This Memorial Day weekend my friend Kim and I went on a cupcake walking tour with Great New York Tours. Admittedly we were a bit surprised at how many people came out for food walking tours on a holiday weekend. But hey, people like food and to see new places around the city so why the heck not indulge in one. First things first though, Kim and I ate actual savory food pre-tour. Having done self-made tours with friends I knew that I would be craving actual food with all the sweets so better to get in some salad and soup beforehand leaving yourself ready to indulge. It turns out others on the tour did not consider this and there was some moaning as we got to our third and fourth locations (passing many eateries along the way) that the desire for something outside of sweets was vocalized. So there's a plan for you. If you're doing a walking tour of sweets only, make sure to eat beforehand or prep to do so somewhere in there.
Anywho, onto the tour! The sun was out but it started to get a might bit cloudy with the anticipation of rain. Yet it was fine for walking and scouting out shops. We all met up at the corner of Union Square Park (West) and then proceeded to our first location: Baked by Melissa.
I've had Baked by Melissa before and find the cupcakes okay. They are very much bite sized and I can gulp one down in a second (really, I can). Though the cupcakes are good and the variety of flavors do make them a catch. Melissa's first opened as a teeny shop in SoHo six years ago and has steadily grown in that time to have several locations in NYC (even in Long Island).
We got to enjoy May's mini-of-the-month which was the Neapolitan cupcake. A vanilla cake with chocolate icing and strawberry filling (that was also a dollop on top surrounded by chocolate). In one bite you got the vanilla, chocolate, and fruity strawberry flavor. I enjoyed it as did the others and I would recommend trying it before the month of May is out. Also, if you go I'd suggest the cookie dough. Really any of the minis with fillings are the ones to get for the added taste. Just their cupcake with frosting is not enough flavor, at least for me.
Next up was a staple in NYC. You may see as many Crumbs Bake Shop in Manhattan as you see Starbucks which tells you of their popularity. Crumbs is a brand I used to swear by when I was in my early 20s and they first started branching out.
At Crumbs our guide Mallory brought out a couple variety mini packs, thankfully. If you've ever been to Crumbs one of their big items was the ginormous cupcake as big as ones face. I am not joking. Check the size out. They have minis, "normal" size, gigantic, and also one ridiculously big cupcake that serves as a cake I guess.
It was first come/first serve in terms of the flavor you got and with me and Kim being in the back of the line I ended up with red velvet. (This would become a trend for the remainder of the tour for me.)
The red velvet was not good. And as I've come to see Crumbs cupcakes are not the pinnacle of cupcakes. If you should eat one cupcake before you pass on to the next life, Crumbs should not be it. The red velvet was nothing like red velvet. It was somewhat dry, the icing was buttercream (a hard buttercream) with sprinkles that was piled too high onto the cake itself. Having a grandmother of Southern roots who can make red velvet cake in her sleep has left me a bit spoiled and quite critical. Do not get their red velvet.
A bit more walking lead us to Amorino Gelato. Mallory called this the "palate cleanser" of our six-dessert course. Amorino is tres fancy and apparently this location in Greenwich village is the only one in the United States with the main being in Europe. Yes, NYC gets almost everything good.
Within minutes Mallory returned with a cup full of spoons and a tub of mango sorbet. She dug in giving each of us a healthy spoonful and we, or at least I, marveled at the creamy texture and natural flavor of mango that was so rich it really did hit all the taste buds. I don't know how much their sorbet costs but I will buy it in gallons! It trumps anything I've had by Haagan Dazs and of course the magic words are "all natural."
There was more walking along University Place passing many street vendors selling their art and a foray into Washington Square Park for brief pictures. The whole tour Mallory was giving us historical facts not just about cupcakes but about NYC locations we passed and I have to say it felt as though Mallory were made for this kind of tour. Her voice elevated, she knew when her jokes were corny, and she was efficient at each and every location taking care to make sure no one was lost or strayed too far behind.
After some walking we got to West 3rd Street and Molly's Cupcakes, a place I had passed many times, making a mental note to return there but had not actually been to.
Molly's is a fairly new cupcake establishment but is one that has some awards behind it. Most notably, to me, was the fact that the owner won the first Food Network Cupcake Wars which I used to watch on the regular.
Lucky us that we would not be getting minis but full sized cupcakes, or perhaps not so lucky as we were two-thirds of the way through a sweets tour. We got to choose our cake and our icing with the knowledge that our proceeds from doing this tour would have a portion go to a charitable organization. Sweets for a cause. I like it.
I went with the red velvet and cream cheese icing.
And I gotta tell you. I have NO regrets on that one. The cream cheese icing was perfect. Creamy, rich, with the perfect cream cheese/sugar balance. It was not too much icing but the taste heavy enough to balance out with the moist cake. Now the cake didn't have the chocolatey taste (as red velvet is basically a chocolate cake with red dye), however, red velvet is also a light chocolate cake in that it contains the powder and not many other items to enrich the chocolate taste. Yet, you should be able to sense some chocolate in there. Nonetheless, would I get this cupcake combo again? Hell yes. And a taste of the brown butter icing was exactly how brown butter tastes. Spot on, Molly's Cupcakes.
We headed up Bleecker then off into some back streets to go to our next location. Not for cupcakes but to eat part of what was in the bakery's name: Milk & Cookies Bakery. At Milk & Cookies we were treated to the salted oat cookie. An oat cookie with toffee and white chocolate bits and crystallized salt on top. The cookie was a treat, large considering we'd just had a few cupcakes. It was crumbly around the edges yet soft in the middle making it all kinds of chewy in your mouth. The toffee and white chocolate and oat mix was well done but the crystallized salt bits on top deterred in that it gave the sweetness a heavily salty kick. I would suggest a flaky salt rather than the drops of salt to be a bit more subtle. But again, a good cookie.
Our next and last stop was the original location of Magnolia Bakery before it became a thing. (Thanks Sex in the City.)
And it was at this point that the skies opened up and started to drizzle, rain, than downright pour down on us.
Under umbrellas Mallory, smartly, divided the cupcakes with the group and provided boxes so that we could take them home. Anticipating that we'd be sugared out and want to get the hell out of the rain ASAP. And what cupcake did we get from Magnolia? You guessed it, red velvet with vanilla buttercream.
Kim and I boxed our cupcakes and rushed to Five Guys to avoid the rain that continued on in heavy and light stretches for another hour or so. (Thanks Five Guys for housing us!) I ate my cupcake as we waited the rain out and talked. The buttercream in this case was a nice whipped one that worked better texture-wise than the buttercream on the Crumbs red velvet. Also, the cupcake was better than I remember. The last time I had a red velvet from Magnolia (about 3 years ago) it was not that good. This one had more of the chocolatey taste that Molly's lacked but again, I was quite upset about the pairing of red velvet and vanilla buttercream. For me, red velvet needs cream cheese icing. It requires it. Maybe that's a purist attitude or not. But it just isn't red velvet for me.
In sum, I had many tasty items and was introduced to three new eateries and was reminded of why I did or kind of liked the others I had had in the past. The tour was under 2 hours. There was fun--I'd suggest bringing a friend. Mallory was de-lightful. And for the most part the weather cooperated so that we didn't lose momentum. Well organized all around.
What I would say is that at $50/per person seems a bit high in price for what you get. But I also understand a portion goes to the bakeries and leaders like Mallory. I got this at a Groupon price and would suggest that. Perhaps the other food tours may give you more for the $50 fee but 2 mini cupcakes, 2 full cupcakes, a cookie, and a spoonful of sorbet don't quite add up to this for me and if you knew the itinerary you could get all that for quite a bit less. BUT, what you are going is for the experience and fun of it--and it is fun.
Lastly: Dear Great New York Tours, Please drop Crumbs from your cupcake line up. I know it's convenient because it's on the current tour route but there are better places! If you extended the route a bit or started it elsewhere and weaved around the Lower East Side I know you could find other places. Just a suggestion. Your friend, Jenn.
And that, was my weekend cupcake walking tour.