So what's fueling the demand for cupcakes? Nostalgia, for one thing. Cupcakes remind just about everybody of their childhood. Another thing: portability. You really can't eat a slice of cake with your hands and not feel like a barbarian. But cupcakes are the perfect eat-and-go food. They're no more than a few bites, and they're individually wrapped. The same can be said for a candy bar or a Twinkie, sure, but cupcakes just feel more wholesome.
But mainly, I think, cupcakes are just fun. They're little. They're cute. They have decorations. Not only do cupcakes remind you of your childhood, but they actually make you feel (at least for the 45 seconds it takes to devour one) like a kid again.
West Egg Cafe
These are the cupcakes your grandma used to make, except cooler. You'd expect no less from West Egg, a quirky, stylish West Side sandwich shop. You know you're in the South when even the cupcakes come flavored with Coca-Cola. The cakes themselves are brown-sugar sweet, with chocolate Coca-Cola glaze oozing over the top and down the sides. West Egg's lunch menu of sandwiches and salads is light enough that you won't feel too guilty saving room for something sweet. Old-fashioned red velvet cupcakes are another house specialty, but plan on beating the lunch rush if you want to snag one. They sell out quick.
1168-A Howell Mill Road, 404-872-3973.
Imagine, if you will, a gourmet cupcake. Can you picture it? A miniature work of art in yellow cake and cream cheese frosting. It is decorated with a pretzel stick and green icing to look as if a tree is sprouting out of the middle of it. It's almost too pretty to eat. But of course you must eat it -- it's a cupcake. And when you do, you realize that you've never tasted a cupcake quite like this. It's rich and buttery, but just barely sweet. This is a cupcake for grown-ups. Another variation reminds me of the Hostess Cupcake of our youth, but way out of its league. The devil's food cake is decadent. The creamy filling is -- gasp! -- goat cheese. Star Provisions puts as much time, energy and creativity into their cupcakes as they do the rest of their whimsical, foodie-fantasy inventory.
1198 Howell Mill Road, 404-365-0410. www.starprovisions.com
Belly General Store
A general store smack-dab in the middle of Virginia-Highland? Sure enough. The place, with its plank floors, picnic table-style seating, and shelves of jams and jellies, has the genuine feel of a rustic roadside store. Sure, it's rusticity for the SUV set -- note the woman pushing a $700 baby carriage. But who cares? They have cupcakes. These folks can be credited with stirring up the original cupcake buzz when they opened last year. We tried the tres leches cupcakes, and though they didn't taste like any tres leches cake I've ever had, they were still quite good. The cake had the dense consistency of pound cake, with thick blueberry buttercream slathered on top. The best-known cupcake is the peanut butter and jelly, a kid-friendly concoction of yellow cake filled with blueberry jam and topped with peanut butter frosting.
772 N. Highland Ave., 404-872-1003. www.bellystore.com
Celebrity Cafe & Bakery
This rather nondescript Peachtree Street cafe has the cupcake market cornered. If you can dream up a cupcake flavor, they can probably make it. The day I visited, I am embarrassed to say, I sampled everything they had on hand: black bottom, red velvet, chocolate with strawberry frosting, chocolate with chocolate frosting, and chocolate with plain white frosting. I nearly mistook the frosting-less black bottom cupcake for a muffin, but thank heaven I didn't. It was pure decadence -- a rich, pudding-like chocolate cupcake with swirls of vanilla. Of course, this is Midtown, so expect service with plenty of attitude. But once you stuff a cupcake in your face, all is forgiven.
903 Peachtree St., 404-870-0002. www.celebrity bakeryandcafe.com
This is the ultimate nostalgia cupcake. You remember, the one from your best friend's birthday party in the second grade? The one with the spongy yellow cake and icing so sweet it made your teeth hurt? Don't forget the plastic ballerina stuck in the top, from which you licked every last swirl of that fluffy white frosting. Granted, it gave you a stomachache for hours afterward, but it was worth it. Henri's has been a Buckhead mainstay for decades. Its display cases lures patrons with row upon row of cookies, cakes, pies, pastries ... and yes, cupcakes.
61 Irby Ave., 404-237-0202. www.henris bakery.com
The only thing getting me to ClusterFuckhead is Umi.
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