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Bull City Vegan Finds: Mad Hatter’s Cafe + Bakeshop

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Duke chapter.

I believe it’s a necessary component of the Duke freshman experience to disrupt the monotony of Marketplace breakfast and treat yourself to a morning or afternoon at Mad Hatter’s Cafe + Bakeshop. Since 2001, this quaint corner eatery has been located on the intersection of Broad and Main St. where it serves Durham natives and hungry college students alike with delicious breakfast, coffee and pastries made with locally sourced ingredients.

Mad Hatter’s is an escape, a “wonderland” to be on-brand, and a magical place where you buy things with real money (and not the food points Duke students have as a part of their food plan). 

A visit here gives students a falsified sense of importance and classiness—the feeling that you’re an adult who drinks Americanos and pays nearly $10 for a single piece of avocado toast. However, you can get most of the lattes and bakery items they sell there through Duke Dining at Café or Saladelia (because Mad Hatter’s was purchased by Saladelia in 2008).

Deja vu aside, I want to draw attention to a particular bakery item currently not offered by Duke Dining: the vegan salted caramel brownie. A treat that had been available at Café in the past, but stopped being served after September 2021 for undisclosed reasons, the brownie is the only vegan option on the bakery menu. It asserts its place at the southeasternmost corner of the bakery window and costs $3.50—a bit on the pricier side, but I’d say a reasonable purchase given it’s massive and frosted. Paired with a coffee, the brownie is a delicious combination for an afternoon dessert—or in my case, an 8 a.m. breakfast.

My Rating: 7/10

Compared to most brownies I’ve eaten in the past, this one is a bit denser and underbaked, nearly reminiscent of a Larabar, as with the crunchiness of the dark chocolate chips and the nuttiness of the pecans sprinkled on top. The frosting is spread thicc, almost equal in height to the brownie itself, and its airiness balances the richness of the brownie nicely. In all honesty, the experience of giving this size-of-my-face fudgy square my wholehearted, undivided attention was way more cathartic than it should have been. 

However, it doesn’t really live up to the salted caramel title, and the frosting has a strange, sort of oily aftertaste that can be a bit off-putting. Additionally, due to the nature of its design, this brownie has to be eaten cold (from firsthand experience, if you ask them to heat it up, the frosting will melt)—and I personally prefer warm brownies.

Overall, Mad Hatter’s vegan salted caramel brownie is a great choice for a decadent, easily-accessible vegan dessert. It’s not necessarily the most traditional brownie, but it’s quirky, and perhaps our standards of confection normality are in desperate need of reform anyway. If you’re looking for a relaxing way to spend a Sunday morning, or you’re simply in need of some good old-fashioned chocolate therapy, consider adding Mad Hatter’s to your list!

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