Cupcake Contest: Sugarbaby's vs. the Cookie Jar
As you may have gathered from that Sex and the City marathon you caught over Christmas, it has recently become socially acceptable - even trendy - for grownups to eat cupcakes. Although the nationwide trend seems to have died down somewhat (I'm pretty sure having a wedding cake made entirely of cupcakes on the Today Show helped with that), Houston's cupcake spots are still popping up and better be ready to hang in for the long haul.
For those looking for the mature version of their childhood treat, there's Sugarbaby's (3310 South Shepherd). The bright pink walls of this Shepherd cupcake boutique are almost as sugary sweet as the smell that surrounds you when you enter.
As a grown-up, I am supposed to be delighted by things like renaming red velvet cake "Velvet Rouge." Saying things in French makes them taste more delicious, right? Clearly I am the only one put off by this title, since I am told that this particular flavor is a bestseller. I decide to get over myself long enough to order one. I also go with the preciously pink strawberry, topped off with an even lighter pink strawberry icing. My friend opts for the carrot cake and a simple vanilla.
"Oh wait, you each want two?" the girl behind the counter says, as if we've just asked her to box up the entire display. Once I explain that yes, we are each quite capable of eating two whole cupcakes, we pay the $3.25 per piece, grab our dainty white trays and head towards the tables. We skip out on the toppings bar, complete with an assortment of eight different sprinkles in glass containers that look like they used to hold Parmesan and red pepper flakes at the local pizzeria, and get to work. The first thing I notice about our snack is that the frosting to cake ratio is way off. The top part of the treat is stacked high above the base looking remarkably similar to Amy Winehouse's old beehive.
Although this is a little daunting, I chow down, trying to get equal parts cake and frosting in my bite. Sure enough, the frosting overpowers the delicate cake and I am left feeling like I've just finished off a can of Duncan Hines. The carrot cake is next. Much like most other things in this store, the cream cheese frosting is a little on the sweet side, but the nutmeg flavor works well to revamp your grandpa's old school treat, and in the end it's a winner.
While we scarf down the rest of our snack, two little girls run in screaming, thrilled to enter a sugarcoated life-size version of Barbie's dream house, only to be shushed by their Gucci-clad mom as employees and other patrons look on in horror. Clearly they are creating too much of a scene in this otherwise serene grown-up only environment. As we go to leave, my friend astutely points out, "If its not going to be a place for children, this should at least be a haven for fat girls."
A couple blocks away sits the almost-finished Cookie Jar (1846 Westheimer), where kids are encouraged to get down and dirty in their own play area. As we once again order up our four cupcakes, we are not given a look of shame, but instead asked if there is "anything else we'd like to sample?" Reassured that we are not complete pigs, we grab a table and dig in. Although most of the décor is currently closer to a demolition site, the Cookie Jar has made a nail-free zone for the kids to play, including a stack of board games that look like they were lugged out of your Uncle Eddie's basement, and an array of stuffed animals for sale reminiscent of Rumplemeyer's, a childhood staple for most New Yorkers.
Although the cupcakes are similarly petite, the icing cake ratio is better matched, creating a more satisfying eating experience. The flavors are unique without being unnecessarily complicated, especially the scrumptious lemon raspberry, which is iced with an adorably kid-friendly pinkish-purple color and a small yellow flower, but gets across a flavor that is serious enough to satisfy any adult. The tres leches, although delish, doesn't translate all too well into cupcake form, and ends up a bit soggy for a fork-free experience; still an interesting attempt, but way too milky to be hands-on. For those who want to go frosting-free, try the snickerdoodle cupcake, which is a nice change of pace from all that cream.
While we eat, the place fills up with actual children, who are screaming and throwing bits of cupcake and other sweets everywhere. I pick up my plate and start to give credence to the idea that maybe kid-friendly isn't always so fabulous. - Sophie Rosenblum
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