Velvet Goldmine

There's an apocryphal tale, or "urban legend" as such fables are now known, that New York's Waldorf Astoria prepared a red velvet cake for some diners back in the Thirties or Forties -- and then presented a $100 charge for the dessert. Back then $100 was big bucks, but even if the story were true, the exorbitant price tag isn't too high when you consider that this devilish delight just might be the best cake ever invented: glistening, creamy-sweet white frosting over a mildly chocolate-flavored and moist ruby-colored batter that bursts with a gushy blood-red filling. There are dozens of variations, though all should contain cocoa, two ounces (no less) of red food coloring, buttermilk, and, believe it or not, vinegar. Believe it.

Miami will throw its first-ever tribute to the crimson concoction with the Red Velvet Cake Arts Festival, but sponsors are still expecting about 100 entries. The layered gateau is as versatile as it is luscious, so you'll probably want to sample all the versions. At least 50. And while you're stuffing your face with the colorfully muddy velvet, take a look around. This part of Overtown, between NW Eighth and Ninth streets, is home to the renovated Lyric Theater, one of Miami's most elegant and architecturally brilliant venues. On either side are vacant lots where dreamers hope to build two-story residential buildings and on Ninth a pedestrian mall that would be a tasteful version of Miami Beach's Lincoln Road or Coral Gables's Miracle Mile.

The Black Archives History and Research Foundation of South Florida, the prime force behind the so-far deferred dream of development around the Lyric, and the City of Miami Neighborhood Enhancement Team came up with the idea -- red velvet cake galore, other culinary offerings, student art exhibits, heritage crafts demonstrations, children's activities, student bands, jazz ensembles, Caribbean music, and, of course, a cake walk by local dance groups -- as a way to bring people from all over South Florida to Overtown. One taste of the fascinating neighborhood isn't bait so much as it is chum: Organizers hope that people will return again and again to the area.

The City of Miami, Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce Leadership Miami, and the Overtown Main Street Program are also sweet on the idea and are contributing to the festival in various ways. "The idea is to celebrate both the end of Black History Month and red velvet cake," says a spokesman for the event. "Overtown is a place of rich cultural and culinary history." Toward that end, the Florida Moving Image Archive will show footage of the Overtown Historic Village filmed over the decades, and tours will take place of the Overtown Folklife Village, which includes the D.A. Dorsey House, long-ago home to Miami's first black millionaire.

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Greg Baker