At the end of a daytrip to the city with the kids, I always get a singular craving on the way home. We hit Lake Shore Drive going north and I must have a cupcake. Or two. A few bites of cake and cream are the perfect ending to an afternoon at the zoo or the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.
I'm lucky. Cupcakes are hot hot hot these days. Besides Chicagoland's wealth of bakeries that offer cupcakes (Sweet Mandy B's, Bittersweet, Deerfield Bakery), stand-alone shops selling the diminutive cakes are popping up like daffodils in spring. (My friend Ann says Swirls makes the prettiest cupcakes ever.) My favorite? The simply named, simply appointed Cupcakes. In a tiny jewel box of a storefront just off Broadway, you will find an adorable shop selling nothing but the tiny round cakes, displayed like so many pretty hats. Their flavors are inventive (Dr. Pepper! Chocolate Merlot! Salted Caramel!) and they offer "buy some — get some free" cards, but horrors! They close the shop when they sell out. We've been burned by that "Closed" sign, but hope springs eternal.
But wait! Do I see a new cupcake shop? With Rock Star parking? (That's family slang for an empty spot out front.) I couldn't resist.
Molly's Cupcakes had just the right mix of whimsy to charm my kids: The name comes from a teacher who shared her favorite recipe and just happens to bear the same name as Mia's pre-school teacher. We found a free table complete with empty chairs and a game of Connect Four. Mia got a chocolate cupcake in a tiny flower pot, sprinkled with cookie crumb "dirt" and adorned with gummy worms. Nora and I shared a plate of four miniature cakes in Molly's house flavors - chocolate, vanilla, red velvet and carrot. (Please understand "sharing" for us is Nora taking a few licks at the frosting, then Mommy gobbling up the rest.) The subtle bite of sweet-sour in the carrot cake's cream cheese frosting was a pleasant surprise. And at the counter we found wooden seats suspended from the ceiling on chains so we could take a gentle swing before we hit the road. Adorable. Perfect for kids.Continued on the next page