What do you think of when I mention, “Highlands, New Jersey”? Nothing, eh? Never even heard of it? Highlands is a little town in New Jersey. It’s a lot like what you imagine when someone says “Jersey Shore”, but with more American flags, more wind chimes, and less hair gel. When it comes to the locals, most of the residents come for the summer to enjoy the ice cream, sand, and beach waves. It’s a sweet little town full of sweet little shops, and many summer homes for rent. Even the roadkill smelled like love and spaghetti sauce. It’s so quaint that I wanted to throw an empty beer bottle on the ground so it’s not ignorant and gets into cars with strange men like I do.
What I came to Highlands for was a taste of the vegan baked goods at ‘et al fine food’ on Waterwitch Avenue. Walking into this shop reminded me of many of the hipster-friendly bakeries and cafes back home in Brooklyn. More specifically, going into the land of Williamsburg. Though, the workers here were two women in their 60s and a young woman in her 20s. None of them were sporting scarves, tight peddle pushers, or skull suspenders. I was very excited to try one of the pretty goods (that is, goods that were pretty, for the record) from the front display.
I grabbed a neatly folded-up menu and scanned the gut-fillers. I asked the young woman, “Which items are vegan?” She informed me that all of the gluten-free items are also vegan. This made me nervous, as I knew how tricky vegan baking can be. Throw in gluten-free, as well, and you’re left with, well, I don’t even know what you’re left with. 100% of the ingredients used in normal baked goods are either full of gluten, dairy, or egg. I suppose that leaves fruit and electricity…. Nonetheless, this bakery had done it; the impossible! The unimaginable! I had to try a vegan/gluten-free baked good, no matter the cost! I even would pass on the tofu curry scramble, as tempting as it sounded.
What to try, though- Something with dates? With almonds? With rainbow flakes?? That’s not a thing, sadly.
Then a young man entered the room carrying a steaming metal pan. The gentleman wore nearly all black, sported a fuzzy face, and best of all, marking his entire frontal neck like a Christmas bow of rage, he had a tattoo of a black cross. This man was clearly very religious in a scary way, and he wanted us to know it. In an unintentionally flamboyant voice, the man suggested we order the freshly-baked banana agave muffins. They were $3 worth of banana, agave, and everything nice. I knew 3 dollars was a lot for a muffin, but not a vegan/gluten-free muffin. What I didn’t know was that Ol’ Neck Cross was a serpent sent by God to tempt me with knowledge: knowledge that banana agave muffins are awful.
I shouldn’t say that. Not all banana agave muffins are awful. The truth is, vegan/gluten-free banana agave muffins from Et Al Fine Foods are awful. It is not destiny, it is poor baking. What made these purely innocent New Jersey non-hipster muffins so bad? Never mind the utter lack of flavour. I don’t mind that. Sometimes in baking it can be easy to lose flavours. I don’t know why this happens, but sometimes a red wine brownie no longer tastes like red wine or brownie…. Though, the bottle of red wine consumed whilst producing said brownies may explain the loss of sensation. I will accept a flavourless $3 muffin when the lure of sugar calls for it. However, the inexcusable bit was the texture, one I know well. When I first began baking, my cupcakes came out the texture of tapioca pudding that was left in the hot car under the armpit of the obese kid whose mother left him in there while she went food shopping. “I’ll be right back, Globerto, Maybe you’ll sweat off a few pounds, huh? I know you’re sad. Just remember, tears are fat crying!”
Basically, dense and spongy. That is the texture these muffins possessed.
Now, I’m not saying everything at Et Al Fine Foods is terrible. I’m not trying to entirely discourage you from going to Highlands, New Jersey, going to this cafe, and eating every cardboard item in sight. Support small businesses, I say! Just be aware that if a man with a neck tattoo approaches you and tempts you with his slithery, green eyes, don’t buy into it. When I went to pay after eating, I asked about the neck tattoo guy and the cashier said, “No one working here has a neck tattoo….”
That’s not true. He’s a real person, sadly.
Tune in next time when I review something else!
Rating: 2/10 unicorn hugs
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