A Piece of Cake 

Lori Laird, left, and Pam Reed break from baking for Elvis impersonations.

Justin Fox Burks

Lori Laird, left, and Pam Reed break from baking for Elvis impersonations.

Up to 1,000 people are gathering on the lawn of Graceland Friday morning to cut Elvis' lavish birthday cake, including Priscilla and Lisa Marie Presley, Mayor

A C Wharton, and the mother and daughter duo from Cakes By Mom and Me.

Lori Laird and her mom, Pam Reed, who bake in West Memphis, created the King's 75th birthday cake after winning a cake-decorating competition with other regional bakers in mid-December.

"We are thrilled, but we never thought we would win," Laird said.

Instead of complex sculptures (one contestant suggested a statue of Elvis dancing on a turntable), the women designed a more traditional tiered cake with an hourglass shape. "We wanted to represent Elvis' life, but we also wanted something that was beautiful and elegant," Laird said. "The original e-mail said to design a birthday cake befitting the King. So that's what we did."

More than three-feet high, the cake is decorated with silver glitter, shooting stars, the gates of Graceland, a rhinestone American eagle, and silhouettes of Elvis singing and dancing. Constructing the cake took well over a week, with help from a large master sketch on the bakery wall and Phil Reed, Laird's dad.

"Dad is our handyman," Laird said. "He built the cake stand and inner structure, and I started working on the gum paste. We wanted as many details on the cake as possible to be edible."

After the cakes were baked (that took two days), they were sculpted and covered with a crumb coat and white fondant. "Then I did the blue icing," Laird explained. "I used food coloring and sponges to create the look of blue suede."

For the Reed family, making a birthday cake for Elvis is both a tribute to an icon and a personal remembrance. Pam grew up two blocks from Graceland (she has home movies of Elvis riding a tractor), worked at Lansky Brothers as a teenager, and remembers seeing Priscilla shopping at the Southland Mall.

"Elvis is important for me too," Laird said. "I'm a St. Jude's survivor. The Elvis foundation is active with the hospital, and I've always appreciated that."

If you can't make it to Graceland to see the Elvis cake, stop by the Southern Home Garden and Gourmet Expo at Agricenter International next week. Cakes by Mom and Me will be one of six contestants in a cake-off judged by Duff Goldman, host of the Food Network's Ace of Cakes. Duff will host two shows on Saturday, January 16th, at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.

Elvis Presley Birthday Proclamation Ceremony, Friday, January 8th, 9:30 a.m., Graceland, elvis.com

Southern Home Garden and Gourmet Expo, January 15th-17th, Agricenter International, southernhomeandgardenexpo.com

The changes at Beignet Café & Blues Bar are summed up in the second line of the restaurant's new menu: "Beignets, Blues, and Booze."

An expanded menu and full bar have turned the former coffee shop located on G.E. Patterson at Mulberry Street into a full-service restaurant with entertainment on the weekends and private party rooms upstairs.

"When we started, customers came to the counter and ordered their food," said Norma Crow, who renovated the building before opening the restaurant with Charles Duke last spring. "But people wanted to linger over their meal because of the atmosphere inside our restaurant."

In response, Norma worked with chef Carlos Scurlock to expand the café's menu to include eight different entrées plus a chef's daily special.

"Many people who live in this neighborhood like a mixture of influences," Crow said. "So we've mixed up the menu with Memphis food, soul food, and New Orleans food."

Crow's favorite new dish is Creole catfish, which is pan-roasted, topped with crawfish cream sauce, and served with rice, sautéed spinach, onions, and mushrooms ($16). Other popular dishes are smoked barbecue ribs ($14) and Louisiana shrimp, cheddar grits, Tasso sauce, and asparagus ($12).

In addition, much of the café's original menu remains, including melt-in-your-mouth beignets, a signature grilled salmon BLT, and dozens of coffee drinks and smoothies. The café also serves breakfast on Saturdays starting at 8:30 a.m. and is open for brunch on Sundays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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