Bruce Kauffman 7:30 a.m., March 11
Reborn in TJ: Beautiful Claudia's Eggnog Cake
I'm at the top of Revolución in TJ, 7th street, and it’s happened.
La Belle Claude, my favorite pastry and coffee place, closed!
It had always looked recession proof, because locals treated it like their spot on the way to work, and for lunch breaks, and on their way home. It was that kind of place.
And besides, it always felt like a little piece of French elegance. I always thought that -- in spite of the wannabe emperor, Maximilian, trying to make Mexico a French monarchy -- the Mexican and French thing combines well. They appreciate each other. They were the democratic pioneers when democracy wasn’t cool.
And then there was that painting of La Belle Claude herself, Claudia, beautiful, 17 and timeless, looking down at you from the wall mural behind the pastry counter.
But wait! A sign on the door says don’t give up.
“We’ve transferred down to 7th Street between Ocampo and Pio Pico. Look us up there.”
So I do. Not an easy find. It’s down among the produce wholesalers. Smell of shrimp and fruit in the air. Barrow boys. Trucks backing in to loading bays.
You’ve really got to watch your step as you look for the sign, “Café Angie Dresdner.”
But get inside (Cafe Angie Dresdner, Calle 7a, No. 2318, Zona Centro, Tijuana, 011-52-664-335-2745) and you’re back in a movie set like Gigi. Six little chairs and tables, a giant mural of the Moulin Rouge, European cakes and stuff like nougat in glass cabinets, smell of fresh coffee, and Andrea Bocelli singing "Besa Me" (“Kiss Me”) in that voice of his.
Angelica stands behind the pasteles (cake) counter. I recognize her. Claudia’s sister.
“It happened four months ago,” Angie says. “We had to move because the owner sold the building.”
And now, that same old delicious problem. Which cake? I settle for a champagne-colored monster with a chocolate disc on top.
“Rompope,” says Angie.
Takes a while to work out what that means. But one chomp...
...and I know what she’s trying to tell me: this is an eggnog cake. Costs me 40 pesos: say, $3. Is that rum or brandy I taste in there?
Cup of coffee’s $1.25. Man, what a beautiful combo. Nice thing is Angie bakes it right here. Everything. And what gets me is it’s all so danged inexpensive. Little chocolate horns (cuernitos de chocolate) cost, like, 12 cents each. Nougat’s 80 cents. Heck, the most expensive slice of cake is four bucks.
Angie says her mom still comes in and helps -- she was the backbone of La Belle Claude -- but Claudia, La Belle Claude herself?
“Married. Two sons. Homemaker.”
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