake

seasonal coconut pecan hot cake

Much like fried chicken and cold sandwiches, the best version of a molten chocolate cake is very hard to distinguish from the worst version. There is not a lot you can do to make a molten chocolate cake impressive, though Hot Cakes does try. Their cakes are all served with housemade caramel sauce, which is good, but not good enough to save the cake from itself. Though the cakes are the reason the store was opened, they are not the reason to stop by. The reasons are everything else on the menu.

From a chocolate chip cookie with vanilla ice cream to a grilled chocolate sandwich, everything else at Hot Cakes is the best version of itself. The chocolate chip cookie is huge and warm, allowing for variety in texture from the crunchy edges to the chewy middle. The sprinkles of salt on top might feel like a stupid hipster addition, but I am a firm believer that salt on baked goods is a trend that should stick around. The salt is just plentiful enough to be interesting, but not distracting. The vanilla ice cream on top of the cookie does a great job melting into the chewy bits and creating a sort of raw cookie dough taste. It’s a shame that this item is the least interesting sounding thing on the menu, because it should get ordered way more often than I’m sure it does.

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for here or to go? – locations in ballard and capitol hill

The grilled chocolate sandwich is a great example of what happens when quality ingredients are allowed to speak for themselves. Excellent dark chocolate is melted between grilled sourdough, making for bites that play with texture and flavor. The crunchy, sour bread brings out notes in the chocolate that wouldn’t be obvious in any other application. The sandwich is entirely too big and entirely too rich for one person to eat on their own, which is a great reason to bring a friend and share it. If you’re feeling brave and want to tackle it on your own, a side of vanilla ice cream would work well as a palate cleanser.

The rocher is easily the best value on the menu. At $3.50, you get what is essentially a giant meringue with chunks of dark chocolate and candied sliced almonds folded in. The rocher is so large that the outside is crispy and light, but the inside is fluffy, almost marshmallowy. A bite of the super rich, melty grilled chocolate sandwich followed by a bite of fluffy, crispy, light rocher would be the ultimate experience of every single way a dessert can be good.

The lesson to take away from Hot Cakes is that often, the most popular dish at a restaurant is not the best thing on offer. Exploring the menu at a popular place, trying to find the best deals and underdog favorites, is more fun and more rewarding than just blindly ordering what everyone else recommends. Not only do you get to outhipster a hipster joint, (I ordered the rocher before everyone else found out about it) but you also get to treat every restaurant visit like a mission to hunt down the delicious underdogs. Ordering something just because it sounds interesting or is insanely cheap is the best way to tour a menu, especially in a place like Hot Cakes where you know that the worst item on the menu is still dessert.

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Borrachini’s Bakery

tl;dr: daaaaaaaaaaaamn their donuts are tight, and holy hell that glazed croissant. Beeline to the bakery section, pick whatever donut looks good, and also grab one of the glazed croissants.
Borracchini’s Bakery is so unpretentious, it’s listed as a convenience store on Yelp. That right there, well, that’s my kinda place. Though they put out what could be the most delicious cakes in the greater Seattle area, Borracchini’s gives no fucks whether or not you’re impressed with their decor. They’re here for the food, which suits me just fine.

Walking in, there are tables covered with different varieties of Italian cookies and crostini, and if you’re lucky, each table has a box open for sampling. You could use your entire appetite just perusing the samples. There are aisles and aisles of imported groceries and a solidly packed deli, but you’re here for the donuts.

Oh, you thought I was going to say cake? Well, yeah, you should definitely get a cake from here. We got a marble cake with custard filling and white Bavarian icing and everyone swooned over it. My sister even smushed a bit in my face, and it was actually a pleasant experience. That being said, man, we should have gotten donuts for our party.

The first donut I tried from Borracchini’s was a blueberry cake donut. I ate it while driving and shared it with two friends, which are two of the gravest mistakes I’ve ever made in my life. The donut was so distracting, it was probably as dangerous as texting while driving, and damnit, I should have eaten the whole thing myself. Or gotten two. Or gotten everyone their own donut because they’re sixty cents. Sixty cents for donut glory. The crumb of the cake was so unbelievably moist that the donut split in half when I tried to hand it to my friend. The crumb could barely hold on to itself, which made for a fantastic eating experience. The glaze was unobtrusive, adding just a slight crackle when you bit into the cake. The flavor? Fantastic, but really, it could have been any flavor with that kind of texture.
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I went back (OBVIOUSLY), on a mission. My sister and I got two donuts each, a raspberry filled, a glazed cake donut, a custard filled ring, and a glazed motherfucking croissant. When my sister spotted the croissant, I couldn’t believe it. Here I am, in possibly the most unpretentious bakery in the country, and they have latched on to the Cronut(TM) trend. But since the Cronut(TM) is trademarked, Borracchini’s just looked at a croissant and went, eh, let’s just fry that sucker and call it good. Instead of trying to keep on trend and make a knockoff Dossant, they did the smart thing, took what was already available, fried it, and said fuck it, that’s tight. And dear goodness, they’re right.
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This thing was dark brown, and covered in plain glaze. There were crunchy bites, crispy bites, pillowy bites, sugary bites, buttery bites, sometimes all five things in one bite. Though I’ve never tried a Cronut(TM), the pictures I’ve seen show a relatively homogenous texture on the outside, and the dough is fried to a regular golden brown. Now that I’ve had a glazed croissant from Borracchini’s, I feel as though I’d be disappointed by the Cronut(TM)’s lack of variety in texture and flavor. Making me feel like I’d be disappointed by a trademarked bakery product is a hell of an accomplishment.
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The other three donuts were obviously very well-done, and none were ignored, but damn, that glazed croissant. It was simultaneously nothing and everything you’d expect from a 94 year old Italian bakery. When you’re 94 years into the business, you don’t have to follow trends anymore. You can rest on your laurels and just enjoy the business of selling damn good cake and imported groceries. Or, you could keep your eye on what’s new, figure out the easiest way to do it, and make everyone else look like they’re just trying too damn hard.

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