Two words that strike fear in my heart, and really, the heart of any salty-snack lover: CUPCAKE CRAWL.
My BFF had vacation coming up, and since I’m just not financially able to go anywhere far away currently, we decided to create our own food tours. She chose cupcakes. (Guess who has a sweet tooth? Yes, this is the same woman who likes to finish a huge meal with me and then proclaim, “There’s always room for dessert! I have a separate stomach for that!”)
We chose 5 cupcakeries as the proper number for a good sample size, and decided that we would try two cupcakes per place (and aim to get one kind of cupcake at all places)… oh, and each place had to make their own cupcakes (so no Robicelli’s, which is available at certain cafes, including one we passed by; in any case, BFF and I knew we’d have chosen Robicelli’s for the win every time). And off we went!
…but first, a picture of us pre-sugar-ingestion. One of us looks markedly more excited. One of us has a sweet tooth, and the other does not. Can you guess who?
After carefully mapping out our choices, I plotted a line that would take us along a straight path… the path of the CUPCAKE CRAWL. First stop: Billy’s Bakery in Chelsea, where we were eagerly greeted with the smell of butter. Of all the cupcakeries we visited, hands down, Billy’s smelled the most fabulous.
Our two choices were made quickly:
banana frosted with cream cheese and
Red Velvet. If you read the link above, we found generally the same opinions: the Red Velvet was nothing to fawn over; the banana cupcake was dense and the frosting sweet. There’s a caveat, but I’ll explain that later…
Next stop: Cupcake Cafe! En route there, BFF revealed that she hadn’t had a burger since she was 8 years old. Nearly twenty-two years had passed since she’d eaten a burger!!! I demanded we visit Shake Shack immediately; I needed to remedy this ASAP. Since we were only a block away from Cupcake Cafe by this time, we decided to head inside there first before walking back north a few blocks to get burgers (SS was a few blocks out of our way, but not a huge detour, really; and in my opinion, worth it!). BFF questioned me, “Is this the burger to end a burger hiatus?” and I tilted my head and said, not a trace of humor, “This is the best burger in NYC. I don’t say things like that lightly,” and she knew I was serious. (There are other burgers that suffice and/or are quite good, but in my opinion, SS has a specific combination of loveliness about it that brings it squarely into the ‘best’ category for me.)
Cupcake Cafe had very cute decor – it was connected to a bookstore, actually, but had these dancing cupcake mannequins! Unfortunately, the counterman told us they weren’t working, but he did point them out to us in the first place. Very cute.
Each cupcake boasts a pretty flower on top of it.
The “Bohemian” or a walnut cake with maple buttercream that the counterman said was his favorite. The cupcake is gorgeous, honestly, but – and I never thought I’d say this about any cupcake – it just didn’t have enough frosting. That small slick would be enough were the cake super moist, or the frosting, I guess, super flavorful/sweet – enough to carry over for the whole cake – but even so, the frosting was just a bit meh. The addition of the flowers didn’t help matters at all… and the cake was very dense in a bad way; it sat like a stone in my stomach.
Vanilla cake with chocolate buttercream. Again, the chocolate wasn’t sweet enough to carry the cupcake, and the cake itself was heavy, rocklike in my stomach, and I felt a bit sick after eating this one. I really wanted it to be good; it was so pretty! but unfortunately it just wasn’t to my benefit to keep eating these two.
Then we went to Shake Shack and waited on line – I was ready to turn around and leave, but BFF was getting visibly excited over the prospect of eating a burger after a 22 year hiatus. I’m pretty sure this is the longest line I’ve ever waited for Shake Shack (which isn’t to say it was that long; I’m just a huge brat and if the line is too long, despite this being my favorite burger, I will turn around and eat somewhere else, something else). BFF appreciated it greatly.
Unwrapping the burger after our 30 minute wait on line + 10 minute wait for food!
The first bite: will it be good? Will Yvo stop taking pictures?
No, no Yvo won’t stop taking pictures, so let’s just pretend to smile for real now…
Thumbs up! SUCCESS! Burger convert: “So this is what I’ve been missing all these years? OMG, so good!”
Personally, I’d visited the Shack a record high for me in March: 3 times (once after Charles for frozen custard, once during that monsoon/typhoon when I forgot my camera at home, and once more during March’s ML HH), so I saw no need to have another burger, as much as I love them. I opted to finally try the portobello burger I hear such amazing things about: a portobello mushroom cap stuffed with cheese, then deep fried. Dude, what? Yes, that’s what.
Nommy crunchy licious, with oozy cheese that actually was reminicscient of a softer cheese (ricotta, almost) as opposed to cheddar or mozzarella, I really enjoyed this. I can’t imagine eating that portobello stacked on top of a burger (a la the Shack Stack), but my god, it’s good on its own, a good alternative if you don’t feel like meat that way. It isn’t healthy in any way, though, so I remind you that it is still deep fried… probably why it’s delicious, though. 😉
Our next stop was Crumbs. I’ve been there enough times in the past, and BF and I both enjoy their huge softball-sized specialty cupcakes. But BFF had never been, so I agreed to add it to the list. (This is the University Place location.)
We chose two of the smaller ‘gourmet’ cupcakes (non-specialty) for our crawl.
Vanilla with chocolate frosting, which was a bit dry, and the frosting overly sweet…
and Red Velvet (which was kind of our ‘control’ flavor, except two of the places didn’t have that as an option), which again unfortunately was crumbly (they live up to the name “Crumbs” in this case). Which is odd, because…
I actually really like their large ‘specialty’ cupcakes – they’re moist, flavorful, and the frosting is sweet, but there’s so much more cake that you almost need all the frosting.
BFF picked up a bunch of cupcakes to take home, I just took some photos – here’s peanut butter cup.
Cookie dough. Yes, BFF lugged these super heavy cupcakes around for a bit longer after this… through our walk down to the LES.
In the meantime, I’d asserted that Shake Shack’s fries were no great shakes, so we’d only gotten burgers earlier (and drinks). As we passed through the East Village on our way to the next cupcakery, we swung by Pommes Frites for a savory palate cleanser: Pommes Frites! with pesto mayo for dipping. Mmm, delicious. Definitely more my speed.
Next up on the list: Butter Lane. I know I mentioned going there recently, but I hadn’t tried the cupcakes myself, BFF hadn’t been there, and it was on the way. Plus I’ve heard so many good things…
I had to laugh because we were also sort of on a cupcake hunt, except not, since we knew where we were going (yes, I even printed out my Google map). Also, because I’m really immature and my mind heard “cupcake hunt” and morphed it into something totally other. Childish! I know!
One of the guys working the counter saw our bag from Crumbs, so we told him what we were doing. He bet me an entire week’s paycheck that Butter Lane’s cupcakes – specifically, the banana with cream cheese frosting – was better than anyone else’s, although he amended when we listed off all of our cupcakeries, “Okay, I’m not sure about Sugar Sweet Sunshine, because I’ve never had it, but I guarantee that our banana with cream cheese is better than all the other places you just named.” I told him he was on – although we never said what I’d lose if he was right! Neener
Neither BFF nor I really liked the vanilla with chocolate; it tasted very meh, with the cake part being alright but the frosting way too sweet.
Alternatively, the banana with cream cheese? Well, let’s just say, that guy gets to keep his paycheck, because this cupcake was bangin’. The banana flavor wasn’t very pronounced, but definitely present; the cake super moist, and the cream cheese frosting was just right. It worked, overall, and BFF and I nommed this one down quickly. Definitely the best banana with cream cheese cupcake I’ve ever eaten – sorry, Billy’s!
Last but not least on the list at all – ringing in at my favorite cupcakery in the city (since before I’d ever had Robicelli’s, honestly) – Sugar Sweet Sunshine!!!
There was a really cute sign outside (and inside, incidentally) listing the top 10 reasons to eat a cupcake. I’m not sure what the woman sitting inside by the windo was thinking – she must not have read the sign – I watched her scrape off all the frosting, cut a cupcake in half, and then eat part of it, and throw away the rest. I felt really sad at the sight but also… really???
Of course, the requisite two cupcakes for us. I should note here that these are my favorites for a number of reasons, not least of all that they cost $1.50 a piece, and they are not monstrously sized where eating one would put me into a sugar crash so fast, you’d hurt just by looking at me.
First up: the Bob, a vanilla cake with chocolate almond buttercream. Not bad: the cake is moist, and the frosting is about what is is, sweet, and not overwhelmingly so, plus it isn’t gobbed on like a crazyperson.
The Red Velvet is moist with a slightly tangy cream cheese frosting. Moist cake with a good flavor… it just works for me.
Before I get to our final thoughts on the ‘winners’ of this Cupcake Crawl, I want to point out a few things: every cupcakery charged $2.50+ per cupcake, except Sugar Sweet Sunshine, which was $1.50 a cupcake (and $4 for 12 ounces of banana pudding, dude – FOUR BUCKS FOR A COFFEE CUP FILLED WITH BANANA PUDDING, oh and $1.25 for a 12 ounce coffee, I mean really…). Most locations that we visited didn’t have seating space, or not much at all; they were clearly ‘get your cupcakes and go’ type places (though Crumbs has many locations, and some of them have areas to sit and enjoy, while others have none). Sugar Sweet Sunshine had a cafe vibe to it, and they barely glanced twice at us as we opened up boxes of cupcakes from other places and sat there, cutting them in half, eating them, discussing somewhat loudly which were good and which weren’t… just let us do our thang. Big props to SSS for that irrespective of how we felt about their cupcakes.
Also, BFF and I have both separately (and together) eaten about a million cupcakes. Does this make us experts? Nope! But I’m always willing to share my opinion about food items
Cupcake Cafe had, hands down, the worst cupcakes of all five places we went to. Flat – and yes, they were so pretty, so we really wanted them to taste good! – but unappealing in texture and taste, neither of us finished these and eventually wound up throwing them away. ($2.50/cupcake)
Crumbs may have excellent specialty flavors that you won’t find at too many other places (Grasshopper, Artie Lange [one of the BF’s flavors], Baba Booey), but their plain/smaller cupcakes are kind of wack – dry and too sweet on the frosting. My question is if they are baking them alongside the larger ones, that may dry them out… ($3~ for the classic size, and $4~ and up for the signature size)
Billy’s Bakery has decent plain-flavored cupcakes, and some of their specialty flavors are very good (after eating a dozen or so myself over the course of two weeks, yes I am familiar). They still smelled the best out of any cupcake place we visited, hands down. But in this comparative taste test, they couldn’t hold up against some of the other cupcakeries… I’m calling this a tie for second place, though. ($2.50~ per cupcake)
Butter Lane definitely had the best banana cupcake with cream cheese frosting, beating out Billy’s handily. However, the other cupcake we had was super sucky, and BF’s previous claim that he hated his cupcake(s) that I gave him did not fall on deaf ears. I am taking that into account here. I would probably need to go back and try more of their plain cupcakes, even though I really did not like the vanilla/chocolate we tried… ($3/cupcake)
Sugar Sweet Sunshine was the overall winner – the Bob was tasty without overwhelming on sugar, and the Red Velvet was the same. BFF and I both agreed that this is the type of place you make your ‘everyday cupcakery’ – you stop by on your way home and pick up a cupcake or two, because why not? You don’t need a special occasion for a cupcake here. It isn’t going to kill you with how big it is, nor how much it costs. ($1.50/cupcake)
Sugar Sweet Sunshine FTW!
In case you were wondering what I look like after eating the equivalent of 5 cupcakes in a short amount of time – bear in mind, I rarely eat that much sugar, especially not in one sitting – that was probably more sugar than I’ve had collectively all year! I was gone; as we walked away from SSS, I swear I felt high, and BFF was certainly acting it. We couldn’t stop laughing at nothing and everything, and I actually had to stop walking for a minute to catch my breath from laughing so hard. Really. I was in tears and short of breath… it was pretty bad. So to cap off a lovely day, we decided to head to my favorite wine bar for a drink or five (by the end of the night, I’d drank the equivalent of just over a bottle of wine, by myself: win!).
The winner of the sugar crash fight: BFF! I knocked out on her shoulder early on… guesses to how long it took me to wake up? Ha!… I’m still not sure how I got home, honestly.