Registry Tampa Bay

Sometimes FFF special ops get complicated. I didn’t expect it to happen this week.

Pairing off two vegan bakeries and then assessing how their desserts fared verses conventional ones seemed a simple enough concept — especially when you consider that I had two ideal contestants in my sights: Halelife Bakery and Valhalla Bakery.

But then my tradecraft got a little shabby and I found out late in the game that both brands had undergone shakeups. Halelife had closed its downtown St. Pete and Clearwater bakeries and opened a bakery/bistro on the northern end of 4th Street in St. Pete. Valhalla had also closed its downtown location, and merged with its sister business, Valkyrie Donuts, a few blocks away.

Then came the sand in the Vaseline. Gluten — a protein that “helps foods maintain their shape, acting as a glue that holds food together,” according to the simplest online definition I could find. (Glue-ten?) Halelife products are gluten-free. Valhalla’s aren’t. That gives the latter a leg up when comparing it to regular desserts.

By the time I found all this out, it was too late in the game to pivot, so we go with what we got. Apparently this is what happens when you send an omnivore to do a vegan’s job. I chose a cookie, a brownie and a cupcake from each shop, then brought them back to the FFF Lab + Photo Studio™. My beverage of choice was low-fat milk.

HALELIFE BISTRO

At 12:30 on Wednesday, our trio — two grandparents and a 3-year-old grandchild — were the only customers. One of us was hell bent on a cupcake, and repeatedly announced it.

Located in a shopping center just south of the new 4th Street onramp to 1-275, Halelife Bistro is the newest location of a business started in 2018 by a mother and son, both with celiac disease (a severe gluten intolerance). The other bakeries are in South Tampa and Carrollwood.

It’s an attractive space with plenty of natural light, a few community-type tables with stools, and a spacious outdoor courtyard to the left of the entrance (although it’s currently uncovered and unshaded). We were in grab-and-go mode, though, and went straight to the bakery case.

There was a lot to choose from: cupcakes, brownies, cookies, donuts and other miscellany, all of them single-serve items (i.e. no cakes or pies). We opted for a box of six ($5.99 each) and earned our half-dozen discount of three bucks. I’ve chosen three from these.

Raspberry Cheesecake Cupcake

I’m not a cupcake man, but I’ve had enough to know that what I don’t like about them is their airy texture (and that they’re clumsy to eat). That’s why this version — with its density and coarseness — ranks near the top. The icing was typically dainty, and it could’ve used some more raspberry sauce for punch, and I didn’t pick up much cheesecake flavor, but still and all, as cupcakes go — first rate.

Chocolate Lava Brownie

A brownie — now we’re in my wheelhouse, although I much prefer them unfrosted. I didn’t get any of the luscious gooey-chewy that marks a good conventional brownie. This one was was more like cake, pretty dry cake. When I fork cut, it crumbled (ah, for gluten). The dark chocolate flavor was nice, but the dusting of finely ground chocolate on top added an unwelcome grittiness.

Peach Cobbler Thumbprint Cookie

I didn’t see any thumbprints, and for that I was grateful. About five inches in diameter, this treat looked more like a pastry than a cookie. I needed a small spatula to free it from the box without it falling apart. The best part was the middle part, the peach cobbler part (which could’ve been more ample), but rest of it was reasonably moist and had a pleasurable level of sweetness.

VALHALLA BAKERY Featuring VALKYRIE DOUGHNUTS

We arrived at the small storefront on Central Avenue in St. Pete yesterday at 10:30. As you can see by the makeshift sign in the photo, the place is undergoing a rebrand of sorts, with a some waffling between bakery or donut shop or both.

But inside the small space was what mattered: a bakery case of considerable size, full up with an attractive array of desserts, some quite elaborate. Our counter guy, Christian, was a 6-foot-6, 300-pound power lifter, but even so, he extracted our choices from the case with light-fingered care.

He told us that Valhalla uses gluten, which threw the wrench in my FFF special op, but he was a super nice fellow so I forgave him.

Vanilla Guava Rose Cupcake

Like the cupcake at Halelife, this dainty treat ($3.75) had a pleasing density, although the icing was a tad too sweet and there was a tad too much of it. Then halfway through — luscious guava jam. It came as a surprise, which made it taste even better.

Smores Brownie

I had to look twice at the price. The hefty wedge cost just $3.75. I could see a thick vein of chocolate ore running through the middle. This brownie definitely contained glue-ten, because its consistency bordered on that of fudge. The extra chewing was worth it, though, and the chocolate flavor had just the right potency.

-Raspberry Almond Frangipane Yolo (Cookie)

The name is quite a mouthful, and the cookie itself was more than a few. Valhalla pulled out all the stops for this massive confection ($6): two slabs of almond cookie, with a silky filling in between, topped with almond slivers. Big ups for creativity, but this treat turned out to be too much for me. The filling, especially, was sweeter than I was up for.

And the Victorious Vegan Bakery Is …

Because the Official Friday Food Fight Handbook™ prohibits ties, I’ve chosen two winners.

Vegan Bakery That Uses Gluten

Valhalla — Its desserts were mostly indistinguishable from non-vegan ones.

Vegan Bakery That Does Not Use Gluten

Halelife — It makes tasty stuff that’s ideal for people with celiac disease or gluten-intolerance, but I can see no reason for omnivores to patronize the place, especially considering that its treats are pricey when compared to conventional ones.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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