DOWNTOWN — The man who spent a decade searching for Portillo's lemon cake has, at long last, gotten his cake.
He's eaten it, too.
For Ben, who grew up in West Lawn, the journey to lemon cake bliss has been a long one: He grew up eating the dessert as a special treat with his dad, both of them no fans of chocolate, and he even hosted his high school graduation party at Portillo's — with a lemon cake.
"I fell in love with the lemon cake absolutely from the first time I saw it," Ben said, laughing, in February.
But about a decade ago, Portillo's stopped serving the cake. Ben tried to find desserts that tasted similar and even turned to his own kitchen, trying at least 20 recipes in hope of making something that resembled his first, lemony love.
“Ever since I was little, [we'd go] out there and we’d do it. It was a thing that it was just sort of us two,” Ben said. “The cake itself is just fantastic. … Lemon is a very tough flavor to get right.” Later, he added: “Being a lemon lover is very hard. It’s not like being a chocolate lover where you can find it anywhere.”
The search ended after Ben posted to Reddit in late February, offering a $300 bounty for the cake's recipe or a dessert that tasted the same and an extra $30 for the story behind the cake's demise.
The post went viral (Ben asked that his last name not be used since he wants his Reddit account to be private) and Portillo's responded, promising to make Ben a cake at the location and time of his choice and giving him the recipe.
Ben, who now lives in Arizona, and his cousin — another lifelong lemon cake lover — booked flights to Chicago and flew in, meeting up for the first time in three years, Ben wrote in a new post on Reddit.
The two returned to the first Portillo's where they'd had lemon cake, had the treat cut by the pros and thoroughly enjoyed a slice each.
"The sweet smell of lemony goodness greeted me like an old friend and once I took that first bite, all of my fears melted away," Ben wrote on Reddit. "The velvety soft and rich frosting made my lips and mouth tingle just as it had so many times before. It's so light and fluffy. Bright and balanced. Moist and rich. Pure joy.
"All was good with the world!!! Every individual part of the cake was flawless, but the combination of all those flavors working together within a single cake made it deliciously transcendent."
Ben brought the cake back home with him, even wrapping it up so he could take it on his flight, he wrote.
Now Ben's pushing for Portillo's to bring the cake back permanently. He started an online petition lobbying for the cake and has more than 230 signatures so far, and people have been contacting him privately asking about the cake and its recipe.
In February, Portillo's explained it had given up on the cakes because the frosting would make the cake layers slide.
"It would taste great but not always look as great," said Portillo's spokesman Marc Trevino.
There aren't any immediate plans to bring the cake back, Trevino said at the time, but it's not necessarily gone for good.
"We can always leave the door open for something like that, especially since we see how passionate people are ...," Trevino said. "If it's something that people want ... you never know."
As for Ben, he wrote he donated his $330 bounty (plus another $330 someone kicked in after reading his Reddit post) to charity and is living "happily ever after."