On our second (and last) full day in Atlanta this past weekend, we slept in, lounged around, and only by the 1 o’clock hour were on our way to the doesn’t-matter-what-time-it-is-we’re-always-open restaurant someone had mentioned to Tim the week before: R. Thomas Deluxe Grill. Driving up to this 24/7 diner on Peachtree Street, you might think you’re passing a flea market, a circus, or maybe a group of hippies. Inside, it’s all of those things and more. Enveloped by colorful tents and bordered by cages of live parrots, this decades-old establishment is unlike any other restaurant we’ve visited. First, there is the psychedelic, tented interior: neon green lighting, beaded curtains, pictures of sunflowers, tchotchkes everywhere you look. We were seated right in the center, a few feet from a family of professionally dressed adults as well as from a couple with long hair and birkenstocks. There are ceiling fans and wall heaters and nice waiters who see you looking for the restroom and, sober-faced, wave you through the kitchen. Mostly though, there is the menu. Smoothies with kefir. Fermented vegetables as side dishes. Pastured meats. Organic ingredients. Options for everyone from the vegetarian to the vegan to the raw foodist. We didn’t exactly fit in, and yet we did, too, and after our “banana boy toy” smoothie (kefir, banana, vanilla, honey) and fish tacos (sauteéd fish and vegetables with spicy sauce inside spinach and sundried tomato tortillas), we split a piece of the chocolate chip banana cake. Oh, boy. Two bites in, we were talking about remaking it at home, feeling pretty comfortable in our cozy hippie restaurant four hours from Nashville. So two days later, that is exactly what we did.
Chocolate Chip Banana-nana Cake
Inspired by the slice of cake we ate at R. Thomas in Atlanta and by this banana-centric frosting recipe from The Kitchn
Makes one two-layer 9″ round cake (about 8 to 10 servings)
While R. Thomas’s version of banana cake has four thinner layers rather than two medium-size ones, I went the easy route and didn’t bother slicing each one horizontally in half. I will say, if you’re feeling ambitious, the thin layers tend to make the filling stand out, but I’ll also say, this two-layer version had Tim, my brother-in-law, and I licking our plates Wednesday night. While I have no idea how R. Thomas makes their version, this homemade remake, based off a version my friend Mrs. Newman gave me years ago comes fairly close—and ps the frosting is inspired by an idea I saw at The Kitchn, which blew me away when I heard of it and blew me away again when I tasted it myself. In it, you blend together soft banana with powdered sugar. Who knew two ingredients could truly make spreadable, perfectly sweetened, banana-y frosting? If you ask me, there’s no better way to eat it than on this cake.
On einkorn flour: You know how we love einkorn flour, but if you don’t have access to it (oh, hey, are you in Tennessee? The Franklin Whole Foods stocks it now!) or are impatient, you could try swapping in the same weight of spelt flour or another all-purpose-type flour, and you should have fairly similar results.
1 1/4 cups (200 g) coconut sugar (or unrefined sugar)
1 stick (113 g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
4 tablespoons sour cream
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 (188g) cups white/all-purpose einkorn flour
1 cup (275 g) mashed bananas (from about 3 bananas)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup chopped dark (we like 85%) chocolate (or mini chocolate chips)
for the frosting:
1 tablespoon coconut oil
3 not necessarily very ripe bananas, chopped into chunks
1 1/2 to 2 cups powdered coconut sugar or unrefined sugar*
1 tablespoon cocoa powder (optional)
1/2 to 3/4 cup chopped dark (we like 85%) chocolate (or mini chocolate chips)
Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C or gas mark 4). Grease and flour two 9-inch-round cake pans.
In a large bowl, cream together coconut sugar and butter. (I am the worst about softening butter, so you can try my trick of setting it on top of the oven while it’s preheating and you’re greasing your baking pans. By the time I needed it, it was actually soft! Bless our heat-expelling electric oven.) Add sour cream and eggs, and mix until combined.
In a separate bowl, combine baking soda, salt and flour. Add this dry mixture alternately with the mashed bananas to the sugar/butter bowl. Once it is well mixed, add vanilla and chocolate chips, and stir everything together.
Divide batter amongst the two prepared cake pans, smoothing and spreading the batter evenly into the pans with the back of a spoon. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centers comes out clean. Let cool for five minutes or so before sliding a knife around the edges of the pans and turning them out onto plates.
For the frosting:
In a small saucepan, warm coconut oil over medium heat, and add bananas. Sauté for about 5 minutes, until mixture is slightly goopy and bananas are softened. Transfer bananas to large bowl and blend with mixer until well mashed throughout. Continue blending mixture, adding powdered sugar a little at a time until well mixed. Mix for 5 to 10 minutes, until it is whipped and frosting-esque (key term being esque), adding cocoa powder if desired (it’s not necessary, but we liked the slightly chocolatey kick). Banana “buttercream” will never be quite like whipped cream, but it should get thick enough to spread. Once it’s a good texture, stir in the chocolate chips.
To assemble the cake, frost one layer with the banana spread; top with the second cake; and top that layer with remaining frosting. Serve!
*To make powdered coconut sugar, place coconut sugar in Vitamix or other high-powered mixer and blend until very fine and powdery.