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The Cute Issue: Up With Cups

cupcakeUp With Cups

A taste of Philly cutest cakes.


I encountered the cupcake fetish early one Sunday afternoon as I strolled around lower Manhattan nibbling on an oversized (and at $5, overpriced) red velvet cupcake with cream cheese frosting from Dean and Deluca. My cupcake suddenly became a handheld accessory, a conversation-starter among the post-brunch masses walking off their eggs Benedict and double americanos.

“Where’d you get your cupcake?” several passers- by enviously implored, while others oohed and aahed, pointing at my treasure just in case their companions hadn’t caught a glimpse for themselves. Suddenly the puglets and toy spaniels paled in cuteness compared to my admittedly quite lovely cupcake.

“I hate to bring everything back to 9/11, but I do think it spurred this whole thing with comfort food and accessibility and giving up a sense of having to pontificate on a dessert instead of just enjoying it,” says Rebecca Michaels, owner of Flying Monkey Patisserie ($1.75-$2. 12th and Arch sts. 215.928.0340) in the Reading Terminal Market.

Before moving to Philly, Michaels, 32, made cupcakes in her East Village apartment, and supplied them to local cafes and lounges. At Flying Monkey she bakes up more than two dozen flavors, topping the basic pound cake or chocolate cake with a creamy, buttery icing that ranges from simple vanilla or raspberry to more sophisticated apricot, lavender or spiced tea flavors. (Flying Monkey cupcakes are kept refrigerated, so allow a few minutes to warm to room temperature, or nuke for 10 seconds before devouring.)

If you prefer toppings with your icing, visit the cupcake display at Grocery Market and Cafe ($1.75. 13th and Chestnut sts. 215.922.5252. www.grocery13.com), where all the icing is mixed and batter baked on the premises each morning. Try the Plain Jane (Madagascar bourbon vanilla cake with a creamy vanilla frosting covered in a layer of crunchy miniature vanilla dots), or if you’re craving some salt along with all that sugar, the Little Lolita (chocolate-ancho cake with cream cheese frosting topped with goat’s milk caramel and chile toffee peanuts).

Just down the street from Grocery, Naked Chocolate Cafe ($2-$2.25. 1317 Walnut St. 215.735.7310. www.nakedchocolatecafe.com) is a favorite stop for UArts students in desperate need of a sugar high. The vanilla cupcake with a candy-sweet strawberry glaze decorated with a pinch of crunchy crystal sprinkles is perfectly packaged cuteness, while the “cupcake of the week” specials—past concoctions include a blueberry cake with lemon frosting, and an orange cake topped with honey lavender buttercream—will satisfy even jaded cupcakistas.

Isgro’s and Di Bruno Bros. will serve you a fine basic cupcake (with jimmies to match the nearest holiday), but if you’re in the Italian Market head instead to Gleaner’s Cafe ($2. 917 S. Ninth St. 215.923.3205), where the cupcakes (chocolate mint, carrot cake, chocolate peanut butter, etc.) are supplied by Homemade Goodies on Fifth and Lombard. On a recent visit the cupcakes were a little dry, but the warm orange walls, mosaic bar and Where the Wild Things Are-themed cafe table upped the cute factor plenty.

And for a little Southern charm by way of Northern Liberties, nowhere in the city beats Brown Betty Dessert Boutique (1030 N. Second St. 215.629.0999. www.brown bettydesserts.com) for classic red velvet cupcakes. The dusty-rose velvet sofa, dark-wood tables, glass-encased decorative cakes and short stack of wedding magazines lend a Victorian drawing room aesthetic to the cafe area. But take a bite of the lush scarlet cake, and lick off the creamy-tangy frosting and all that aw fades to mmm.