Story & photos by Laura Love:
Just south of the McCaysville’s city line on Hwy. 5 is a taste of Caribbean rum and Cuban cooking at Rum Cake Lady & Cuban Café. The menu items are also great for a picnic out alongside the Toccoa at McCaysville City Park (1.7 miles from the cafe) and Horseshoe Bend Park (3.8). Or a picnic on the Toccoa; Toccoa river outfitters in McCaysville/Copperhill are 2 miles away.
Owner Elizabeth Correa started Rum Cake Lady at the request of locals who had tasted her cakes at parties. Soon after she started the bakery, customers came with new requests, “Do you make Cuban food, too?” In May 2016, Correa added a café to the bakery.
From 10-5 Monday through Friday and 9-4 Saturday, Rum Cake Lady and Café serves up Cuban “comfort food” like Cuban sandwiches, beef and chicken empanadas, pork tamales and, of course, plantain chips. Plantains are a vegetable that looks like a banana but tastes more like a potato chip. The sandwiches are on Rum Cake Lady’s Cuban bread, which Correa’s sister, Susana bakes daily. For people wanting to stay away from breads, Cuban food bowls are a great choice. Depending on the day, the dish has either pork or picadillo (ground pork or beef hash), rice and black beans or rice with chicken and maduros. Maduros are slightly sweet, ripe plantains. To go along with the food, the café sells several Cuban sodas: the Cuban “national beverage” Ironbeer, which tastes like a cream soda with Caribbean spices; Jupina, a carbonated pineapple soda; and, Materva, a tea-flavored ginger ale.
Depending on her own Cuban comfort food craving of the week, Correa prepares various specials like Spanish lasagna or Garbanzo bean soup. The most-used ingredients in Cuban food are onions, garlic, oregano and cumin, so Cuban food is not spicy like Mexican food. Correa says, “I consider it a privilege to cook what I love and people love it.”
On the back wall of the restaurant, is the temple of tempting Rum Lady Cakes: Golden Vanilla, Chocolate, Salted Caramel Chocolate, Pina-Colada and Limoncello. Presiding over the deliciousness is a mural of Mama Ines, the exemplar of Cuban cooking, and Correa’s own chickens and donkey. Her husband’s free-range flock provides happy eggs for Correa’s rich cakes and killer flan.
Like the rest of her menu, the rum cake recipes are from family heirlooms Correa developed from notebooks and notebooks of her mother’s recipes. She uses Caribbean rum, which isn’t spicy like Jamaican rum and has more robust flavor than rum extract. To it she adds lots of eggs, sugar and everything delicious. Correa laughs when I ask her about the alcohol context of the rum cakes. “My eight-year old son eats rum cake all day long, and I have never seen him drunk. The alcohol evaporates during cooking and what’s left is the rum taste.” The smallest rum cakes, enough for two people, sell for $5.
North GA Guide sat down with Correa over Limoncello Rum Cake and a Cortadito, a Cuban espresso coffee mixed with milk, to find out about her signature recipes, Rum Cakes, and what Correa’s café means to her.
The Limoncello Rum Cake was moist but not dense. The soft bits of cake were distinctly rich rum (not to mention rich butter and eggs) and sweet, not bitter, lemon. The light glaze on top on top had tiny crunchy sugar crystals. It wasn’t syrupy or broke into chunks like confectioner’s sugar glaze does. Correa compares it to a Cuban version of a Southern Pound Cake. Pound Cakes can be heavy and dense; Rum Cakes taste lighter.
On the wall above us is a painting of palm trees, ocean and mountains that Correa looks at when she misses her childhood home. But, with the sugar, mother’s recipes, the rum and Cuban comfort food she has brought the best of her memories with her to McCaysville.