As a dessert fiend, I know where to get cake in Houston. For an airily-crumbed yellow cake with fudgy chocolate frosting, Empire Cafe is the ticket (preferably on a Monday, to take advantage of half-price cake day). For thick layers of a densely-sprinkled vanilla slice with pure white frosting? Sweet by Tout Suite. For a simpler slice of chocolate cake, Benjy's Mom's Chocolate Cake or the ethereal Nutella chocolate cake from Oui Desserts...but for a knock-down, time-of-month, total surrender kind of chocolate cake, it doesn't get more decadent than The Chocolate Bar.
So when LA-conceived SusieCakes came to town, I was both intrigued and skeptical. Does Houston really need another bakery? (Spoiler alert: yes.)
SusieCakes bills itself as an All-American bakery with classic desserts made from scratch using natural ingredients. The scent is otherworldly when you enter the bright, turquoise-hued space. There's usually a little sample tray lined with minuscule bites of various treats to the right of the display cases, often proffered by friendly attendants.
The most eye-catching feature is a toss-up between the towering layer cakes (the sprinkle-filled Celebration cake measures six layers tall) or the colorful array of frosted and sprinkled cupcakes, boasting flavors like peanut butter, strawberry, mocha and flourless chocolate. But don't overlook the other treats: enormous discs of chocolate chip cookies, dense brownie triangles, whoopie pies, plus a couple pies and puddings.
The thing about American baking is that there's no subtlety. Chocolate chip cookies should be an ethereal amalgam of caramelized brown sugar, chocolate, flour and salt, and SusieCakes hits all the right notes in its cookies: great lumps of chocolate nestled in a salty, buttery dough with a tender, just-fudgy enough texture. Cupcakes are topped with plumes of frosting so thick, they make it difficult to reach the actual cake on your first bite. I wasn't complaining when the frosting in question was a smooth, pastel, perfectly mint-y frosting topping the chocolate mint cupcake, though others thought the frosting ratio was too heavy. Rich swoops of chocolate buttercream nearly bury the lede in the chocolate layer cake.
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Susan Sarich, the founder of SusieCakes, built SusieCakes to be a friendly, old-fashioned neighborhood experience where cake can bring celebration to an ordinary day. And despite its location in the relatively ritzy Rice Village, there is something quaint about the brightly sprinkled cupcakes and the neatly arrayed cakes with slightly tilting layers—as though everything was made by someone's grandma, but cranked up the polish a few levels.
I found the stunning layers of the Celebration cake a touch spongier and drier than the moist, dense layers of my all-time favorite sprinkle cake in Houston, but it was still delicious and the turquoise frosting is a fun touch—perfect for a festive birthday celebration. The old-fashioned chocolate layer cake was a good, straightforward rendition of fluffy chocolate cake and lots of rich chocolate buttercream. What I really fell for was the classic marble cake, with layers of chocolate and vanilla speckled cake interspersed with swoops of tangy vanilla buttercream and dark chocolate frosting. Other flavors of cake that include carrot cake, red velvet, lemon, coconut, and a rotating seasonal specialty. Each sizeable slice of cake is $6.50, which is a pretty good deal when you consider other slices around town that range from $7-$10 (cupcakes are comparable to other bake shops at $3.75 each).
In my opinion, although there are plenty of choices for dessert in the Houston area, what will keep a lot of people going back to SusieCakes is not the loyalty program (although you can free treats for registering an account on the SusieCakes rewards app), but their simple, sweet nostalgia-evoking offerings that look festive enough for any occasion and will particularly appeal to those with the sweetest of sweet tooths.