Saturday, October 1, 2011

Opening Pandora's Box

As a rule, I generally try and keep my day job completely separate from my role here on Exploring Food My Way. It isn't so much that I am scared that I will say something here on the blog that will get me in trouble at work; rather, I just tend to keep those two spheres of my life separate naturally. Such was the case with my current job until one of my co-workers found my Twitter account and through that, found the blog. Needless to say, news travels fast in the workplace.

One of the benefits of being "outed" is that now when fellow co-workers see something new happening in the food world, they make a point of stopping by my little cube-ette and mentioning it. Such was the case with a new shop opening up in the Montrose area called Pandora's Cupcakes (Facebook page here). In this particular case, however, I already knew of the shop's impending opening because I had driven by it several times for a few weeks prior. When I drove by this past Thursday, I noticed something different: cars parked out front and people inside.

I stopped in and purchased cupcakes to take back to the office and for a dinner with friends later that evening. As the shop was swamped on opening day, I waited until today to return for a chance to chat with the owner and get some snapshots. The cute little shop was located at 3571 Brookwall Drive, Akron, OH 44333 and can be reached at 330-665-CAKE (2253). Parking was available around the collection of shops, but not many spaces were open. If they are busy, you might need to hunt around for a spot to park.

Here was a shot of the front of the new store:

Storefront for Pandora's Cupcakes
Once inside, I was greeted by owner and baker Ken Carr and an assistant. Since there was no chance of favoritism (the cupcakes were already baked and frosted), I altered my modus operandi slightly and pulled a business card from my wallet and introduced myself. Interestingly enough, he offered that he thought I might be the guy from the food blog because one of my readers had described me to him. (Ed. Note: Have I mentioned how awesome you guys are?) At that point, I asked if I could take a few photos at the shop and he agreed.

In a EFMW first, two digital wall menus adorned the side and rear walls of the shop:

Wall Menu
I've seen plenty of wall menus in my adventures, but never digital ones. Prices at Pandora's Cupcakes, while more than you'd pay at your typical supermarket, were in line with what other boutique "cupcakeries" are charging. I do like the fact that the more you buy, the bigger the discount.

As I walked into the building, Mr. Carr had just come out of the kitchen in the back with a tray of freshly frosted Mint on Chocolate cupcakes:

Tray of Cupcakes
While the display case had been devoid of labels on Thursday when I stopped in, today's visit found each cupcake adorned with an identifying label to the right of it:

Display Case with Today's Flavors
So far, I have tried three flavors of cupcakes: Mint on Chocolate, Red Velvet, and Peanut Butter on Chocolate. But before I talk about my impressions of the cupcakes, let's give you, gentle reader, a little bit of cupcake porn:

Vanilla on Chocolate Cupcake

Red Velvet Cupcake

Pancake Cupcake

Mint on Chocolate Cupcake

French Toast Cupcake

Cream Cheese on Spice Cupcake

Chocolate on Vanilla Cupcake

Chocolate on Chocolate Cupcake
As with most bakeries, a few cake bases and a few frostings combined to form today's line-up. Chocolate, Yellow, Spice, and Vanilla were today's cake bases; flavored buttercreams, cream cheese, and fudgey were today's frosting flavors. I did confirm that the buttercream actually contains butter (silly that I have to ask that question, but the fact that so many places try and pass off frosting with no butter in it and still call it buttercream necessitates the question).

As I mentioned already, I've tried three different flavors already. What are my overall impressions? First, the frosting is a touch on the sweet side, not as tooth-achingly sweet as Ann's Pastry in Wadsworth (nor as horrifically sweet as most supermarket bakeries), but I personally wouldn't mind if the sweetness was held back a bit more. That being said, paired with something equally bitter like an espresso or a cup of black coffee, it would balance well. The frostings have all been nicely flavored -- the flavor is there, but not overpowering.

The cake portion has ranged from incredibly delicate (Mint on Chocolate) to a bit denser (Red Velvet). While I appreciated the delicateness of the cake crumb, the Mint on Chocolate kind of fell apart when I ate it while the Red Velvet was sturdy enough to survive multiple trips from my plate to my mouth. Another factor to be considered, too, was the freshness. Just like any other baked products, cupcakes will stale over time. The Mint on Chocolate was eaten just a few minutes after purchasing it while the Red Velvet was eaten later that night. Perhaps something to keep in mind.

In general, the cupcakes were very moist and when I looked at my fingers after eating one, it was obvious that Mr. Carr had not skimped on the oil in the cake batter. These are definitely not the low-fat/reduced calorie cupcakes that Pure Delite Cupcakes offers to their customers and if you are looking for that kind of experience, Pandora's Cupcakes probably won't have what you want.

Another customer in the shop today inquired about sugar-free cupcakes. While Ken was skeptical about offering a sugar-free option, he did state that they are planning to add both a gluten free and vegan cupake to the line-up.

When I got my selection of four cupcakes to my destination for the evening, I decided to do a little macro photography to really make the cupcakes look their best. The other photos in this post were resized to roughly 900x600 pixels. I left these shots at 1920x1080, so you can really get in close.

Product Shot: French ToastFrench Toast Cupcake

Product Shot: Mint on ChocolateMint on Chocolate Cupcake

Product Shot: Peanut Butter on ChocolatePeanut Butter on Chocolate Cupcake

Product Shot: Cream Cheese on Red VelvetCream Cheese on Red Velvet Cupcake

Will I be returning to Pandora's Cupcakes? To quote a famous (some might say infamous) Republican, you betcha! One of the great qualities of cupcakes is that you can please everyone because each person picks out his or her favorite flavor. Plus, the cupcakes aren't huge -- they make a great post meal dessert or a mid afternoon snack. And as mentioned earlier, while these cupcakes aren't for the calorie conscious, having one every now and again as a reward seems like a great way to have your cake and be able to eat it, too.

Pandora's Cupcakes on Urbanspoon

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