Sweet Tooth

Not your mama's cupcakes
David Fick
3338 University Ave. SE, Minneapolis

Hey, that wasn't you I saw last week, sitting in front of the principal's office, in trouble for planting that plastic snake in the hamster's cage? Oh, it was you? My God, what were you thinking? You do know what's fresh in everyone's minds, don't you? Yes, I do refer here to the Inky-Spitball Incident, the debacle concerning the Mud in Locker 13, and even, yes, the Paper Airplanes of Catastrophic All-School Assembly Disruption. Yes, people do still remember that one. Grownups, you know, remember all kinds of unpleasant things.

Oh, don't get your slingshot all in a twist. Just go on out there and find an old lady's yard to rake, and fast--because, kid, there is a new cupcake in town, and trust me, you want in.

Oh, did I say a new cupcake? I meant 30 new cupcakes. Like the s'mores one, in which a puck of chocolate cake, as lush as pudding, as rich as Al Gore's sense of irony, crouches beneath a marshmallow topping as thick, sweet, and sticky as Tammy Faye Baker in a bathtub full of honey. And it doesn't end there. Oh, no. At the crown of this rich, thick, sweet, sticky whopper of a humdinger is a cute little rectangle of graham cracker, and a darling little square of chocolate bar. Is this cupcake worth $2.95? If you need to ask, you obviously haven't considered the price lately of baseball cards, Barbie clothes, or pure unadulterated joy.

I mean, cupcakes, people! Or rather, Cupcake, a new coffee shop on University Avenue in the Prospect Park, Midway, and east University area. The place has been brought to us by Kevin VanDeraa, a recent Chicago transplant who came to our fair city after fleeing a corporate career in PR and having a transformative experience. "I was at the gym, on the treadmill, and saw an ad for culinary school, and then I just couldn't stop thinking about pastry. Next thing you know, I'm enrolled in pastry school." (Now, see how productive Kevin is? And all I ever do when I'm at the gym thinking about pastry is to throw my barbells over my shoulder as I clatter out the door in pursuit of some damn pastry.) Anyhoo, when Kevin got out of school he spent some time working in the kitchens at Chicago's Ritz-Carlton and a wedding-cake specialist called the House of Fine Chocolates. Then he moved here, mounted an insanely large blue coffee cup on the corner of his building, and threw the doors open at Cupcake.

Now, if you are over 12 years old, or are burdened with such folks and their dull issues as you attempt to enjoy your day, you will be glad to hear that in addition to cupcakes, this place has healthy salads, simple and likable homemade soups, all the regulation coffees, teas, lattes, and such, and some very nice baked-to-order pizzas, which come on light, fluffy, fresh crusts and are topped with grown-up things like asparagus and prosciutto. In fact, it is possible to enjoy Cupcake, with its high ceilings, cheerful and modern design (it seems like a great set for Lisa Kudrow in a Friends spinoff) and healthful salads without ever trying a cupcake. And it's probably possible to sail across the ocean without ever considering the water.

I mean, how about that chocolate mascarpone cupcake? Drier than the s'mores one, but more purely, more fragrantly chocolatey, boasting an elegant profile and a decorous hat of three dried cherries. This chocolate mascarpone sometimes sits in the case next to the red velvet cupcakes, which are topped with jester's hats of wildly splaying conical cream cheese icing spires, and choosing between them is almost physically painful. The red velvet is a Southern specialty in which red food coloring makes a subtly cocoa-inflected chocolate cake glow like fireplace embers. But it's the cream cheese icing that's the big draw here; the stuff is pure and fresh, full of vanilla and clean as a dawn sunbeam.

If that doesn't seem like enough draw for you, maybe a little terror will motivate you: Why, even as you read this, evil despots are trying to ban our cupcakes! It is true. Why, just last month the Associated Press ran a wire story exposing the fiendish exploits of one Robert Davis, a principal at Meadowside Elementary in Milford, Connecticut, who has forbidden the transportation and distribution of cupcakes within his school walls, ordering that children must instead celebrate their birthdays with crafts and games.

Educational games, no doubt.

No, I can't believe it myself. I agree. A birthday without cupcakes is like a frog without the hop, like a water slide without the drop, like a sock puppet robbed of its sock. And if you want to ride your scooter out to Connecticut to barrage the place with spitballs, I can't stop you. But I can recommend that you stock up your knapsack with cupcakes before you go.

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3338 University Ave. SE
Minneapolis, MN 55414



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