The Goo Goo Cluster is the oldest “combination” candy bar (meaning it contains things other than chocolate) and celebrates a milestone this year: its 100th birthday.
Since Nashville was the birthplace of the Goo Goo Cluster, the city has held a number of festivities to celebrate, including a scavenger hunt and a race (that included eating GooGoos in the middle of the race. ugh). During the month of October, a number of Nashville restaurants celebrated by offering special GooGoo desserts.
My friend and fellow foodie-want-a-be Manda agreed to the adventure: we would try as many GooGoo desserts as possible.
Unfortunately, due to my crazy schedule, “as many as possible” turned out to be five. But perhaps that was good — for our waistlines and our wallets.
We should have started off the adventure with a single, pure GooGoo Cluster. I didn’t realize Manda hadn’t had one until we were already digging into our first dessert. After all — she’s a Southerner. I thought all Southerners had grown up with Goo Goo Clusters, just like they all grew up drinking sweet tea. But I was wrong.
So before we begin, here’s the anatomy of a GooGoo, for those of you who are living an incomplete existence and have never had one:
(photo courtesy of Real Southern Men)
So now, in chronological order, I give you the tributes to GooGoo…
#1 The Ultimate GooGoo Gift at Nero’s Grill
The first dessert was a puff pastry box filled with crushed Goo Goo pieces, drizzled with caramel and chocolate, and fresh whipped cream.
Nero’s Grill definitely got props for creativity. Many of the restaurants seemed to phone it in with cheesecake and ice cream and pies, and I like that Nero’s tried to do something different. The dessert was pretty good and seemed to showcase the GooGoo fairly well.
But would I go back to the restaurant? Nope. Even though we went at 2pm on a Sunday afternoon, when the restaurant was far from full or busy, they treated us as second-class diners because we were only ordering dessert and coffee. But if that wasn’t bad enough, our waiter accidentally charged Manda’s credit card for someone else’s meal! When she looked at the receipt to sign, she had been charged $50. The waiter rushed to take the charge off, but once he was successful, he brought the card back and explained that she might not see the $50 for a few days, especially since the next day was Columbus Day. If there was an apology, it was barely noticeable. Hello? What if she needed that $50 the next day? What if she didn’t have the $50?
If Nero’s Grill wanted our business ever again, they should have comp-ed the dessert. No question.
WINNER: Worst Service
#2 Ode to a GooGoo at ChaChah
(That wasn’t what the dessert was called, but that’s what I would have named it. The dessert was listed on the website as “Goo Goo Cluster Cheesecake, Candied Peanuts, Toasted Marshamllow, Peanut Butter Anglaise.” I thought that meant the dessert was a cheesecake with all of that in the cheesecake. I was wrong.)
Since October wouldn’t be around forever, we decided to try to another dessert a few nights later, even though it was a night I was teaching. So when I got out of class, I headed over to Manda’s apartment and we started calling around. Our initial plan was to go Fido’s, a coffeeshop, which would be open late. But when Manda called, they had run out of their GooGoo cheesecake. So we needed to find a place that was still open at 9:30 – and would be open until at least 10, by the time we got there – and that had the GooGoo dessert. Just because they were on the list didn’t mean they offered the dessert every night, or that they hadn’t sold out.
When Manda called ChaChah, the guy said they closed at 10 but would hold desserts for us if we were driving over right then. So we hopped into the car and raced over there. The restaurant closed around us, but the waiter and bartender were super nice and didn’t rush us at all. Like at Nero’s, we each ordered our own (we’re not into sharing when it comes to chocolate), and Manda ordered a glass of wine.
When the dessert came, we found out that it wasn’t just cheesecake — it was an assortment of desserts… an ode to the Goo Goo, if you will.
My apologies about these atrocious pictures– we were sitting on the front porch, which was lit only by candles and the streetlights, so I couldn’t get a good shot.
They gave us half a GooGoo (so Manda got to try her first pure GooGoo), and then a piece of cheesecake (the flower-shaped thing), some candied peanuts, and a homemade marshmallow, all drizzled with the peanut butter anglaise.
It doesn’t look like much, and some people would balk at paying what we did for a few bites. But it was incredible.
I wish you all could taste the marshmallow. It was definitely a marshmallow, but more gooey and soft, less sticky and pillow-y. I apparently need to work on my descriptions before I become a food blogger. You know how your teeth don’t exactly sink into a marshmallow? This marshmallow was different — you didn’t need to chew it as much as a regular marshmallow. It also had a richer taste than just the airy-sugar taste of a store bought marshmallow. It was amazing.
ChaChah is owned by Arnold Myint, a local chef who owns two other restaurants in Nashville and has been a contestant on Top Chef. So it wasn’t surprising that this GooGoo creation was something that belonged on a Food Network competition that challenged chefs to showcase a candy bar.
This dessert definitely stole the creativity award right out of the hands of Nero’s Grill. Coupled with the incredible service of the waiter and bartender who were willing to let us enjoy our desserts despite the late hour (maybe these guys know better than to chase two pretty girls away? just a thought), ChaChah was winning every category in the GooGoo adventure.
Above all, ChaChah took the GooGoo and deconstructed it, allowing the components of the GooGoo to sing. A masterpiece.
WINNER: Most Creative & Best Tribute to the GooGoo
#3 Cuckoo for Goo Goo cheesecake at Fido
Four days after ChaChah’s, we decided to drive to a local landmark, the Loveless Cafe, which was offering GooGoo Pie. We didn’t think to call ahead and decided to treat ourselves to a southern dinner as well. When we got to Loveless, we announced to the waitress that we were there for the GooGoo dessert. “Oh, we’re sold out.”
We decided to stay for dinner anyway — you can’t turn away from Loveless’ biscuits once they’re in nose-shot. I got BBQ and Manda got turkey, and we reminisced the days when we ate comfort food all the time… fixed by our mom’s. When it came time for dessert, though, we got back in the car and headed back into town to try our luck at Fido.
Fido is a pretty well-known coffeeshop, so we were sort of hitting two landmarks in one evening. (When I went to Fido a few weeks later for brunch, I ran into a camera crew — most likely from ABC’s new show Nashville, which keeps popping up around town these days.) Fido was actually featuring four GooGoo desserts – a cookie, a muffin, a Rice Krispie treat, and the cheesecake. Manda and I were both looking for the cheesecake.
But what beverage should be paired with the dessert? Neither of us wanted caffeine, so I suggested a vanilla steamer. I hadn’t had a steamer since the days when my mom and I were rather addicted to them, so I don’t think I realized how perfect a pairing it was.
We luckily decided to split the cheesecake… because neither of us was impressed. In fact, we didn’t even finish the piece.
Perhaps my expectations had been too high — I had seen a picture of the cheesecake and was really looking forward to it. But it was just “okay.” It didn’t really showcase the GooGoo at all. It was just a chocolate cheesecake with marshmallows thrown on top. It wasn’t even that great of a cheesecake.
The steamer, on the other hand? Was amazing. In fact, it evoked reminders of that marshmallow at ChaChah – so perhaps it was a bit more of a tribute to the GooGoo. Manda had never had a steamer, and I think she was sold.
WINNER: Best drink
#4 GooGoo Cluster Bread Pudding at Germantown Cafe
Germantown Cafe has been hit and miss for me in the past. It’s within walking distance of the parish I frequent, so I really want to like it. But I once broke up with a guy after brunch there, so while the brunch was delicious, it didn’t have great memories associated with it. Then I went there for restaurant week and wasn’t entirely impressed by their dinner offerings. But over the summer I went there for dessert after an outdoor symphony concert and was very satisfied. So I was willing to see what they were offering for the GooGoo dessert.
It was another late night of teaching, so as I drove to Manda’s I began calling restaurants to see who still might have dessert. Germantown Cafe said they’d be open until 10 and they had two desserts left. We took a gamble and headed over there. As we walked in we noticed a new restaurant across the street- Silo – which was also on the list. So we figured we’d dash across the street if Germantown Cafe left us hanging.
We took a seat in the bar and ordered two bread puddings and two glasses of red wine.
While it wasn’t exactly bread pudding — more like GooGoo brownie cake — it was decadent and moist. Everything a chocolate dessert should be. Even the sauce was lick-me-off-the-plate-and-don’t-be-ashamed good.
It might not have showcased the GooGoo as well as ChaChah (although there were peanuts hiding in there), it was so superior to our Fido dessert, it didn’t matter.
And once again, the service was great and the waiter didn’t a bat an eye when 10:00 came and went. We enjoyed our decadence, sipped our wine, and caught up on each other’s lives. It was the perfect girlfriend night out.
At that moment, Germantown Cafe had won “favorite” in my book. But they were about to be challenged.
WINNER: Best chocolate & best girls’ night out dessert
#5 Goo Goo Cluster Sundae at Puckett’s
October was coming to an end. We knew that this would be our last dessert, and we had to make it count. So this Sunday afternoon, we went all out.
This was no regular sundae. This was a deep fried Goo Goo topped with vanilla ice cream, powdered sugar, and chocolate syrup, served in a skillet.
Yep. And we each ordered our own.
(Is there any wonder Obama won the Presidency? I’m pretty sure at this point in the game, most of the world was fasting in anticipation of the elections. I was eating a deep fried GooGoo. *sigh*)
This dessert sound far heavier than it really was. Not to say I wasn’t in a food coma the rest of the day, but the breading was light and airy — we found out from our waitress that it was actually pancake batter. It was fluffy on the inside but had a nice crisp sweet crust on the outside. And it surrounded a wonderfully melted chocolatey goodness that once was a GooGoo Cluster.
Wowzers. As the ice cream melted over the creation, I knew I had found the ultimate Southern tribute to this Dixieland candy bar.
Puckett’s should put this on their permanent menu. No doubt about it.
WINNER: Best tribute to GooGoo’s Southern heritage & … my favorite.
I think Manda picked this as her favorite, too. It’s hard to beat out ChaChah, but this one was definitely more satisfying. And while Germantown Cafe’s bread pudding didn’t disappoint in any way, if you offered me the chance to have one of them again, I would say the sundae. And then the next day I’d have the bread pudding.
I’m sad that it only lasted a month — with 4o different restaurants (some offering more than one dessert), it was impossible to try them all. Prime 108’s molten lava cake, Flyte’s “Cluster’s Last Stand,” and 55 South’s Goo Goo Chess Pie were all on our list to try, and there were others — mousse, peanut butter pie, gelato, and cannoli — that might have given the desserts we tried a run for their money.
But now I’m going to go dream about deep fried GooGoos.
Happy Birthday, Goo Goo!