Skull-shaped cakes with buttercream petals, spider-topped cupcakes and lollipops decorated with vampire bats await Halloween revelers at First & First, a bakery-café on Northeast First Avenue at First Street in downtown Miami. Owner Ray Hicks opened his place in June with the motto "stressed spelled backward is desserts."
There's a long, narrow bar up front (the TV is kept tuned to the Food Network) and tables in back where you can enjoy a cozy meal. Hicks was raised in Charleston, W. Va., by a hardworking mother of Cherokee descent (his Irish father died when he was 2). He loved family picnics and Sunday dinners with his grandmothers. He came to Miami when he was 18 for a job with data-systems business, but found his true calling after he was laid off a decade later. He went to work as an assistant to a woman who supplied desserts for holiday parties, and soon was expressing his creativity in the kitchen. (A mojito-flavored cake with rum and mint was one hit.)
Hicks does much of the baking at First & First, and has taught Cuban-American chef Michael Consuegra to cook Southern-style. Begin the day with potato pancakes with apple butter and sour cream, grits and eggs or blackberry waffles. Sandwiches include chicken salad with celery, pineapple, raisins and pecans; grilled cheese with fried green tomatoes and bacon and the vegetarian with eggplant, mushrooms, peppers and cheese. Chicken chunks in a creamy mushroom gravy are topped with corn bread stuffing in a homey casserole that's served with cranberry relish. Main dishes come with your choice of pickled beets, coleslaw, corn bread, mashed sweet potatoes and a dozen other sides. Desserts include red velvet cupcakes, lemon bars, peanut butter fudge, coconut cream pie and warm bread pudding made with Krispy Creme doughnuts served a la mode. Suck down a toasted marshmallow shake or succumb to dark triple-layered chocolate cake at a place that is all treats.
Ray Hicks with Halloween cakes at First & First Southern Baking Company in downtown Miami.