I've gotten to the point now where not only am I reporting on places that I happen to discover when I'm out and about in the northeast Ohio area, but now readers and fellow Facebook friends who follow my little dog and pony show are beginning to share some of their favorites, too. The suggestions come in all forms, from comments left on blog entries, to text messages on my phone, direct email, or through Facebook. I happened to be having lunch yesterday when I received just such a Facebook message from a fellow foodie.
Jeremy's message was simple and to the point: "I stopped at a cupcake shop yesterday they had a candied maple bacon pancake cupcake. I figured bacon its got to be good. It was the most amazing thing I have ever had in my mouth. You have to check it out I think they are on fbook. The bakery is blue iris in niles"
Once I got back to the office, I powered up Google and discovered that Blue Iris Cakery in Niles, Ohio has both a Facebook fan page as well as a website, although at this time only the domain has been purchased with an actual website to follow. From the fan page, I learned that proprietors Melissa and Steve Murphy had only recently opened their shop up for business in this Youngstown suburb as of December 2010. I also found that business hours were Tuesday through Saturday from 7 AM to 7 PM and on Sunday from 8 AM to 2 PM. They were closed on Mondays.
Heeding Jeremy's urgent call to action, I packed up my camera bag and headed out to the small shop early on Saturday morning, arriving just slightly after 8 AM. The shop was located at 606 Robbins Avenue, Niles, OH 44446 and can be reached at 330-652-2253. You can also email them directly if you wish. Parking was directly in front of the building.
Here was a shot of the storefront:
I had hoped that on an early Saturday morning with kind of crappy roads I might find the shop empty enough to be able to engage whomever I found inside. I was suitably rewarded. Only two people were working behind the counter along with a lone customer who was just preparing to leave. As you well know by now, gentle reader, my typical modis operandi is to do my reviews completely anonymously to ensure that I don't get special treatment or free food. However, given that the cupcakes were already baked, there really wasn't much that could be done that would qualify for special treatment. Additionally, I wanted to try and get some really great photos of Blue Iris's products while learning more about its history.
So, I pulled out a business card for the blog, introduced myself, and was warmly greeted by one of the co-owners, Melissa Murphy. I explained to her about my blog and its purpose and why I had come today. When I mentioned Jeremy's missive about the "candied maple bacon cupcake," she nodded and responded, "Oh, yes, the Short Stack. That's very popular. I have a batch that are still warm and I think they are best that way. Would you like to try one while you're here?" You didn't have to ask me twice. How on earth could I say no to that?
While Melissa went into the kitchen to plate my cupcake, I wandered around the small shop and took a few photographs. To the left of the front entrance was a small area containing various coffee options as well as a few tables:
Directly to the right of the front entrance was that most classical homage to A Christmas Story, the Leg Lamp:
Melissa gleefully admitted to having built this from scratch, having loved the movie so much. After a few rounds of "quote the movie" between the three of us in the store, I continued my quest to photograph other interesting items.
Mounted on the rightmost wall was a chalkboard with various bits of interesting information:
While Melissa had been in the open kitchen frosting cupcakes when I walked in, her assistant was taking the finished cupcakes and placing them in the glass cases at the front of the store. Here were a few candid cupcake shots:
And while I was at the glass case, here are left, middle, and right shots of today's offerings:
After snapping all of these photographs, Melissa indicated that my Short Stack was ready and I sat down at one of the tables after pouring myself some of the freshly brewed coffee to take a closer look at this marvelous creation:
"Short Stack" as the saying goes, refers to diner speak for a stack of pancakes that numbers less than a full order. Melissa's idea was to essentially recreate a pancake breakfast with a buttermilk cupcake base, maple buttercream, heavy dose of maple syrup, and topped by that most essential of breakfast foods, crumbled bacon. After carefully peeling the paper baking cup back, I began to dig in and discovered that the flavors were absolutely spot on. What surprised me was that while the frosting was sweet, it was not overly so. I've had buttercreams that made my teeth ache, they had so much sugar.
To be honest, the entire cupcake was really well balanced. That seemed to be thematic throughout the entire cupcake line. After finishing my breakfast (literally and figuratively), I began to chat Melissa up about her past. Classically trained at Le Cordon Bleu in Pittsburgh, she worked at a number of restaurants before opening and running Blue Iris Cafe in Warren, Ohio for a number of years with her chef husband, Steven. While she loved running the cafe, it just didn't give her enough time to devote to her true passion, cakes, and more specifically, cupcakes. They closed Blue Iris Cafe in November 2010 only to open the new shop about a month later.
In addition to the cupcake I had eaten at the store, I decided to walk away with five additional cupcake flavors for later sampling. I did decide to take a photograph of each while I was in the store, however.
First up was the Red Velvet Cupcake:
While I didn't take any additional pictures of the insides of the cupcakes, each had been filled with the same frosting that topped the cake. The cake was velvety, smooth, and had a rich chocolate undertone. The buttercream frosting tasted as if it also contained some cream cheese because of the slight tang. Between the tender cake and the lighter than air frosting, this was a great way to start out my post-visit tasting.
Second, the Strawberry Fields Cupcake:
While I expected lots of strawberry flavor from the dollop of strawberry jam on top, I didn't expect there to be a deep vein of jam right through the center of the cupcake. This gave the entire cupcake an intense fruity aroma and taste that I really enjoyed. While all of the cupcakes I had eaten today were good, this particular one stood out as unique.
Third, the Chocolate Truffle Crunch Cupcake:
When you start by cherry-picking off the dark chocolate truffle adorning this vertically endowed cupcake, things can only get better. Rich chocolate cake combined with a chocolate sauce center, light as air buttercream and finished with crunchy chocolate candies (they weren't sprinkles/jimmies) gave this true chocoholic a reason to sit back in my chair, roll the flavors around in my mouth, and truly enjoy the chocolate love that I was experiencing.
Fourth, the Lemoncello Cupcake:
Made with actual Lemoncello liqueur, the cake was not quite as tender as the Red Velvet cupcake, but it was still darn good for a cupcake that had sat for twelve hours before being eaten. The lemon flavor was pronounced, but not overpowering. The frosting, unsurprisingly, was light and airy.
And finally, the Hot Fudge Sundae Cupcake:
For chocolate fudge lovers out there, this would be your cupcake. While at first glance it only appears that chocolate fudge was piped on top to finish the cupcake, once you take that first bite, you discover that hidden within the cakey walls of goodness lies a liquid core of fudge sauce so deep that you'll literally get a bit of fudge with every bite of cake. While I couldn't share this particular cupcake with my tasting buddy (you didn't think I had just eaten six cupcakes, did you?), because she can't have peanuts, I had to step up to the plate and eat the entire thing. You know ... for the blog.
During my thirty minute visit this morning, Melissa also plated and brought forth this amazing looking (and smelling) platter of freshly made iced sticky buns:
These suckers were ENORMOUS! While I was tempted to get one of these as well, my sense of sanity kicked in and I figured I needed to save something for my next visit. If they taste half as good as they smelled, I know I will be in for a real treat when I finally do have the opportunity to sample one.
Today's trip to Blue Iris Cakery cost me $15 for six cupcakes, or $2.50 apiece, which I think is entirely reasonable given the fact that they were delicious and made with quality ingredients. Sadly, the cakery is an hour's drive for me each way and while I'd love to support Melissa and Steve with lots of repeat visits, a trip to this tiny shop will likely be relegated for special occasions, unquenchable cravings, or as a quick stop when I am traveling to or from Pennsylvania via Route 80. That being said, if you happen to live near Niles or the surrounding community, you should get into your car and drive over to relish this delicious culinary experience on your own. Even if you don't live close, there are many other interesting places to visit on the east side of Ohio that make stopping for this sweet indulgence absolutely justified.