I HAD A harrowing sponge-cake-related moment of realization last winter. I was sitting at my cubicle in New York when I read a news article about Twinkies going out of production because of the bankruptcy of Hostess, the parent company of the cream-filled delight that was supposedly apocalypse-proof.
I immediately picked up a phone — call it the Emergency Confection Line — and frantically dialed a Cleveland number. I interrupted a chipper female voice midgreeting. “Do you guys still have chocolate-covered Twinkies?” I asked in a rather demanding manner.
“Well, no,” replied the remorseful voice on the other end of the line. “Since Twinkies went out of business, I don’t know if they’re going to come back on the shelf ev… ”
I hung up.
To be honest, I’m not a rabid fan of Twinkies. I’d rather have a box of Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pies — those glorious flying saucers of fat with a thankfully estranged relationship with the oatmeal of their ancestry — any day. But cover a Twinkie in milk chocolate — as some geniuses in Ohio have done for years — and angels dance on your tongue.
About five years ago, I spent 11 months living in Cleveland as a journalism gumshoe employed by a weekly newspaper. Life was simple and good in one of America’s most affordable and lovable cities. I made a pittance, which was enough to rent a chic bachelor’s loft downtown. Three major sports stadiums were within walking distance, and because I had finagled a sportswriter’s credential, I might spend a Wednesday evening in the Cleveland Cavaliers’ locker room, watching LeBron James snipe at beat writers or chatting with the belly button of 7-foot-4 Žydrūnas Ilgauskas.
No, I never went to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But I did meet the born-and-raised Cleveland woman who would be my wife.
And I dipped a lot of Twinkies.
At Town Fryer — the now-defunct restaurant so named for its liberal use of hot oil — they deep-fried those suckers. At Malley’s Chocolates, I bought chocolate-covered Twinkies, which were a Valentine’s Day special. And I felt no shame eating them alone, savoring every bite behind the steering wheel of my beat-up Toyota Corolla.
There’s a reason I sport the chiseled physique of Tom Arnold.
So I felt personally robbed when I learned, through that phone call from my cubicle, that Twinkies were no longer being dipped in chocolate 495 miles away. The United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York was stomping all over my feelings.
A year later, though, there has been a reversal of fortune, all thanks to a good old-fashioned corporate takeover.
I’m at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, and in my duffel there is a box of — cue heavens-opening-up harpsichord music — brand-new, plastic-wrapped Twinkies. The formerly bankrupt Hostess brand has been bought and resurrected — nay, rendered undead — proving once and for all that Twinkies will outlast humanity.
I drive until I see three giant pink silos — reading “Cocoa,” “Milk” and “Sugar,” respectively — beckoning from beside the highway and swerve into the parking lot of the Malley’s Chocolates factory. At the retail shop, I meet an employee named Anna who shares my fiendish love of chocolate-covered Twinkies. “Oh my God — they’re good, aren’t they?” she exclaims, joyously.
But they have none on their shelves and none scheduled to arrive in the foreseeable future. But for those of us hoping to clog our arteries in creative fashion, all is not lost. I have obtained, from a high-ranking source in Malley’s middle management, a list of all the chocolate-dipped items the confectioner plans to offer seasonally throughout the rest of the year.
In February in honor of Valentine’s Day: chocolate-covered grapes and strawberries. In late April through early May in honor of Cinco de Mayo: chocolate-covered tortilla chips. In November: chocolate-covered Fritos.
I repeat: In November, Malley’s will be covering Fritos with chocolate and selling them. And this is somehow legal.
But I didn’t pilgrimage all the way to the ’burbs of Cleveland to behold wonders that I will devour in the future, immediate or distant. I buy a jar of Malley’s hot-fudge sauce, which I surmise is a rough approximation of the chocolate once used to smother Twinkies. In the parking lot of Malley’s, I burrow into my duffel in the car trunk and greedily unwrap one of my treats.
Twinkies are supposedly tastier — more artisan — since being produced by their new manufacturer. I don’t care. I smash a Twinkie into the jar of chocolate and slather the sauce all over. I sit in the front seat of my wife’s parents’ Hyundai and take a big bite of this bootleg culinary creation.
It tastes wonderful. It tastes like the good, simple life. It tastes like nostalgia. It tastes like Cleveland.