Gina Vaccarino is the cake artist behind The Cake Artist Café at 199 Route 299 in Highland. Open for business just over a month now, the energetic sole proprietor already has regulars who come into the cozy space for breakfast and lunch along with her freshly made bakery treats and coffee. The café does catering as well; from a simple buffet to full sit-down meals with tableware and linen rentals available.
Vaccarino grew up in Highland, a graduate of Highland High School. A self-taught baker, she’s been at it since she was eight years old, she says. She first began creating custom cakes for family and friends as a hobby while working in corporate management for Darden Restaurants, who represent The Olive Garden and other national chains, but as the pastime turned into a real business fueled by word of mouth, she outgrew her home kitchen. Vaccarino also loves to cook, so when she decided to go into business for herself, adding the café along with the cakes seemed a natural fit.
She uses locally sourced ingredients as much as possible and there are numerous gluten-free options with great care taken to ensure no cross-transfer for those with an allergy; even the grill is kept gluten-free and so are the homemade soups. The bakery case is filled with seasonal versions of pastries and scones, with the apple turnovers going over particularly well, Vaccarino says, because she uses real apples, not canned pie filling. The most popular item? Cake balls at $1 each, decorated in a number of themes. They’re taking pre-orders of pies for the December holidays — apple crumb, pumpkin, chocolate silk, sweet potato and razzleberry — and will be featuring platters of cookies, too.
The breakfast menu includes sandwiches that range from a simple egg and cheese ($1.99) to a Benedict sandwich with two eggs, grilled ham and hollandaise sauce ($4.99). Breakfast bowls, all gluten-free, include a stuffed pepper bowl of scrambled eggs with peppers, sausage and mozzarella ($5.99) to a steak-and-eggs bowl with grilled flank steak, two eggs and hollandaise ($9.99). The tofu scramble has black beans with tofu, avocado and pico de gallo ($5.99).
The lunch menu features various salads, from a grilled seafood Caesar ($12.99) to beets and arugula tossed in lemon vinaigrette with goat cheese and candied pecans ($8.99), and sandwiches ranging from $6.99 for a BLT to a pulled pork sandwich with bacon mayo for $9.99.
The process to open the café has taken almost two years between lining up the funding and fixing the place up. Before Vaccarino moved in, the space was empty. “There was no kitchen prior to this; even the floors had to be done,” she says. “We had to do the plumbing, the electric, move the walls, put in a hood and fire suppression system and a water system.”
The space now is cozy and cheerful, sunlit with room for about ten diners with the menu posted on a large blackboard. Located on Route 299 just across and down from the State Police barracks in Highland, there is plenty of parking in the lot shared with several other businesses.
Parking is very important to a custom cake business, Vaccarino notes, because she has to think about her customers picking up her tiered and three-dimensional creations and being able to carefully load them into their vehicles.
Some examples of the creative cakes Vaccarino has made can be seen on her Facebook page at The Cake Artist Restaurant. She specializes in creating custom designs and dimensional embellishments, handcrafting the decorations herself using fondant (smooth, edible icing that can be used like clay to sculpt figures) rather than simply using plastic figurines or pre-fab kits, as some commercial bakeries do.
And taste doesn’t take second place to creativity; while New Paltz Times was visiting The Cake Artist Café, a customer came in to pick up a cake she’d ordered based on the taste of one Vaccarino had created for another event. “That was the most delicious cake,” she told Vaccarino. “And I know [the guest of honor] is going to love this one.”
The Cake Artist Café at 199 Route 299 in Highland is open Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Saturday-Sunday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Hours are subject to change; check website at www.thecakeartist.com, call (845) 834-3444 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.