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

QUEER CLIP: ‘ANONYMOUS’

Travel-2At its heart, Anonymous is no more historically accurate than Shakespeare in Love, a film with which it shares several characters but little else — either plot or tone. In Love, the Bard was shown as a capable playwright finally inspired by a woman to greatness; Queen Bess showed up at the end to sanctify him. In Anonymous, he’s portrayed as an illiterate (even murderous) gold-digger, a front for the true author of great plays, Edward de Vere, Duke of Oxford (Rhys Ifans, pictured, who’s never been better), a paramour of QE1 (Vanessa Redgrave — dotty, sad, brilliantly unfettered and honest).

This is a far cry from the brainless actioners director Roland Emmerich usually churns out, but historical fudging aside, it’s endlessly entertaining and dramatic, with twists worthy of Shakespeare himself. We “learn” who killed gay playwright Kit Marlowe, and which royals were buggering (or wanted to) others. For Bard fans, it’s a hoot; for movie fans, a gorgeous, compelling romp, well acted and sure to be an Oscar favorite. That’s something else it has in common with Shakespeare in Love.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

Four stars. Now playing at AMC NorthPark and Landmark’s Magnolia Theatre.

—  Kevin Thomas

Break out the circumcision jokes

As the Life+Style editor here, I get a lot of pitches for stories. Lately, people have been really hawking the Bible (“Who was Moses?,” “How can we get kids to read the Bible more?”), but easily the oddest one today was this from the Jewish Community Center of Dallas, which is hosting a one-night-only performance of a comedy — yes, comedy — called Circumcise Me. OK, now the flier itself describes the show as “on the cutting edge” so they at least get the joke, but really? I mean, where can we go with this?

So I throw it out there to you: What are your favorite zingers to describe this kind of show? I’ll get us started: “Might as well bring your friends — after all, the mohel, the merrier”… or how about, “Four stars? I give it foreskins!” … or maybe, “A slice of life story.”

Let’s hear yours.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Movie Monday: ‘Black Swan’ in limited release

Darren Aronofsky’s ballet movie ‘Black Swan’ luxuriates in weirdness.

Based on my vast inside information about the behind-the-scenes world of professional ballet — which I have culled exclusively from watching The Turning Point, The Company, parts of Fame and now this film, Black Swan — not much about dance has changed over 35 years, at least in New York City. Dancers still live in cramped walk-ups and take the 3 train from Lincoln Center to TriBeCa (or worse, the NRW to Queens) and exit only at ill-lit and ominous stations. They still wear leg-warmers and wrap their gnarled feet in worn slippers. The corps is always led by a shriveled Russian crone, her silver hair pulled tight into a ponytail, her wattle buried behind chunky jewelry. There’s also always a priggish, demanding European choreographer-artiste, possibly the only straight man in all of dance who belittles then sexually exploits every new ballerina.But there’s also always one tortured aspirant, whose drive and talent are her salvation and her undoing.

Yes, in the first half hour of Black Swan, director Darren Aronofsky and writers Andres Heinz, Mark Heyman and John J. McLaughlin, don’t miss a single cliché either visually (uppity versions of Flashdance) or plot-wise. And then something remarkable happens: The film becomes Hitchcockian — or rather, early Polanski, who stole from Hitch better than anyone, and delves into areas of insanity and fantasy you don’t expect. It doesn’t erase all that came before it, but it leaves you with an unsettled feeling that’s difficult to shake.

Four stars. For the complete review, click here.

DEETS: Black Swan. Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Barbara Hershey, Vincent Cassel. Rated R. 105 mins. Now playing at the Magnolia and the Angelika Film Center–Plano

—  Rich Lopez