Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Gigi's Cupcakes

One could say that it is my fault. That this experience I am about to relay to you is fluffed up nonsense full of unhealthy ideas about how life is supposed to be.

And, in all fairness, one might be correct.

But, as in all things, this is my tale the way that I see it.

I’ve recently been trying to pretend, at least to myself, that I’m somewhat domestic. There may be little or no truth to this, but I am filled with the very dark and clawing need to fit in with my peers. They make pot roast, and I don’t even know from what animal springs said roast. Not just my peers but also now my friends are guilty of making a spectacle of their talents in my presence. They make homemade birthday cakes in the shape of My Little Pony castles, they make homemade pancakes (who knew you didn’t need Bisquick?!) and they use homemade organic floor cleaner that smells like expensive bath salts.

I really did vow on my recent trip to California to clean up my act. I’m 27, and it really is high time that I made dinner for my family more than once a quarter, and I might even need to clean a toilet. But all of that personal reflection and self-loathing is for another day. I mention it simply to help you better understand my frame of mind on this past hot Friday afternoon.

The girls and I dropped Austin off to tutor yet another overachieving child in Latin. We had just at an hour to fill, and for once I had no need or even desire to go to Target. Pregnancy will cause all kind of sadness, and I’m reporting a shocking lack of desire to shop or be around normal sized people. Good thing I live in Ugly Smyrna where most people need motorized carts to lug their morbidly obese selves around the Twinkie and Moon Pie aisle.

Well, I had a bit of a surprise for my lovely children. Today, whilst bemoaning my true identity as an office rat, I looked up job openings for History Professor at Oxford University. And then, when I sadly didn’t qualify, I looked for ideas for ‘cheap outings that last under an hour in the Nashville/Cool Springs area’.

Enter Gigi’s Cupcakes.

However you feel about the so-called cupcake craze, you can at least admit that it is a novel idea in the history of baked goods. (The previous sentence does not apply if you have the good fortune to be living in Europe.)

Americans have loved their ice cream stores, their soda shops of yore, and found a place in their breakfast diets for doughnuts. Chocolatiers are no longer novel, but no less loved. Other than these few offerings, there are very few stores devoted wholly to one type of sweet. Americans are finding that a small bit of sweetie might not be unpatriotic, and indeed might even be exciting. Small bits of quality made decadence, cheerful clean environments, and knowledgeable shop owners. Could we be raising our class standards? Dare I hope?

Well, after perusing the retro-mod layout of the very helpful and informative website, I decided that this indeed was the place I would take my kids today. I made macaroni and cheese with Velveeta for them last night, but GOSH DARN IT, today I would give them homemade perfection! First steps first, right?

My girlish excitement grew when I looked at the daily menu. Small pieces of baked perfection winked at me with their array of natural looking pinks and yellows. No scary neon crusted icing here; no, this was real!

Well, I casually mentioned to the kids that we could, if they were interested, take a quick tour of the cupcake store. They thought this a capital idea, and off we went to find the completion of our joy in a mound of fluffy butter cream.

If I was impressed with the website, I only became more so upon entering the store. All those lovely blues and chocolates that are en vogue were painstakingly applied to the very clean, modern surfaces. Oversized posters of Gigi (I presume) in a cornflower and buttercup patchwork apron making confectionary masterpieces while gazing lovingly at a child were the main visuals. Other than that, there were nicely upholstered rod iron stools to sit upon…and…the cupcakes.

Do you remember being excited when you first entered a Baskin*Robbins? Sadly, they are now mostly ghetto freeze sundae stores. But once, long ago, they were America’s favorite and best. The lights…the glass case you had to strain to peer into…the mix of smells that equaled one lovely potpourri of childish delight.

Ok, if you can still conjure that feeling, (or maybe think Godiva or your last European jaunt that ended in Bavarian cream coma) that is what my sweet little pink and green clad girls experienced as I watched. (As a side note: I didn’t dress them to match the cupcake store on purpose. But I did grab my camera when I realized just how very wonderful the photo opportunity would be. It would be like pictures from rich kid birthday parties. The Velveeta feeling was so far from me at this point!)

So there they were, eyeing the glass case. There were about fifteen different varieties offered today, all just standing proudly and waiting for someone from a good home to buy them. Just by looking at them, you could see that the icing was light and feathery and yet filled with buttery goodness. The cakes were plump and moist, and offered in flavors that Jelly Belly has only dreamed of.

The sweet sales girls said a muted hello, but I didn’t really notice. Sabra exclaimed how she wanted this one, then that one, then no this one this one this one, and back again. Moira was agonizing over the choices and fretting that she shouldn’t be able to make the right choice were she given a hundred million hours.

And then…in a haze of cafe lighting and lilac polka dots, the dream started to descend from its apex of delight.

There were two cupcakes that looked, to the naked eye, to be nearly identical. I won’t give their names here, as I’m sure my readership is so large and important that Gigi herself would be forced to sue me for cupcake slander. The names were creative enough, but they also suggested the same flavors!

The perky little ‘I’m In Night School To Be A Nurse’ helper looked at me blankly as I wondered aloud what could possibly be the real difference between this cake which was pink and had berries, white icing and pink sprinkles, and one that had all the same yet pink icing.

She blinked at me like an aproned cow and said nothing.

I picked up a menu, which didn’t offer the answer, as it failed to have every cupcake listed.


Sabra was now sure that she needed chocolate, and her choices were many. Again, there were about four varieties that appeared to be the same except for their sprinkle choice.

Being the mother of children with various allergies, I did want to know if one of these sweet selections would have a surprise inside. I had no desire to calm my inner monster if Moira burst into tears upon finding coconut or blueberries in her cupcake.

The Future Nurse Cow continued to blink at me.

And then it hit me that I was irked because she hadn’t even welcomed us besides that faint and required ‘hello’ that is the equivalent of smiling at someone when they walk into your office. It isn’t really genuine, it is just practiced cold civility at its base, coming just short of a ‘bless you’ when someone will sneeze.

I realize that I wasn’t in the Jumpy Jumpy Fun Zone, so it wasn’t as if the employees should be expected to crouch to kid level and talk about Sponge Bob.

But…hello? If you work in a cupcake store, you should assume that children might be within your target clientele.

No “Is this your first time here?” or “Which one looks yummy?” or even “What flavor do you like?” was to be found upon the chewing cud lips of this girl who had no other customers, an impeccably clean store, and no baking tasks.

She was insufferable and I hated her.

Well, we decided on our flavors and generously picked out a small bit of happy for Austin. Tutoring Latin really takes the wind out of you, in case you didn’t know.

Four cupcakes, one large and extremely satisfyingly chic box, and one bottle of water.

The Future Nurse Who Will One Day Fail To Give A Proper IV looked towards us (though I daresay not at us) and gave me the final bill.

$15.11 was the amount that I was to pay for this extravagance, this purging of chicken nuggets from my domestically dead soul.

What was I to do (besides internally balk) but hand over my debit card and the license that shows me smiling because I only weigh 125 pounds?

Well, at least I had my mound of frosted decadence to soothe my offended conscience.

I grabbed a small forest worth of napkins and we settled into the high barstools.

I handed Moira the white cake with chocolate frosting and delicate white round sprinkles. She put her fork right in and smiled indulgently.

I gave Sabra her chocolate cake with chocolate frosting and a yellow candy star. She put her fingers deep down into the belly of the cupcake, pulled a fistful of ooey gooey mess towards her face, and gave me a look of utmost naughtiness.

I laid my yellow cake with raspberry filling, cream cheese frosting, and raspberry soaked coconut shavings onto a folded square of napkin.

I was careful to deliver the perfect balance of cake, filling, and frosting to my discerning tongue.

And….here it comes….oh, I know it is going to be SO good….


Not that amazing. In fact, downright normal.

Try again, add more frosting. Try again, less coconut. Try again, only dip tines of fork into frosting.

Utterly, totally, completely disappointed.

Now folks, I’m no gourmet. In fact, sometimes I consider my baked goods a success if they are neither burned nor full of half baked batter.

But in all honesty, I could have made that cupcake. I couldn’t have come close to the impeccable presentation. But as far as taste goes, I have made chocolate cupcakes with homemade chocolate butter cream frosting before that I swear were really, REALLY GOOD! Ask my friends! And if I couldn’t have recreated the taste, I know that any local (read: ANY) bakery could have. I’ve tasted that generic cupcake taste at Target, Wal-Mart, Kroger, Publix, etc ad infinitum.

I can appreciate the fun taste combinations they are making there. I can tip my hat to their sweet names (although again, you and I could do better) and I think they really have their marketing down.

However, without service and a superior product, I am not a satisfied customer. I have no plans on going back, and am doing what I can to let other people know that their products have so far not impressed me.

Now, maybe the girl working the counter had been having a conversation with her coworker about how she accidentally got pregnant because she and their other coworker were bored one night and experimented with the various flavors of butter cream. Maybe her feeble smile and distant stare were all she could muster. Perhaps I should be glad that she wasn’t hanging from the giant mixer in the back, quoting Ophelia while her pupils dilated into nothingness. I could be too harsh. But probably not.

If you simply want a cupcake, and a pretty one at that, your need will be met. But don’t go expecting to find some sort of flavor sensation that makes you swoon and see lavender polka dots. It isn’t going to happen at Gigi’s Cupcakes, my poor disappointed friend.

You will leave several dollars poorer, many calories richer, and with only a huge gob of superfluous icing to show for your time. My kids didn’t even want to touch half of the icing because there was enough to frost two whole humans. (If the information the counter girl gossiped of is to be believed, but you are free to doubt her accuracy.)

So here I am, back where I started. My kids knew no real difference between the grocery store neon frosted cupcakes with plastic rings because, aside from the colors and lack of toy to take home, there was no real difference!

I had no cute photo opportunity with my kids looking all clean and dapper with charming chocolate smears across their cherub cheeks. There was no, “Wow Mom, these taste so different and homemade and good!”

I’m not a single step closer to domestic goddess status and I’m going to lay it all upon the feet of cornflower apron Gigi and her blasted cupcakes. Maybe if she reads this, she’ll make a Velveeta flavor in my honor.

After all, I have plenty to share.


Rachel R said...

Well, we will just have to agree to disagree. I LOVE gigi's cupcakes and think there is a world of difference between them and grocery store ones, but hey, that's just my opinion. I will agree with the "too much frosting" idea though...and I love me some frosting! But there really is more than enough on most of the cupcakes there.

So sorry you had a less than extraordinary experience there.

Fallen-Essence said...

I agree. The moment I tasted the popular cupcakes that everyone at my school loves, I nearly puked. A small bite of icing made my stomach threaten to empty at any moment. I'm a huge calorie person: I don't eat over 1000 calories per day, but I thought this would be one exception. I have yet to find out the calories for the cupcake, but I'm pretty sure now that it's over 1200: already a day's worth of calories for me. I was so disappointed. I don't see how everyone at my school goes there AT LEAST 4 TIMES A MONTH!

diana said...

I have to passionately disagree with your review of Gigi's cupcakes! I am a cupcake LOVER - I've tried cupcakes from every bakery here in Atlanta, and will drive substantial distances to get my favorite cupcake at any given moment. Gigi's are my absolute favorite. I am a frosting lover, so that may help it's rating with me, but I found their flavors rich and delectable. Their cakes are always moist and their frosting the perfect consistency. I've tried at least 10 different flavors of theirs - and I admit there were a couple I didn't love, but the ones I did love (8 out of 10) are amazing....thinking about them now makes me want to jump in my car, bypass the other 3 cupcake bakeries on the way there, to indulge my flavor senses. I'm sorry you didn't love them as much as I do!