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Jan 31, 2010 09:14 AM

Philly Cupcake--The New Brown Betty or Just Another Cupcake on the Block (long)

Hi everyone,

A post about chocolate tours in Philadelphia briefly mentioned Philly Cupcake. I haven't seen anything else about this "cupcakery boutique" here (there are some reviews on Yelp) so I thought I'd start a post. For those who don't know, it is located at 1132 Chestnut Street. There is a website, but last time I checked it basically had no information.

Anyway, I purchased six cupcakes from there last Saturday evening and thought I'd share my opinion. First thing to keep in mind, this is a cash-only establishment. I knew this going on, and figured that there was no way I'd spend more than the $21 in cash I had on the cupcakes I would be buying, but unfortunately my total was actually $22 for the 6 cupcakes. I give credit to the owner who waited on me as I said I would have to put a cupcake back because I was a dollar short, and he said not to worry about it. So, I do thank him kindly for the $1 off, but I'm still left to wonder whether it was worth spending an average of $3.67 per cupcake (some cupcakes are $3 and some are $4). The cupcakes are very nicely decorated but they aren't particularly large, and I think at some level one must accept that one can only charge so much for a cupcake. I wonder whether these prices have crossed that acceptable threshold.

Moving on to particulars, they were sold out of basic flavors like vanilla/vanilla and chocolate/chocolate (I arrived at about 6:00pm and their hours are 10:00am-10:00pm, so I can understand why they would have sold out) so I purchased a Red Velvet with cream cheese icing, a Banana with peanut butter icing, a Kit-Kat that was a chocolate cake with what was I think had a caramel buttercream, an Oreo cupcake which was a chocolate cake with a Cookies and cream buttercream, a Cinnamon swirl coffee cupcake, and a Peanut Butter Cup which was a chocolate cake with peanut butter cupcake). As previously mentioned, all were decorated very nicely, with a half of a snack-size Kit-Kat on top of the Kit- Kat cupcake, etc. There was a pretty large amount of icing as compared with the cake which wasn't a problem for me since I like icing but which could be off putting to other people. The cupcake itself was quite was the size of a "traditional" cupcake which is probably what most of us should be eating but is something that seems little when compared with the huge cupcakes we get elsewhere.

Regarding taste, everything was okay. The coffee cake cupcake which as eaten the next day was horribly dry until warmed up (something they recommended at the shop), at which point it tasted pretty good though not necessarily much better than what Entenmanns or Tasty Kake offers. The peanut buttercream seemed great at first bite, but then I felt like I kept tasting the slickness of shortening which was sort of off-putting (note, I bake myself and usually ask about what kind of buttercream a place is using, i.e. meringue-based versus butter/powdered sugar versus a butter/shortening/powdered sugar mix, but I didn't ask here). The cake In the Kit-Kat and Peanut Butter cup cupcakes was very reminiscent of boxed cake in that it had a lot of air bubbles, not much crumb, and not much taste. However, the cake on the Oreo cupcake was quite different--it was a chocolate cake with a tight crumb that was still moist and had a lot of flavor to it. I'm not sure whether this cake was supposed to be a different chocolate cake than the other two but it definitely was as they didn't even look the same. This cake was much, much better than the other one. The Red Velvet cake was okay, though I felt like the cream cheese icing was lacking something, and the cake flavor was fairly vague. The Banana cake was good though it tasted more like a banana muffin than a banana cupcake. And, I didn't care for the caramel buttercream on the Kit-Kat cupcake though that was probably just a personal preference issue.

Overall, I could see returning here to taste one of their basic flavors...I'd love to get a feel for what their vanilla buttercream tastes like. I do think they are simply too expensive for what they offer. Regardless of how high quality their ingredients might be, they don't seem to be competitively priced with other bakeries in the city given size...and I think size is important to a lot of people even if it shouldn't be. Finally, one issue I had which I didn't mention above was their layout. It is a very small space and when you walk in the cupcakes are displayed in unconventional cases to your left. There are small post-it notes inside each case which note the flavors, but you can't see that unless you are right up against the case. Since the servers need to come out from behind the counter to get the cupcakes for you, they are basically waiting for you as you try and make your decision. They didn't do anything to make me feel rushed (in fact, the service in general was excellent), but I still felt a little flustered because I really couldn't tell what was available until I was ordering. I completely accept that this is likely a problem only I have, as I have the same issue at Tartes in Old City...even though they have a small menu posted you can't see what you are going to order until it is time to order. Hopefully no one else has this problem.

Well, you know what I think so now I'd love to hear what you think about this place. I'm always on the hunt for a good bakery (not necessarily a cupcake bakery) and get excited to try new places regardless of whether they live up to their hype. Thanks!

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  1. I walked by that a few times.
    My main thought - doesn't look like a lot of cupcake for the $.
    I'll spend another couple bucks and get some ice cream down the street.

    1. Just wanted to clarify...the cupcake was a Twix cupcake, not a Kit-Kat cupcake. Sorry for the error in candy bar association!

      1 Reply
      1. re: Laura D.

        I tried two cupcakes there a few weeks back and was underwhelmed. I had a red velvet one that was very dry and was not all that tasty. I also had a coffee cake one that was moist (I ate it that night) and tasted pretty good but nothing mind-blowing as far as taste goes. In all, nothing to make me rush back even at any price.

      2. I think I disagree with what has been said so far, sorta. I agree that Philly cupcake's prices are steep, and not everyone can afford them, but as you mentioned, it's the size we all should be eating (the standard cupcake). I think a lot of Americans have the weight problems they do because they associate value with size, which the rest of the developed world does not. Quality over quantity for me any day. So, do I think they've got the quality is the real question as I'm not a bargain shopper especially when it comes to food, clothing, or my child's education. I had a bite of the red velvet, which my daughter got, and thought is was quite moist, had the right amount of tang in the frosting for cream cheese, and was probably the best one I've ever tasted (although I would say red velvet is not my favorite, as most of the ones I've had were awfully dry and/or tasteless) . I also tried the vanilla cupcake with chocolate icing and the lemon (I got the last one they had on Thursday). The vanilla was a bit dense compared to the red velvet, but it was still quite tasty and the frosting was sweet but not overpowering and tasted very chocolatey (I loved the little chocolate thing they put on top, how do they make those?). BUT the lemon, OMG, it was amazing. It was full of lemon flavor both in the cake and the frosting. I will go back there again and again just for the lemon and try the other ones too. I stayed away from the candy ones as I thought they looked to have too much frosting for my tastes. I agree that the place is small but quite cute and that the staff are super nice which I cannot say for other places in the city that sell cupcakes.

        4 Replies
        1. re: Rebecca Fubar

          I definitely agree with you that this is the size cupcake we should be eating, and that we should be paying for quality not quantity. I just wonder, though, what is so "special" about the ingredients being used that the prices are justified. I worry that the fancy decorations which definitely are nice and time consuming but perhaps not valued by the customer as highly as by the staff) still cannot justify those prices. I'd be thrilled with the cupcake size if the price-tag were small too, or if there was something that indicated the ingredients were top notch (which I'm not sure could easily be done with a cupcake and would probably involve the incorrect usage of words that we associate with expense but which don't mean a whole lot).

          Anyway, thanks for the recommendation regarding the lemon. I was offered it and passed because I'm not a huge lemon fan, but perhaps I'll head back and give it a whirl!

          1. re: Laura D.

            For me, quality is a combination of taste and presentation. For me, they pass both of these with flying colors, and I don't mind the pricetag at all.

            1. re: Rebecca Fubar

              I stick by my comments irregardless of price. I admittedly threw out the red velvet cupcake I tried, as it was very dry. I did have better luck with the coffee cake one though, as I thought it was pretty good.

              I *do* really like the idea of a place selling smaller cupcakes, as that would afford people to try a number of different flavors at once without feeling hit by a truck. I would not mind if they were even smaller than the ones there...just as long as they taste good.

              1. re: bluehensfan

                Yes, I definitely didn't have the amazing quality of cupcake that Rebecca F. had. Most were good but none blew me away.

        2. Since someone posted a cupcake thread from 2008 I thought I would reply to a more recent one.

          I really like the Red velvet cupcakes at Brown Betty but I agree they have some issues with consistency in terms of size as well as some service issues. However, I think I noticed some ads on Craig's List for either servers or bakers or both, so maybe there is some improvement. I haven't been there recently.

          Almost as good and a look more consistent is Cupcakes Gourmet in Frazer Pa. which also has a location in the Gateway Shopping Center.