Hoe Cakes. There’s something about that name that makes me feel uncomfortable. Like I should look over my shoulder to see if there are any ladies present before tell you what I know about them. At their most traditional Hoe Cakes are simply a minimalist’s version of unleavened cornbread made from the humblest batter (cornmeal, water, and salt). In the South you’ll find Hoe Cakes that are somewhere between pancakes and cornbread – crisp on the edge and glistening with the fat they were cooked in. The best have heft, but manage to retain a creamy interior designed to soak up whatever else is sitting on the plate.
Like I said there’s enough Southern gentleman in me to be embarrassed by the name. However, my reaction is a little too PC. Hoe Cakes aren’t saddled in the same sort of lore as say Pasta Puttanesca (if you know what I mean). Hoe Cakes get their name from the old-timey Southern practice of cooking them on the metal ends of field hoes. Or so they say.
Until recently I’d never seen them on the menu here in Los Angeles, but the nationwide fascination with all things Southern is making traditional American dishes like Hoe Cakes staples at hipster haunts all over Los Angeles.
Barrel & Ashes Hoe Cakes
The best of these places is Barrel & Ashes, a Studio City barbecue joint from chefs Michael Kahikina and Tim Hollingsworth. They’re serving Hoe Cakes that are nothing like the humble cakes Southern field workers must have made. This tarted up version (pardon the expression) is made from a sweetened cornmeal, flour and egg batter poured into a blazing hot cast iron skillet. When done right this magically forms a delicate blackened crust around the edges that somehow retains a luscious pudding-like interior. It’s brought to the table with a light swipe of maple butter, elevating this simple Southern side dish. Yes the name still makes me blush, but for all the right reasons. GREG