Music permeates restaurant kitchens and occasionally even ends up on plates. We’ve found that it’s no different in the world of sweets, an influence that goes far beyond opera cake.
The first local dessert/music mash-up we can remember experiencing goes back to San Francisco in 1991, a memory shrouded in some deep Outer Sunset fog. That year, Polly Ann Ice Cream introduced O.P.P., a flavor inspired by Naughty By Nature’s rap song of the same name. Listen to the song to hear and understand its polyamorous proclivities, but here O.P.P. stands for something far more innocent: Orange, Peach, and Pineapple!
We still love going to Polly Ann, where O.P.P. is occasionally available to this day. It’s still fun to spin the wheel of ice cream fortune, which is there for the adventurous, indecisive, or merely the patron who wants a shot at a freebie. But we head to the Mission to the two-year-old parlor Humphry Slocombe to get a sonic rock fix in frozen form. The Gabba Gabba Hey sundae is named after a song by the late great New York band the Ramones. A fat chocolate brownie mimics Dee Dee Ramone’s bassline, there’s balsamic caramel ice cream for Johnny Ramone’s guitar, and sugar-enhanced Amarena cherries stand in for Joey Ramone’s vocals on top.
Only outrageous sinkers reside at Psycho Donuts in Campbell and San Jose, so it’s a natural extension that some would be named after explosive musical personalities. There’s Headbanger’s Evil Twin (raised, filled custard), Michael Jackson (chocolate cake dipped in powdered sugar), and Bananarama (raised, filled custard topped with chocolate and freeze-dried bananas). The shop even created three limited-edition donuts in honor of Lady Gaga, including one with cherry champagne custard filling and a sparking cherry on top, and sold them the week she brought her Monster Ball concert tour to San Jose’s HP Pavilion in August.
At Orson in San Francisco’s SOMA area, Maria Muldaur’s 1974 hit “Midnight at the Oasis” is rendered in dessert form, with a chocolate fudgesicle, Devil’s food cake, and milk pudding scattered with a streusel made with cacao nibs. Nearby, the Cups and Cakes Bakery takes its whole name from a Spinal Tap song with sweet lyrics: “Cups and cakes, cups and cakes/Please make sure that nothing breaks/The china’s so dear and the treacle so clear/And I’m glad that you are here/Milk and sugar, bread and jam/Yes, please, sir and thank you, ma’am.” Musical influence also shows up at Cups and Cakes Bakery in the Elvis-winking Viva Las Vegas cupcake (banana bacon cake and peanut buttercream topped with banana chip and bacon). And north of the Panhandle (Nopa to some), Candybar has constructed an ode to the catchiest Internet-era ditty you’ll ever hear. Peanut Butter Jelly Time!!! (exclamation points theirs) is a peanut butter tart with salted peanuts, blackberries, and chocolate crust. Sweets taste better when you’re in tune with the music that runs through it.