Portillo's Comes Through For Man Willing To Drop $300 For Discontinued Lemon Cake

By Stephen Gossett in Food on Feb 23, 2017 9:55PM

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Flickr / User: Star Monkeybrass

One man’s desperate, cost-be-damned quest to get his hands on his favorite discontinued dessert from an iconic Chicago restaurant had a warm and fuzzy happy ending on Thursday.

Ben, a 36-year-old Chicago native now living on Phoenix, posted on Reddit that he was willing to shell out a whopping $300 to anyone who could pass along the exact recipe or a faithful copy of Portillo’s no-longer-available lemon cake. (He sweetened the sweet-tooth pot with an extra $30 for anyone who could deliver an explanation as to why Portillo’s no longer made the cake.)

“I've been searching for a substitute ever since. I've gone through dozens of cake and frosting recipes,” Ben wrote. He even went so far as to have someone ask Dick Portillo himself about the recipe at a grand opening, but to no avail.

The thread blew up like few we’ve ever seen in the Chicago Reddit, with thousands up votes and more than 500 comments, with Portillo’s fans from all over chiming in to help or offer commiseration. A person who claimed to be a food scientist even offered his expertise.

The cakes had an emotional pull for Ben, too, since going to the Chicago-area staple was a regular family pilgrimage. "I used to go with my dad once every few weeks," he told Chicagoist.

Luckily, Ben's wish was finally granted, as a representative from Portillo’s chimed in on Thursday morning with the good news: the Chicago-based chain agreed to make him one of his elusive lemon cakes and offer the recipe, free of charge. “Your passion for this cake is quite inspiring,” wrote Portillo’s, rather hilariously. By the way, the reason it was kiboshed? The cake layers would slide due to the frosting, and the base couldn’t maintain throughout the business day. Books closed!

For enthusiasts in a similar state of lemon longing, the cake buff even offered to share the recipe if Portillo's consented. Alas, the original concoction was a proprietary collaboration with Betty Crocker, and the restaurant didn't have the ability to do so, Marc Trevino, marketing manager of Portillo's told Chicagoist.

But Trevino promised that what they provide Ben should satisfy. "It will be almost identical to the one he had 10 years ago," Trevino said. "Just like old times." He added that Portillo's would "keep the door open" as far as bringing the cake back if demand proved robust. To that effect, Ben—clearly not one to back away from a challenge—launched on Thursday evening a Change.org petition to bring back the cake for good.

As for the money Ben was willing to pony up? Well, he'll still be making a $300 payout—but he'll be giving it to one of Portillo's charity partners, he said. He was "100 percent serious" about dropping that much coin on his quest, he told us.

While this writer has never enjoyed the fabled lemon cake, and the Chicagoist staff in general is fairly agnostic on the whole about Portillo’s (don’t @ us), as someone who’s dropped amounts more than he’d care to admit on rare beers and vinyl, I can absolutely sympathize. We’re happy he found his beloved. And Portillo’s got a free brand boost. Like we said, we love a happy resolution.