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2009-10-20

Notes on the Las Vegas cupcake scene

SEATTLE, Washington - I'll leave it to others to review Vegas strip clubs and escort services - I'll talk cupcakes instead. I just got back from a trip to Las Vegas (no, I didn't stay at the Mint, it was long ago integrated into Binion's) and while there I decided to survey the cupcake situation.

It's a tough job, criss-crossing the vast Las Vegas Valley with its ubiquitous strip malls and endless tracts of identical houses with identical tile roofs. The only rewards were the cupcakes and the occasional sighting of a trashy-hot woman leaving a Fuddruckers or Chili's.

Cupcake shop is in a strip mall unless otherwise noted. Actually, nothing to note, they're all in strip malls.

My first stop was Mad Hatter Cupcakes. The distinctive thing about Mad Hatter is that they frost and fill every cupcake to order. There's a few display items, but whatever you order gets put together right in front of you.

I went with a chocolate banana cupcake, which was a bit better than adequate. The cake was a bit on the spongy side, but that seems to be a frequent feature of banana cake. This store (unlike all the others I visited) actually had a few places to sit down.



As it happens, the strip mall right across the street from the Mad Hatter strip mall is the home of Cupcake Lane. They go with a geography-based theme for their flavors, so I went with Pike Place, which has a caramel-latte theme.

When I purchased the cupcake, the $0.30 in change I received was freezing cold, which was an ominous sign. There was no seating so the cupcake and its container are pictured below in my car. I thought putting the cupcake in a Pork Fried Rice container was odd, but I later found they weren't the only place that does this.

Well, the cupcake was a deeply refrigerated brick. I detected no espresso flavor. It's debatable at best whether a cupcake should ever be refrigerated, but this was absurd. Even if it was room temperature, both the cake and the frosting were of a density that suggested long shelf life more than sensual pleasure.



Next up, in some other anonymous part of the valley, was The Cupcakery. This place really pours it on as far as unique presentations and flavors. Pictured is the Strawberry Shortcake flavor, the cake color was a bit artificial-looking for my taste (and other flavors had other garish cake colors) but the taste and texture were decent and the two frosting textures was a good touch.



I also tried The Cupcakery's Elvis-inspired Trip to Graceland flavor (banana, peanut butter, bacon, and if you look real close there's some glitter-type stuff in the bacon); I will comment on bacon later.

When I left The Cupcakery, I started talking up a waitress at a Greek restaurant next door, telling her who I was, that I was researching Las Vegas cupcakes, and maybe she has some information she'd like to volunteer to me?... and she immediately pointed me to Retro Bakery.

This bakery was the best of the shops I visited. They have variety that doesn't descend into absurdity and the cake was moist without being too soft or spongy.

Below is the Coffee and Donuts flavor, which has donut glaze and a dollop of coffee buttercream. Unfortunately I forgot to photograph it until I had already started consumption.



One of the owners, Kari, served me, so I got to talk to Kari a bit... discussing cupcake issues theoretical and practical, the New York cupcake scene, the Seattle cupcake scene, etc. Kari is clearly a true believer... that's what I like to see.

Retro donates unpurchased cupcakes to a food bank nightly, just like Cupcake Royale, so there will be no refrigerated debacles at Retro Bakery. (update: due to distance, cupcakes are not donated every night to a food bank, but some days are simply dispersed to lucky people at other businesses, etc.).

The most notable thing to me about the Vegas shops, compared to other places, was the sheer variety (sometimes over-variety) of flavors and presentations. I don't know if this is a regional thing, or just new places trying to out-do each other. It certainly contrasts sharply with some of the Seattle shops and New York places like Buttercup, Two Little Red Hens, and Sugar Sweet Sunshine, all of which have a much more traditional vibe to their offerings.

bacon codicil: I had both the aforementioned Trip to Graceland cake from The Cupcakery and the Maple Bacon at Retro. In both cases, the bacon was in a chewier, more jerky-like state than I was expecting, and was a bit under-represented in the overall flavor. I don't think that texture works for me, but perhaps if you go with a crispy-bits bacon approach then other problems emerge.

1 comments:

Retro Bakery said...

Thank you SO much for hanging out with ME. I LOVE talking cupcakes!!!
Glad you enjoyed ours.

ONE THING: we can't donate to a food bank nightly, since we're so far out of town. I usually box them up and donate them to lucky staffs of the businesses that surround us...not QUITE as noble as a food bank (but as you know by our location, it's too much of a drive every night).
Come back ANY TIME!