The Hungry Black Man team traveled to the DMV area for our annual Black History Foodie Trip and discovered what could quite possibly be one of, if not the best Black food scenes in America. I hear good things about Houston as well, but for now, it’s Detroit, DMV, and Chicago for me.
Coinciding with our tour was my recent post pleading with the Lord to release me from my “now I need sumn sweet” shackles. Apparently, He is still working on my healing because I lost complete control at the Codetta Bake Shop, currently operating and serving out of the Mindgrub Kitchen at 554 E Fort Ave in Federal Hill, MD.
The owner of this sweet spot is Chef Sumayyah Bilal, who traded in her clarinet and went from being the drum major of the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens Band to represent her city in another way that is much more delicious! Thank you Queen! Her musical background has contributed to her creativity and spiritual connection to food because, get this – she places her ears to her ovens to hear her creations speak to her when they are done. No timers for this baker, just using her musical ear to hear the desserts softly whisper, “I am ready for the world.”
Listen very carefully, this place is dangerous. Don’t let her sweet face fool you. She’s a cake whisperer and a pastry chef ninja who beats the hell out of your taste buds with her amazing cheesecakes and homemade ice creams, while her Tres Leches Cake (Three-Milk Cake) knocks your socks off.
As Miamians, our large Hispanic population (with emphasis on the Cuban diaspora) loves this cake. I love this cake. You will love this cake. Most of my friends’ parents were Cuban, including my Godmother, who would make it all the time. I fell in love with this cake’s sweet richness and almost rice pudding moistness that is still solid and together. It’s a dense, moist “three milks” cake topped with a cloud of vanilla whipped cream. What makes it different from other cakes is that after baked, it is perforated and soaked in a mixture of three different milk products: evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, and whole milk or heavy cream, hence the name Tres Leches.
Chef Bilal’s cake is super authentic, but with the added magic of America’s southern dessert heritage in its depth, making it nostalgic on both sides of my Black American culture and my strong connection to Cuban cuisine. What separates her version from many of the Tres Leches cakes served at Miami spots was just the right sweetness and the perfect consistency with amazing density that creates a “mouth feel” for a rich cake that is moist but not mushy. (Sometimes that cake be way too mushy at our brown brothers and sisters’ spots at home.)
Imagine a delicious angel food cake that is darn near perfect, but wait, she isn’t done! Before you can blink, she marinates it in a thick sweet milk syrup like a giant sponge for a bite that will have yo a$$ melting just like the homemade whipped cream adorning the top.
This cake is very popular in Nicaragua, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guatemala and Mexico, which is where chef’s partner, Chris, is from. He challenged her to make this cake and he admitted to us that she even outperformed his relatives. I invite my Hispanic viewers and those who know and love Tres Leches to try this amazing cake for yourself. I am so certain you’ll agree with me!
Now on to the cheesecakes. Chef’s is one of my favorites, which is significant because I am a cheesecake snob. I abhor an improperly constructed cheesecake with all my soul. For starters, most folks don’t realize it, but cheesecakes in and of themselves are not actually cakes, but rather custards. This is where her largest success was because chef’s cheesecake’s consistency was thick, rich, and creamy. I could tell she knew her stuff since she allowed the eggs’ proteins to give the cake its beautiful structure while remaining incredibly soft and creamy.
Unlike other cakes, cheesecakes are not cooked in high temperatures to insure they don’t dry out. I can tell you she was whispering to these cakes because there was absolutely no dryness whatsoever.
Chef uses fresh ingredients in all her creations, but the fresh berry jam adorning the top of her vanilla cheesecake with chessman cookie crust took me into the spirit realm where I could see all my ancestors like Chef Edna Lewis, Chef James Hemmings, and even the father of modern Ice Cream, Augustus Jackson (look each of these Black culinary giants up as a great Black History Month exercise). Each one looked at me and said, “Go forward my son and tell the world of this Queen’s greatness.” Then just like that, I was back in the realm of the living. Following directions, here I am. We had two different cheesecakes and The Gap Band summed them up best in their 1982 hit, OUTSTANDING!
Baltimoreans, y’all got some good a$$ food in your city. Especially within the Black food and drink ecosystem. I look forward to sharing with you all the amazing eateries we discovered during our Black History Month Foodies Tour. Check out this amazing bakery during Black History Month by calling them at (443) 492-9565 or visit them online at www.codettabakeshop.com.