Six days in NYC, three cupcake joints...
Cupcake stop #1: Crumbs Bake Shop (Bryant Park)
Likes: large selection, clever/fun cupcake names, and multiple cupcake sizes
Our cupcakes: Elvis (banana flavored yellow cake filled with banana cream, topped with a swirl of banana butter cream and peanut butter frosting) and Brownie (chocolate cake filled and frosted with chocolate fudge, drizzled with chocolate, and topped with walnut brownie bits)
The experience: We had been in NYC for less than five hours when we happened upon Crumbs. After we waited on line for ten minutes (just to get into the crowded, sweaty shop), I discovered they were all out of Vanilla/Vanilla Sprinkle (I loooove a good vanilla cupcake!) AND my second choice, the Black and White Vanilla. Boo. After much hemming and hawing, I finally chose the Elvis over the Grasshopper. The banana cake was like a sweet banana bread in cupcake form (so delicious!), but the frosting (peanut butter & banana cream) had a slight chemical taste and was a bit on the stale side. It didn't help that the cupcake was so friggin' big; of course the size wouldn't have been so much of an issue if I had liked the frosting. I ended up scraping off 90% of the frosting, which greatly improved the taste. Mario enjoyed his Brownie cupcake, but said it wasn't any better than any other specialty brownie dessert he's had elsewhere. I tried his cupcake and thought it was way better than mine, although between the filling and the frosting there was just too much chocolate for me.
Worth the visit?: I wouldn't make a special trip there (the Bryant Park location was just a few blocks from where we were staying), but I'd say it's worth a try if you're in the area. Although I didn't have the best cupcake experience, I'd be willing to try some of the other flavors.
Cupcake stop #2: Magnolia Bakery (Rockefeller Center)
Likes: adorable shop (it's an old-fashioned pastel dream!), the palpable excitement of people waiting in line (everyone was so! excited! and! happy!), free samples of the most amazing banana cream pudding, Sex and the City connection (okay, that's a little lame, but I am a unapologetic SATC girl)
Our cupcakes: Vanilla Vanilla (buttery old-fashioned vanilla cupcake with a light crumb and vanilla buttercream), Vanilla Chocolate (with chocolate buttercream), and Devil's Food (with chocolate buttercream)
The experience: I was prepared for a long line, so the 20 minutes we spent waiting to get in wasn't a huge deal. However, I wasn't expecting it to take another 20ish minutes to order and pay for the cupcakes - this was due to overwhelmed/cranky workers and their lack of available cupcakes (three flavors). Now I understand that Magnolia is a popular place, but the lack of selection was seriously disappointing! Luckily, I was able to grab the last available Vanilla Vanilla cupcake (again, how can you already be out of your most famous cupcake at 11:00am? poor planning!). Mario chose the Devil's Food with chocolate frosting and we added in a Vanilla Chocolate to share. The Vanilla Vanilla was delicious - the cake was moist and fluffy and the buttercream frosting was the perfect consistency. Mario said the Devil's Food cupcake was good, but it was far too rich (he also said he far prefers the cupcakes from Sugar Bliss). The Vanilla Chocolate was a huge disappointment - the cake was dry and the frosting was a bit hard around the edges (perhaps it was a leftover from the first batch of the day?). Also, as with the Devil's Food, the frosting was just too rich; it was sickeningly sweet and overpowered the vanilla cake.
Worth the visit?: Yes and no. While it's definitely part of the NYC experience to visit Magnolia and the shop is totally adorable, the cupcakes did not live up to the hype. The Vanilla Vanilla cupcake was delicious, but honestly, it wasn't anything better than what I've had in Chicago or Austin. On the other hand, the banana cream pudding sample we had was AMAZING (I really wish we purchased some!). A few native NY friends mentioned that Magnolia was once a fabulous bakery, but as its popularity increased, the quality decreased. I also think Magnolia suffers from its own reputation - it's a good bakery (with amazing banana pudding!), not a mind-blowing cupcake heaven.
Cupcake stop #3: Eleni's (Chelsea Market)
Likes: excellent displays, friendly workers, wandering employees with free samples, location (Chelsea Market is a food-lovers dream)
Our Cupcake: Vanilla-Vanilla (vanilla cupcake with vanilla buttercream and rainbow nonpareils)
The experience: We stopped at Eleni's at the end of the fabulous foodie morning (brunch at Colicchio & Sons and wandering through the gourmet food shops in Chelsea Market). The shop was super cute - pink! everywhere! and perfectly arranged cookie, candy, and cupcake displays as far as the eye can see. Unfortunately, there were also several packs of screaming children tearing through the store and knocking over the displays while their snooty mothers pointedly ignored them (ugh). We were offered samples of the Everything cookie (oatmeal with coconut, walnuts, cranberry, and chocolate chips) and their signature Oatmeal Raisin cookie. Both of the cookies were chewy and flavorful - Mario actually ended up leaving with another OR cookie over a cupcake. Although I loved the Everything cookie, I picked the Vanilla-Vanilla cupcake after the salesgirl raved about them. The cupcake was good, but it was nothing to write home about. It was your standard vanilla cupcake that you could get from just about any random bakery (Magnolia had far better vanilla cupcakes). I wish I had left with an Everything cookie instead of a fine, but slightly boring, cupcake.
Worth the visit?: As with Crumbs, I wouldn't make a special trip there, but it's worth checking out if you're at Chelsea Market. I wouldn't recommend the cupcakes though - the cookies are definitely the standouts!
Places I would like to visit during the next trip: Sweet Revenge, Billy's Bakery, Cake & Shake
Places I've been told to possibly avoid (I've heard more negative than positive reviews about these - I definitely wouldn't rule them out completely, but on the other hand, I probably wouldn't seek them out either): Cupcake Cafe, Two Little Red Hens, Baked by Melissa
What do you think of the cupcake shops in NYC? Were your experiences any better/worse than mine? Are there any shops on your must visit list?