The new year is but a week away—which means all of those resolutions will soon go into effect.
In order to help you enjoy your final week of gluttony before the diets begin, Chow decided to do quick mini-reviews of four sweets-selling businesses in the midtown area. Enjoy while you can!
4811 E. Grant Road, No. 127
Red Velvet Cupcakery
943 E. University Blvd., No. 165
THE LOWDOWN: Even though these places have different owners, they're so stunningly similar that it makes sense to talk about both of them at once.
They both offer nice selections of cupcakes, as well as a few drinks (sodas, plain coffee, etc.) and spartan, bare-bones decor that doesn't exactly encourage hanging out.
The cupcakes at Red Velvet are slightly smaller and less expensive ($2.75 for one, $30 for a dozen, plus UA students and faculty get a 10 percent discount) than the goodies at CupCakes ($3.25 for one, $19 for a half-dozen; $38 for a dozen). Of the cakes I sampled at the two shops, my favorite was the Southern Belle, the red-velvet cupcake with whipped cream-cheese frosting at Red Velvet, although the New Yorker (chocolate-chip cake with chocolate/vanilla swirl frosting) at CupCakes was a close second; it lost points for being just a bit dry around the edges.
PLUSES: The employees at both shops are helpful and enthusiastic. Red Velvet offers a small selection of mini cupcakes (99 cents or $10 for a dozen), which is a nice touch.
MINUSES: The Red Velvet Web site has the menu for its Washington, D.C., stores. Perhaps the Tucson store has the same menu, but seeing as the prices on the D.C. menu are different (and higher), how do we know that the cupcake selection isn't different?
As for CupCakes, they vary their menu depending on the day of the week—but there is no menu listed for Sunday, even though the store is open. They offer "whatever the baker feels like," one of the employees told me.
THE VERDICT: Both of these places are fine if you want to get a decent cupcake (or a dozen) to go. But you won't want to hang out for long.
3308 E. Grant Road
THE LOWDOWN: This little bakery is known for tasty cakes—Marco's came in an impressive third for Best Custom Cakes in this year's Best of Tucson®—but I'd also heard that Marco's sells wonderful cookies, brownies and other baked goods.
I confirmed this fact on a recent Saturday, when I dropped in to check out the display case. A decent selection of treats—cookies, brownies, croissants, muffins and even a little bit of gelato from what was once the Gelato! Dessert Café—tempted me. I told one of the owners, Jim Heath, that I was looking into ideas for a party I may be having after the first of the year. He confirmed that Marco's was best known for their cakes, but promised everything was good.
I decided to get one each of the three cookies in the case to go ($1.30 each): a gingersnap, a chocolate-chip cookie with nuts, and a peanut-butter cookie. Jim said they had just taken some oatmeal/cranberry/macadamia-nut cookies out of the oven, so I said to throw in one of those, too.
PLUSES: That oatmeal/cranberry/macadamia-nut cookie was amazing. I ate about half of it upon arriving home, and I consider it an extreme act of kindness and charity that I offered the other half to Garrett. The other three cookies were enjoyable, but, damn, that oatmeal/etc. cookie was amazing.
MINUSES: While there is a table at which one could presumably sit down and munch on a pastry, this is not a hangout spot. Also, I asked Jim for a list of offerings, and he referred me to the Marco's Web site. While the site has an impressive list of cake types and fillings, it's vague regarding other bakery offerings, and there are no prices.
THE VERDICT: I'll be visiting Marco's if and when that party ever happens. Or when I find out that they have more of those oatmeal/cranberry/macadamia-nut cookies.
2485 N. Swan Road, No. 141
THE LOWDOWN: This café has two claims to fame: Tasty gelato, and coffee from Caffe Luce, which produces some of Tucson's best joe. Both those fame claims have merit.
Garrett and I walked in and were immediately confronted with more than two dozen gelato offerings. The friendly and helpful server said we could sample as many as we wanted; I ultimately chose a child's-size cup (3.5 ounces for $3.29) of the stracciatella (chocolate-chip gelato); Garrett picked the chocolate peanut butter gelato. Both were splendid.
I also ordered a latte. It took a while for the server to make it, but that's because he was taking his time, and doing it right. That works for me.
I also sampled the house-made almond biscotti (various flavors are available; one piece for 50 cents, three for $1.25). The pieces were solid enough to stand up to dipping, but soft enough to enjoy eating dry.
PLUSES: This is a place where I could truly hang out, with plenty of tables and chairs (some of which are rather comfortable) and cool modern lamps; music (more on this later) from a radio is played at an appropriate level. Plus, as I mentioned, the coffee and gelato are mighty fine.
MINUSES: After perusing the Web site, which says the café opens every day at 11, we showed up on a Sunday at 1 p.m.—only to find a sign saying that the café now doesn't open until 3 p.m. on Sunday. How hard is it to update a Web site?
And that aforementioned music was ... Christian pop, complements of "K-LOVE" 88.1.
THE VERDICT: I like this place. Not sure about that music, though.