Wacky, weird, whimsical, wonderful: No matter what you call them, this particular cake trend is nearly inescapable on a certain part of social media — marked by bright colors, goopy icing, and garnishes that often pull from the natural world, distinct from the more pristine adornments that have long-populated bakeries. And now they’ve found their way to Flushing, Queens, at Gong Gan, a dessert spot, that doubles as a natural wine bar by night.
Gong Gan opened in February at 37-02 Prince Street, 37th Avenue, from friends Anna Kim, who has worked in the Per Se pastry department for around a year, BJ Kim, a fashion designer, and June Kwan, who has helped open cafes and restaurants in Korea and New Jersey; all live within walking distance to the new business. The bakery sells several cakes, croissants with toppings like grapes, as well as drinks in flavors like corn, with crema meant to look like a cloud.
The team says they hope to replicate the feeling of spots they love in South Korea; While natural wine has descended all over Brooklyn, they wanted to offer what may be the area’s first bar of its kind.
Each of the three cakes currently offered is meant to replicate a landscape. The blue devil’s food cake, for example, has a dill strand sticking out like a feather in a fedora — meant to replicate a pine tree —while the red strawberry jam is meant to look like lava. A mushroom-themed black tea cheesecake, currently the best seller, fits into the “goblincore” aesthetic, a miniature set a gnome would feel at home in.
The green cake, meant to look like a planter, uses cilantro and other herbs. “At first, we were scared it was a bad idea,” she says. But some customers posted it and now “cilantro lovers have come for it.” The visual direction for the cakes (and the interiors) is led by BJ, who is also a painter. The team plans to expand the menu and change out cakes seasonally.
Gong Gan translates to mean “empty space,” or void, and its slogan is “fulfills your emptiness” which implies desserts are a solution. As Eater coworker, Bettina Makalintal, and fellow-in-arms on the kooky cake beat, remarked: Cake, at least the type that Instagram most recently ushered in, is increasingly becoming its own status symbol. In New York in particular, we have cake zines, cake parties, wiggly wedding cakes that run $500; attending these events or posting photos of orders has, for a certain subset, become a way to feel like you’re a part of something — and now, it seems, Flushing is also in on the sweet rush of this new cake boom.
Social media bait, or something more: Either way, it’s a fascinating move, though an increasingly common one, for a former fine-dining person to move into more casual.
Anna Kim, who previously worked at Manhattan’s Japanese French Patisserie Fouet before Per Se, says, “I had zero intention of going into fine dining; I didn’t even know what Per Se was, I’m very homey and laidback,” she laughs, adding that her friend who worked at the restaurant told her about the job; in just a few months she was promoted to pastry sous.
At Gong Gan, Kim uses many of the same techniques she learned working in the kitchen of one of New York City’s most esteemed restaurants. “There is so much intention at Per Se; here, the sizing of the mushrooms, whether they have dots or not, the effort feels the same,” she says. She adds that a major difference for the experience she felt was “challenging, but grateful for” is that Per Se has set reservations, but in her own venture, she’s still figuring out how many cakes to make.
Slices and mini full cakes run between $15 to $19, a higher price for gentrifying Flushing — with its neighboring glitzy Tangram Mall — but representative of an influx of luxury dessert parlors in NYC. Full sizes can be ordered in advance for special occasions.