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

Matt Barber called equality activists ‘purveyors of evil’. But yea, it probably is the SPLC that deserves scorn. Uh huh. Sure.

Matt Barber, Director of Cultural Affairs with Liberty Counsel and Associate Dean with Liberty University School of Law, is among the most incendiary Matt-Barbervoices in the “pro-family” movement. Examples: There was the time Matt said that gay male relationships constitute “one man violently cramming his penis into another man’s lower intestine and calling it ‘love’”; the time Matt called President Barack Obama an anti-american enemy; the time he accused Obama and Barney Frank of being anti-religious bigots; the time he suggested there are “sinister motives” in the Obama White House; the time he agreed with TVC’s Andrea Lafferty that homosexuality is “among a litany of…sexual deviances” that include things like sex with an amputee’s stump and sexual behavior involving feces and urine; the time he likened pro-equality progressives to Fred “God Hates F*gs” Phelps; the time he referred to marriage equality advocates as “purveyors of evil“; the time he compared gay unions to marrying a house plant; the time he said Ellen Degeneres “guides her many adoring housewife fans into rebellion against God’s divine and explicit natural order”; the time he called Google “satanic” for supporting marriage equality; the time he accused gay-friendly media outlets of trying “to make the absurd appear reasonable and normal”; etc., etc.

Now, in a completely self-unaware turn, the undeniably homo-hostile Matt is jumping in to support those groups (like the Family Research Council) who the Southern Poverty Law Center has added to their latest hate groups list. Here’s a brief snip:

Of course, the tired goal of this silly meme is to associate in the public mind’s eye mainstream conservative social values with racism, white supremacy and neo-Nazism. The ironic result, however, is that, as typically occurs with such ad hominem and hyperbolic attacks, the attacker ends up marginalizing himself and galvanizing his intended target (I’m rubber, you’re glue and all that).

Hence, beyond a self-aggrandizing liberal echo chamber, the SPLC – and by extension the greater “progressive” movement – has become largely, as it stews in its own radicalism, just another punch line.

It’s often said that the first to call the other a Nazi has lost the argument.

Congratulations, conservative America: They’re calling you a Nazi. Carry on.

BARBER: SPLC: The wolf who cried ‘hate’ [Wash Times]

Well, actually SPLC isn’t calling anyone a Nazi. But you know who totally does elicit Nazi-dom in his own rhetoric? Bryan Fischer from the American Family Association:

Homosexuality gave us Adolph Hitler, and homosexuals in the military gave us the Brown Shirts, the Nazi war machine and six million dead Jews. Gays in the military is an experiment that has been tried and found disastrously and tragically wanting. Maybe it’s time for Congress to learn a lesson from history.” [SOURCE]

And yet the AFA is the other newly-listed group besides FRC that Matt specifically defends in his above Wash. Times piece! Because again: Unawareness and logical inconsistency rule the far-right day. These folks love to blow smoke into the dog whistles, but they go absolutely apepoop angry when their critics listen in to their dish.

The funny thing? Matt’s Liberty Counsel group was specifically left off the SPLC’s list. They were mentioned, but not added. Does Matt really want to tempt that fate by adding more light to his litany of aggressive insults? Because we’re totally okay with that, if he does. We just wonder if the Liberty Counsel’s benefactors, present or future, really see this as smart strategy.




Good As You

—  admin

Monster house

Gay haunted house expert Jim Shackelford says purveyors of fright make a game out of exploiting fears

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer lopez@dallasvoice.com

MIND YOUR MANORS | Modern haunted houses like Thrillvania in Terrell depend more on invading your space then bloody gross-outs.
MIND YOUR MANORS | Modern haunted houses like Thrillvania in Terrell depend more on invading your space then bloody gross-outs.

First things first: I don’t scare easily. Minus serial killers, speed traps in Highland Park, Palin-Gingrich in 2012 and asking for a raise, there isn’t much that chills the bejeezus out of me — haunted houses included. (Oh, ghosts do frighten me.) So tracking down the occult funhouses for this story should be a cake walk.

But one local aficionado thinks I should be afraid. Very afraid.

“The 13th Street Morgue in Red Oak has a scary, intense vibe,” says Jim Shackelford, an expert on the quasi-paranormal venues that pop up like zombies from a cemetery every October. “Their actors are good at scaring the piss out of people. It’s the place I point people to when they ask for a really scary haunt recommendation. And there was a suicide and murder on the property.”

Wait, an actual murder? OK, I’m not so sure about that one — and I have no doubt that would be too much for anyone accompanying me. (Ahem.) So, for the protection of my friends and haunted housemates, we can bypass this one.

Shackelford is the go-to guy in Dallas for knowledge on the haunted house scene. He takes his appreciation of frights to a new level, along with his partner Jay Westerman, owner of Obscurities Tattoos and Piercing. The couple plans to open their own haunted house in the (very appropriate) year of 2013.

“I started doing scary stuff when I was 9 years old with my parents, so I’ve been interested in it forever,” he says. “I think for me it’s the creativity and the marrying of my professional background in interior design and Halloween.”

If only there were an actual gay haunted house. Imagine it: Meticulously designed, they’d have macabre drag queens, muscled-up executioners and rabid bears popping out from behind French doors and chenille curtains.

I tell Shackelford that haunted houses aren’t all that scary anymore. Thanks to a few tricks cultivated over the years, I can handle anything. For instance, if I’m in a group, I let everyone go first so when I hear screams, I know something is coming up. (See? It takes brains not to be scared — and desensitization.) Blood and gore are mandatory in every B-horror movie, and since the boyfriend and I watch too much torture porn as it is, seeing entrails and lopped-off heads is nuthin — give me a chainsaw-wielding masked man any day.

“Everybody’s afraid of something,” Shackelford says. “But that’s part of the problem: Hollywood is the competition. People are immune to the gory visuals so houses now rely on engaging people a bit more.”

He calls this the startle type. Haunted houses move into more subtle ways of freaking you out. This is not a good thing. If Christine O’Donnell comes after me in a witch hat wielding a burning Constitution, well, that might require diapers. But Shackelford says houses are preying on phobias and personal space and can spot a target with no problem.

“It’s the simplest thing sometimes,” he says. “They camouflage the walls and when you don’t see it, someone appears out of nowhere. That invasion of space freaks people out. The characters look for reactive people to prey on, so if you can, contain yourself.”

He tells me this like I’m the one who screams the most. Like I would be the most afraid. Clearly he is not familiar with my balls of steel.

“Oh and there are some intense hayrides out there,” he adds. “Thrillvania has a trail you hike. When it’s night time, in the middle of nowhere and creatures come from out of nowhere, that’s scary.”

Eeek!

Screams in Waxahachie creates an entire haunted village, but it’s meant to alarm more than cause you to wet yourself — they sell funnel cakes, after all. Thrillvania in Terrell is one of the best 3D attractions and has been featured on the DIY network. With haunted houses like that and Zombie Park in Arlington going high-tech with multimedia effects triggering the heebie-jeebies over outright scares, they are upping the bar on frights. Perhaps this year, I won’t bring mommy with me. You know, I don’t want her to get scared and all.

But perhaps the scariest part of all the haunted houses in the area is Reindeer Manor Abusement Park.

“The 13th Street Morgue is on one side of that park but it’s privately owned,” Shackelford says. “The other side is run by a Boy Scout troop.”

The horror! The horror!

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 22, 2010

—  Kevin Thomas