Monday, February 14, 2011

The King Cake Chronicles: The Randazzos

Nothing says "I love you" like a family dynasty begotten from sugar-covered and cinnamon-flavored braided dough.

In New Orleans the name "Randazzo" is synonymous with king cake. It all started out in Da Parish (as all good things do) in 1965 when brothers Lawrence, Tony, and Manuel Randazzo opened Randazzo's HiLan Bakery in Chalmette. But did you know that there is not 1, not 2, not 3, but 4 (that I know of) present day king cake bakeries with roots grounded in the Randazzo family tree?

Truthfully, to me "Randazzo's" has always delineated Manny Randazzo's, whose Fat City storefront is marked by long lines during the carnival season. But in the interest of true journalism, I decided to sample each of the Randazzo family king cakes to determine if one deserves the title of king among king cakes.

First, a few general notes. All of the Randazzo king cakes are similar both in flavor and in appearance, so I decided to include only one representative photo (from Manny's). The dough is akin to a large, braided cinnamon roll. I happen to be a fan of the thick, sugary white icing which is a trademark of the Randazzo family, but I am respectful of those who are not. Lastly, call me a purist but I prefer my king cakes plain. Gloppy, overpowering cream cheese filling is an instant turnoff. (Though some filled king cakes are welcome in my book, and we'll discuss those on another day).

So without further ado, here are the contestants:

  • Manny Randazzo's - Founded in 1992, Manny Jr. is probably the most well known (and thus most popular) of the Randazzo bakeries. Available only by pickup at the N. Hullen Street location or by mail order, this soft king cake can be easily spotted by it's trademark purple, green, and gold colored sprinkles.
  • Nonna Randazzo's - Hailing from Covington by way of Katrina evacuation, Nonna's is run by Joel Randazzo Forjet (daughter of Lawrence Randazzo) and her husband Felix Forjet, himself a veteran of the HiLan Bakery. Available for pickup in the store or at Canseco's Supermarket, Nonna's king cake has a darker crust and firmer interior than Manny's, though it's by no means dry. Curiously enough though, instead of elongated Mardi Gras sprinkles, Nonna's uses red and blue colored non-pareils.
  • Randazzo's Camellia City Bakery - Honestly, I don't know if I could tell the difference between Camellia City and Manny's in a blind taste test. The Camellia City king cake in my office kitchen last week looked and tasted exactly like Manny's. That's to say it was delicious. Available for pick-up in store or various other locations.
  • King Cakes by Dianne - Interesting enough, "Dianne R" chooses not to trade on the family name. Her king cake is probably the most distinctive among the group, with granulated sugar adding a layer of color on top of the white icing. you can pick-up one of Diane's king cakes at several spots around town.
And the royalty among the Randazzo king cakes? It's still Manny's for me, but who in the hell cares what I think? Let us know your opinion in the comments and in today's poll.


Erin said...

I'm a Manny's fan all the way, but Camellia City's cakes are great for sending out to friends in other states. They hold up very well and taste super fresh. As a Parish native, I grew up going to the old Randazzo's by the bowling alley/skating rink on Judge Perez in the morning before school during the Mardi Gras season and by the end of the day being the most popular kid in class for sharing my king cake :o)
Even though they aren't located in the great parish of St. Bernard anymore, their roots hold firm. Thanks for the recognition

Jeff Abbott said...

Ordered a Manny's cake a couple of weeks ago, arrived in Austin in perfect condition. Huge hit with the family and with friends we sent one to as well. I agree with you about their icing, it's really good.

Pontchartrain Pete said...

I like that Nonna's has one of the best domain names out there for a local baker:, although it just redirects to their regular site nowadays (it used to go straight to Nonna's king cake page).

I like the Camellia City cake, and I have a Bunny Matthews poster he made for them with Nat'ly telling Vic, who's holding a piece of cake, "Ya Got Da Baby!"

Jules said...

I've had a Randazzo's King Cake for my birthday for probably the last 25 years. In those years they've come from the original HiLan bakery, Good Children's and since Katrina from Camelia City.

Nonna's just opened a store in Chalmette that's selling more than just King Cakes.

ShannonPinNOLA said...

When I die and go to Heaven, I'm pretty sure I will be met at the Pearly Gates with a big, gloppy Manny Randazzo's king know the piece that has all of the icing...and I will know that all is right in the Universe.

Anonymous said...

Diannes King Cakes!!!! I wouldn't eat one of Mannys if my life depended on it!!!!

Jordo said...

Stuffed kingcakes are an abomination! Mckenzie's all the way!

Anonymous said...

Nonna's nonpareils are the original Randazzo's look. Nonna's is the old Randazzo's Goodchildren from Chalmette. This blogger is dead wrong on what he "Original" Randazzo's King Cake is. It's Nonna's gang.

Pedeaux said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pedeaux said...

Ok I'm super biased, but still, Nonna's is the only Randazzo's King Cake.

Here is a little further info on Felix Forjet. Felix did learn everything he knows about baking from Joel's dad Lawrence at Hi Land Bakery. After Hi Land Felix baked everything at Randazzo's Goodchildren Bakery till the storm. Felix still bakes every King Cake and everything else that comes out of Nonna's himself.

Interesting note about Nonna's is that Nonna's is the only Randazzo's bakery operating year round. You can get all of their classic New Orleans pastries some of which have been long since forgotten. When was the last time you had a real old style wine cake? Have you ever? If it weren't for Nonna's I'd just have only been able to read about them in Confederacy of Dunces.

It just starts there, with their turtles, éclairs, the area's best almond macaroons, and much more they are simply classic good. While the other bakeries make King Cakes and put their feet up the rest of the year, Nonna's is keeping New Orleans' baking tradition alive everyday.

Felix said...

Enjoyed your article!!! The recipe we use was handed down to me from My father-in-law Lawrence handed down the recipe to me as well as every other recipe including the eclairs, the anise, turtles, almond macs, and countless others which is still made the same way today, I am proud to carry on what uncle Tony and my father in law taught me, the sprinkles are like the ones used at Hi-lan also. Just proud to put a smile on peoples faces and carry on a great tradition!!!!

Peter said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone.


I don't know how you can say that I am "dead wrong on what the 'Original' Randazzo's King Cake is." I never imparted the "original" tag to any of the Randazzo's. But thank you for speaking up about the the history of the nonpariels and the connection between Nonna's and the Good Children's bakery.


Confession: I have never eaten anything but king cake from Nonna's. But I have had old fashioned wine cake before and will make a point to make the trek out to Nonna's one day soon. Maybe for St. Joseph's Day? Thanks for all of the info.


Thank you for commenting. It's not often that we hear from the owners of the eateries that we write about. Great to see family traditions in food being passed down to another generation. We wish you year-round good luck and a successful Mardi Gras season.

Anonymous said...

I really like Diannes aside from it being delicious she is always giving and donating king cakes and proceeds of king cakes! so my vote is for diannes! And she would be associated with "the randazzo name" however manny is her ex husband and its a legal battle!