When I was a young man working to pay my own way through college, I spent 5 years as a cook, manager, and delivery driver at a family-owned Italian restaurant in Atlanta.
Those influential years at At’sa Pizza (which was owned by a similarly warm maternal figure) came rushing back to me as we dined at the Rum Cake Lady Cuban Cafe, a family-owned restaurant and bakery in Blue Ridge, GA.
Rum Cake Lady owner Liz Correa grew up with a father who had run multiple restaurants in Cuba, and a mother who insisted she learned how to cook for herself at an early age.
Correa’s passion for Cuban food ultimately led her to launch RCL six years ago, and the restaurant is totally a family affair.
Her son, David, works the counter and brings our food to the table. Her older sister, Susan, works in the kitchen.
But Liz– a.k.a. THE Rum Cake Lady, whose smiling face is represented in the resturant’s charming logo– is at the center of it all.
Once you meet Liz and taste her delicious traditional Cuban cuisine, you’ll understand immediately why this tiny eatery has become one of the most popular restaurants in Blue Ridge, GA. And why major companies like QVC are dying to work with her!
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McCAYSVILLE LOCATION HOURS: Thursday to Monday 11am to 4pm, Closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays
• Liz Correa was born in Cuba, but her family immigrated to Puerto Rico when she was just 3 years old.
• Although her father was a restauranteur in Cuba, Liz did not grow up in the food industry. Instead, her father transitioned to the jewelry business.
• Liz’s original intention was just to bake rum cakes. The Cuban restaurant concept evolved naturally, using traditional recipes that had been in her family for generations.
• Liz LOVES chickens, so much so that several of them were incorporated into the restaurant’s logo.
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THE ATMOSPHERE AT RUM CAKE LADY
The welcoming hospitality of good family-owned restaurants have always offered a refreshing alternative to the impersonal anonymity of chain restaurants.
The long waits, the constant upselling, and servers wanting to turn tables as quickly as possible in order to maximize their tips can make you feel a bit like cattle with dollar signs branded on your forehead.
In times like these, when the need for social distancing can leave people feeling alienated, going to a place “where everybody knows your name” is a bit like being snuggled into a warm blanket of familial comfort.
Rum Cake Lady Cuban Café is a fast casual concept: You enter the small red building (where all employees wear masks) on the left to place your order and pay.
The walls of the tiny interior are lined with iconic imagery from Correa’s past, including photos of her beloved mother in the kitchen and colorful photos and posters from Cuba.
There’s a wall stacked with her legendary Rum Cakes in a variety of sizes and flavors on one wall (more on those later), and a hot bar loaded with a variety of snacks and appetizers next to the cash register.
Once you’ve placed your order, you sit on the covered, socially distanced patio to eat or wait for your takeout. There’s one large table in the center, several 2-person tables around the edge, and several covered picnic tables just off to the side of the patio.
Rum cakes and other baked items are made in a production facility just down the road, but their sandwiches and Cuban Food Bowls are made in a tiny kitchen on the patio.
We feel right at home as we sip our Cortadito (Cuban espresso cut with milk) and nosh on sweet Guava & Cheese Pastelitos. Chef Susan emerges with an enormous smile every so often, just to ensure we’re enjoying her food.
THE RUM CAKE LADY MENU
The Rum Cake Lady menu is fairly simple, focusing primarily on traditional Cuban cuisine staples. Drinks include 5 different “Cafe Cubano” varieties, sweet tea, and an array of American and Cuban sodas.
For a quick meal, there are grab-and-go pastries, both sweet and savory. These include 3 different types of Empanadas, traditional Cuban Pork or Spicy Chicken Tamales, and Ham Croquetas (like fried mozzarella, but with diced ham inside).
But my favorite was the flavorful Papa Rellena, a fantastic fried ball of mashed potato stuffed with savory beef spiced with cumin, oregano, pepper, and other seasonings.
It pairs perfectly with Correa’s Pink Sauce, which mixes garlic, ketchup, mayo and hot peppers. Her Green Sauce– a garlic and cilantro chimichurri– is also noteworthy, and goes great with her empanadas.
Any traditional Cuban restaurant will be judged on its pressed Cuban Sandwich, and Rum Cake Lady’s is better than most we’ve tried.
The bread is fresh baked each morning, and the delicate roast pork and robust Bolo ham are accentuated by a fine balance of tangy mustard and pickles.
They offer gluten free, turkey, and vegan/vegetarian versions, as well as a Tampa Cubano (which adds salami) and a Midnight Sandwich on soft, sweet “Media Noche” bread.
We also loved their bread-less Cuban Food Bowls, which also offers a vegan/vegetarian option. We’d recommend the Roast Pork with Mojo or the Beef Picadillo, which features well-seasoned ground beef atop white rice and black beans.
As mentioned above, Rum Cakes were the original foundation of Correa’s business. And it would truly be a crying shame to leave this place without trying one (or, in our case, several) of the varieties she offers.
There’s her award-winning Golden Rum Cake (which was named one of Georgia’s “100 Plates Locals Love”), as well as Limoncello, Chocolate, and Salted Caramel Rum Cakes.
All flavors come in regular and gluten free options, and in sizes ranging from a $5 mini-cake to half- and full-size Bundt Cakes.
When we visited they also had tiny Pumpkin Spice Rum Cake Bites, a seasonal offering that capped off a wonderful late-October lunch.
Their texture was almost indescribably moist, with a slightly chewy exterior that belied a literal burst of flavor when you bit into it. The rum didn’t overpower the seasonings, or vice versa, leading to perfectly balanced bites that we savored throughout the day.
With our international blog, Green Global Travel, we’ve been blessed to travel around the world, including Caribbean countries like the Bahamas, Barbados, Jamaica, etc. We’ve never tasted a finer rum cake, and will likely return to Blue Ridge to pick up more soon!
After one bite, it was easy to see why QVC approached Correa about selling these delectable desserts on a mass scale. With one smart Shark Tank-style investor to help her ramp up production, these rum cakes could be a nationally-known smash. –by Bret Love; photos by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett