Competing for your confection

Not all gourmet cupcakes are created equal

Cupcake

LET ’EM EAT CUPCAKE | From top, Gigi’s, The Cupcakery and Sprinkles’ vanilla cakes vary in their potency of flavor. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

howard lewis russell  | Contributing Writer
hlewisrussell@aol.com

With the fanfare surrounding the arrival of Sprinkles in Dallas five years ago — and its concomitant gangbusters success — a proliferation of me-too cupcake markets inevitably followed.

So which is best? At nearly four bucks a cupcake (about $1 per bite) we decided on a side-by-side comparison of three flavors (vanilla, chocolate, lemon) was warranted. We chose three area competitors: Sprinkles, Gigi’s Cupcakes and The Cupcakery. Each was devoured with a glass of milk.

Let’s just say that all $4 cupcakes are not created equal.

First, the good news: All three cupcake purveyors were impeccably clean, their staffs professionally (even gregariously!) friendly. Were I going in for a surgical procedure rather than a cupcake, they’d each receive four stars.

Indeed, just entering through the doors of these aromatically sparkling stores would send Willy Wonka himself into a swoon.

Sprinkles’ currently offers 24 weekly varieties, although cleverly, not all of them are available every day of the week. Dark chocolate and vanilla are staples, but lemon is only available Mondays, Thursdays and Sundays; ginger lemon takes over the Wednesday citrus spot, while orange fulfills Tuesday’s vitamin C-craving patrons and lemon coconut pinch hits on Friday  (poor, busy Saturday gets left out completely).

The Cupcakery, with five locations including one across from the Crescent, offers 30 styles, including (as do all these confectionaries) seasonal and limited-edition flavors; it will also prepare sugar-free and vegan incarnations. (The Cupcakery’s most distinctive feature is its signature lounge and champagne bar “for sharing your favorite cupcakes on fine porcelain plates with silver forks . . . with that perfect glass of red wine or aged port.”)

Of the three, Gigi’s probably appeals most to children and an adult’s inner child. Each of Gigi’s cakes is topped with something kid-friendly swirled in among the frosting. Its version of vanilla, called “Wedding Cake,” has buttercream frosting sprinkled with white nonpareils; the “Midnight Magic” chocolate is showered with cocoa chips; the “Lemon Dream Supreme” beacons with sparkly yellow sugar crystals and candied lemon slice. Gigi’s also has a loyalty program, offering one free cupcake for every dozen purchased.

That’s all good, but none scored a home run, though two came close.

Sprinkles and Gigi’s chocolate and vanilla cupcakes both received four stars out of a possible four from our two-man panel, while their lemon varieties garnered three stars each. Sprinkles’ lemon was a trifle skimpy on citrus flavor (although the frosting had a tart punch), while Gigi’s lemon faltered with a curd filling that tasted slightly canned (though the lemon jelly-wedge atop was a whimsically delightful flourish).

The Cupcakery’s highest score on any of its three cakes was a disappointing two, bestowed on its chocolate, despite a distinctly weird under-taste (one of us described it as raw, Swiss Miss cocoa; the other felt it tasted bizarrely metallic). The Cupcakery’s one-star vanilla came with an inexplicable pink frosting that tasted, oddly, of nothing but the color pink, while the cake itself had no discernable vanilla flavoring to speak of. Its lemon cupcake was … well, the best said is that it was at least unmistakably yellow (neon/saffron yellow) with watery frosting.

In a world competing to sell cake at $1 per bite, one’s bite-of-cake experience had better darn well be every bit as delicious, or more so, even, than sex itself.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 10, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

Safe bet

Turtle Creek Chorale plays it safe for the holidays — and it shows

concert-2

SANTA’S BACK | The Turtle Creek Chorale continues its tradition of bringing ol’ Saint Nick out for its Christmas concert, but some tweaks might make the show feel more contemporary. (Photo courtesy TCC)

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

Tradition is a funny thing, especially during the holidays. Christmas doesn’t feel like Christmas without Charlie Brown and his sad little tree, or driving through neighborhoods to gawk at the twinkling lights. But while changing routines can shake things up, it’s also a good way to start new traditions.

In the Turtle Creek Chorale’s holiday show My Favorite Things, many of the chorus’ traditions remain intact: The poinsettia dedication, Santa Claus ho-ho-hoing it up, a sign-language version of “Silent Night,” But a spike in the egg nog would not be out of place.

To be fair, the chorale underwent some major changes in the last few months, appointing both a new executive director, David Fisher, and interim conductor, Trey Jacobs, who has had to hit the ground running with a season (and dates!) already announced. You can grant them some slack for that, but the chorale’s opening concert, while at times inspiring, could also feel anemic.

Getting off to an energetic start, a crew of members tells the audience about their indulgences before launching into the show’s title track performance. A humorous and high-spirited tone kicked off the show gloriously, followed by the gorgeously majestic “Gloria Fanfare.” Jacobs wields a confident hold over the solid-sounding voices of the chorale. But that energy takes a major nosedive with a troika of serious and somber numbers.

The small Encore group turn up the silly factor with “An Elf’s Life” but miss the mark. The voices are reliable, but the cast lacks the panache needed for the bit to soar. The number is saved by an Occupy North Pole elf that generates major laughs and applause. The first act ends almost as soon as it begins with spirits high in the always punchy “We Need a Little Christmas.”

Although I don’t quite get the monks-versus-nuns concept for “Hallelujah,” the second half opener is hilarious as singers combine flag corps and Bob Dylan, lifting lyrics on cards in choreographed fashion. Whether on purpose or not, the small mistakes with upside-down cards or missed signals add a comic layer that hopefully they’ll keep.

The same can be said for “Jingle Bells,” as members demonstrate some fancy foot-stepping — part ballet, part drill team, but charming as heck. When confusion ensues as they link arms, it ends up being flat-out hysterical, adding volumes to the light-hearted tone.

These gaffes contribute wonderful charm to the show. But they might consider reverting from the live retelling of “The Christmas Story According to Linus” to the actual recording; a man dressed as Linus just doesn’t convey the tender heart of the original. The accompanying live Nativity only reminds me of my one-line role as a shepherd in my elementary school play, and The Sound of Music’s Maria is a running gag through the show that never quite works.

At times, My Favorite Things is weighed down by an abundance of downbeat songs in succession, and a lack of contemporary tunes does allow for younger audiences (not children necessarily, either) to be reeled in. The twenty-somethings in front of me didn’t seem to connect with the show, giggling and whispering during some of the songs.

But My Favorite Things is still a solid show, even with some misguided nuances. Opening night jitters were apparent, but gave an unexpectedly welcome relief to the concert. Fisher’s poinsettia dedication was anecdotal and beautifully poetic and Jacobs handled the chorale and the audience with experienced savvy. The dreary rain and biting cold didn’t dampen the audience as that other annual chorale tradition occurred: The standing ovation.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 9, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Supreme Court rules on the side of LGBT rights in Washington state case

Clarence Thomas
Justice Clarence Thomas

As the Supreme Court session comes to a close, a number of decisions have been handed down this week. With little fanfare, the court ruled for LGBT rights groups in an 8-1 decision. Only Clarence Thomas voted against, according to the Washington Post.

The Supreme Court ruled that people who sign petitions calling for public votes do not have a right to have their names shielded.

The case involved a Washington state petition to repeal an LGBT domestic partnership law. The anti-marriage group Protect Marriage Washington sued to keep the names of people who signed their petitions secret fearing harassment.

What was surprising about the ruling against the right-wing organization is that the ruling and supporting opinions came from the Court’s own right wing.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion. He said disclosure of names is necessary to ensure their authenticity.

The group argued that petitioners have a right to free speech without fear of harassment. Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that laws are in place to prevent reprisals.

The Supreme Court blocked the release of names until their decision. Names are unlikely to be released until the case goes back to lower courts for review.

In the election, Protect Marriage Washington lost by a vote of 53 percent to 46 percent. Same-sex domestic partnerships are the equivalent of marriage in Washington state law.

Fewer than half of states allow citizens to put initiatives on the ballot through petitions. Texas is not one of them.

—  David Taffet