FOODfare: The New Sprinkles La Jolla
I’m not a member of the glitterati. Red carpet events aren’t my thing and I do my best to keep as far away as possible from celebrity affairs. The closest I get to glamorous get-togethers are openings of high profile restaurants and, even those tend to be pretty modest affairs. So you can imagine my surprise when I rolled up on the opening of a miniscule storefront in The Shops at La Jolla Village center in the UTC area to find a mob of media, many decked out in full make-up and swanky attire, sipping Veuve Cliquot and scarfing down…cupcakes?
This was the scene at the pre-open soiree marking the arrival of San Diego’s very own Sprinkles Cupcakes. The eighth link in a chain sprouting from the first-ever designer cupcakery, Sprinkles was founded in Beverly Hills just five short years ago by Candace Nelson. Since then, the business has become a blockbuster success, gaining a fan base among Hollywood’s elite, and Nelson has gone on to enjoy her own taste of stardom as a judge on the Food Network series, Cupcake Wars.
I’d seen Nelson on TV and heard all the hype, but still found myself severely unprepared for the event where the cupcake maven herself was on-hand, wafting about, smiling and gracious, to talk and pose for photos with reporters, friends and fans. Guests were invited to tour the kitchen en route to the store itself where a bounty of Nelson’s co-stars, her cupcakes, awaited a curious and hungry crowd.
Now, I love sugars, whether granulated, powdered or fermented, so it didn’t take me long to fall in line. I drank my champagne. I sampled cupcakes. They were good. I mean, have you ever had a bad cupcake? But, honestly, even riding on one of the most potent sugar highs of my life, I couldn’t comprehend what all the fuss was about, not just with Sprinkles, but the entire gourmet cupcake trend.
At one point, someone asked me where the best cupcake I’ve ever had was from. After a moment spent contemplating a question I’d never have believed I’d be asked in my lifetime (after all, who’d have imagined metropolitan cities across the nation would become inundated by scores of bakeries devoted to one treat…and such a smallish one at that…you just know old school bakers who had to master everything from pie to petit fours have to be boiling away like a pot full of caramel watching these boutique operations flourish behind such a simplistic niche), I answered honestly—“probably my mother’s house.”
As the man accompanying the fellow food writer who’d posed the query echoed the exact same answer, I was distracted by a ruckus directly to my left. I turned and saw a young woman trying to open the shop’s locked front door. There were several people standing behind her, gazing into the store with wonder and gleeful anticipation, but as soon as they discovered the door was locked, a simultaneous flush of defeat rushed over them, melting their smiles into the saddest frowns I’ve ever seen. Some hung their heads and shuffled away while the girl who’d tried to open the door stood there, staring uncomprehendingly while clutching a cup of frozen yogurt that suddenly held about as much appeal as a bowl of Alpo.
It was so heart-breaking I almost felt guilty that something so coveted should be wasted on a non-believer like me. Here were people clamoring to get even a crumb or a finger’s worth of frosting off these simple, tiny cakes. Had they not heard that there are over a dozen other similar cupcake-specific shops spread like creamy vanilla icing across the county? And speaking of that phenomenon, when exactly did our nation become so obsessed with a treat that was previously only en vogue at children’s birthday parties? When did they start standing in line for them (or worse yet, driving long distances to get them like San Diegans did, trekking to Sprinkles’ Newport Beach and L.A. locations just to get a fix before the company settled down in La Jolla)?
There are very few things in life I’ll stand in line for and a cupcake, no matter how good, sure as heck ain’t one of ‘em. Still, judging by the cacophonous buzz and the line that was wrapped around the building when Sprinkles finally let those star-struck sugar-deprived gawkers in for the first time on Thursday, I’m in the minority. I may not understand what it is about these petite treats that merits such widespread and deep-seeded devotion and, sure I could waxpessimistic and blame it on Hollywood allure or brand name hysteria, but in the end, it is what it is. Cupcakes taste good and they make people happy. They’re something comfy and familiar that take us back to simpler, happier times and, in this increasingly unsettling world of ours, how can that be a bad thing?
And I do have to say, if I were going to bide my time in some mile-long queue like a ravenous lab rat craving a hit from the feeder bar and if I could somehow miraculously convince my inner tightwad to part with $3.50 for a solitary cupcake, this would be the place where I’d opt to do it. They may not have my mom’s overly-simple version of this dessert beat, but they do have some exceptional offerings among the two-dozen options on their menu board.
Tops among them, in my humble opinion, is the orange cupcake, which bursts with citric flavor thanks to the addition of fresh orange juice and zest. A cake studded with chocolate chips and lovingly smeared with a formidable topcoat of peanut butter frosting is another standout for those craving a bit more decadence. Then there’s a chocolate marshmallow variety, which comes across on the palate like an old friend—namely a Hostess Ding Dong. The latter, like all of Sprinkles’ cacao-based cupcakes, is made using Belgian Callebaut chocolate, which is regarded by the majority of confectioners as being the finest variety on the market.
It’s flavor and quality like that—versus the fact that celebs too skinny to know anything of value about junk food like them—that make Sprinkles a winner.
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