So are you getting set for a wild Miami-style Mardi Gras celebration this week? Neither am I. But I did spend some of Fat Tuesday enjoying delectable, homestyle New Orleans cooking in North Miami Beach. Yes, that's right, there's a place on NE 163rd Street cooking up jambalaya, po'boy sandwiches, and such. The name of the place is almost as surprising as the news: the Rumcake Factory.
You might be familiar with the place. The business was located in Miami Lakes for the past five years but moved to its new home a month ago. Husband/wife owners Larry and Elena Robinson began catering in 2002, with Larry cooking the food he grew up with in Louisiana. "And then the rum cake just sort of took on a life of its own," says Elena, a Cuban-American who from behind the counter cheerily greets customers as they enter the little eight-seat shop. The rum cake recipe comes from Larry's mother, but "he's worked over the years perfecting it." It tastes pretty perfected to me: Moist as can be, the $3.50 wedge boasts a solid infusion of rum and sweet buttered rum-walnut glaze. Six-inch cakes go for $15, nine-inch cakes for $30. They can be ordered online at therumcakefactory.com.
The printed menu features just a handful of choices -- the meals mostly a mix of Cajun cooking and homestyle soul food. Fried shrimp and catfish come in baskets ($6.95; $9.50) or po'boys. I sampled the catfish po'boy ($7.75), a cleanly fried fish adorned with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, and rémoulade on soft French bread (shipped in from New Orleans). Sweet potato chips come alongside. Fried turkey po'boys are up for grabs too, as was a daily special of pulled pork po'boy -- but there's only so much one po' reviewer can eat in one sitting. A patron at the other table was raving about the pork, though.
The only other regular menu item is jumbo smoked chicken wings (five for $6.95), but there's always a daily blackboard special or two. Smoked chicken was the featured dish Tuesday ($5.99 with yellow rice, a bit of salad with balsamic vinaigrette, and a corn bread muffin). It was juicy, mildly smoked, and spot-on tasty. Jambalaya gets served Fridays ($8.25), barbecue ribs Thursdays and Fridays. The other chef besides Larry is Roosevelt, who coincidentally comes from the same hometown (Natchitoches). Roosevelt encouraged me to return for the ribs, so I figure they must be good.
Gumbo and Cajun fried turkey sliders show up on the menu at times as well. Chef Larry took first place in the 2000 Cajun Zydeco Crawfish Festival Gumbo Cook-Off. "You don't have a good roux, you don't have a good gumbo," he says. On Tuesday, they didn't have any gumbo at all. "We had it last week," Elena told me. Damn!, I thought. "We might have it on Friday," she added, perhaps noticing my disappointment.
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Police officers from a nearby station were enjoying lunch when we visited. They seemed to be regulars. "I've got good protection," Elena joked. "We'll protect the food, that's for sure," one of the officers replied.
The Rumcake Factory
2075 NE 163rd St., North Miami Beach