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Editorial: The Beautiful—and Delicious—Cakes of Lexie Verbruggen

A look at how the executive pastry chef of Tony’s Off Third and Ridgway Bar & Grill in Naples creates her desserts.

BY October 6, 2017

Let’s make this the sweet spot. In “Kitchen Confidential” this month, we bring you the stories behind the favorite dishes of some of Southwest Florida’s top chefs. Here, we’re going to talk about desserts, in particular those turned out by the gifted Lexie Verbruggen, executive pastry chef of Tony’s Off Third and Ridgway Bar & Grill in Naples.

And do not for a single minute doubt the seductive powers of her product. Lexie’s pastries get rave reviews around town, but let’s get personal. It is true that she met her husband, David Verbruggen, on the job. And it is also true that she is a charmer. But she will be the first to tell you, “My sweets were a big thing in winning his heart.” Especially her red velvet cake. “That’s what hooked him,” she says.

With big eyes and an inquiring mind, I asked Lexie if she would take us inside the process that creates such delectables. And clue us in on the wildest concoctions she has come up with and what the trends are going forward.

Lexie tells me there is a team of four bakers, and she makes the buttercream, custards and other fillings. She assembles the cakes and stacks the layers. If her calculation is off by a millimeter, she says, the cake will tilt. She uses carpenters’ tools—a level, a saw—and does the equivalent of spackling in frosting the cake. “I haven’t had one collapse yet,” she says, thankfully.

Her loftiest achievement? A 4-foot-tall masterpiece she made for her wedding this past May. “That cake had to be outstanding,” she says—and so it was. Imagine this: It was pale blue with pink and coral as well. It had sugar flowers and a gold ribbon and it spun slowly around (one rotation every 90 seconds so people could see it from all angles). Hidden in the bottom tier—when you cut into the cake—was David’s favorite bottle of wine. “That was the surprise,” Lexie says, explaining that David, the managing partner at Tony’s and Ridgway, is studying to be a sommelier.

So much for the tallest. But what about the most exotic cakes she’s been asked to make? One gallant local requested a Lamborghini as a hint to his wife that she would be getting a real one. “Something like that looks like a toy and it can take 10 to 12 hours to create,” Lexie says. And, yes, she came through for the person who wanted a cake that looked like a Jif peanut butter jar with strawberry cake inside. For David, she made one that looked like his favorite bottle of wine. They often get asked to create some pretty racy things, very specific for bachelor and bachelorette parties. “Those are not my favorite,” she says. “You can’t imagine what some people ask for.”

This has all been a lifetime passion for Lexie. She grew up in Michigan baking with her grandmother and attended the Secchia Institute in Grand Rapids, where she did two years in baking and pastry to get a certification and earned an associate degree in business management as well. She says she got tired of the cold up north and moved to Marco Island, where an aunt and uncle lived. After an internship on Marco, she heard about Tony’s from a friend and landed a job there five years ago. She started out by decorating all the wedding cakes. Now she’s a manager and can speak with authority about what’s hot in the field. “Last year,” she said, “it was pale pink, gold and lots of glitter for the wedding cakes. This year, it’s simpler, green leaves, less is more. Weddings are going more natural and organic this year.”

With all the cakes these days, Lexie says, the trend now is to use paintbrushes and food coloring instead of spatulas and frosting. “You can get more detail and customizing this way,” she says. The biggest challenges to her are the big cakes you have to assemble and the three-dimensional ones you have to sculpt (working with buttercream and decorations made out of fondant, or rollable sugar).

Her own favorite? Zebra cake (with chocolate cake, white mousse and Grand Marnier). “You roll this cake together,” she says, “and when you cut into it, the layers are vertical.” Looks like U.S. manufacturing is holding up just fine when you can drop into a place in downtown Naples for a Lamborghini or a zebra on demand. You’ve hit the sweet spot indeed, courtesy of Lexie Verbruggen.


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