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2/8/14 Eating Report: Retro Bakery, Jamm's, Wing Lei, Pin-Up Pizza, Corner Cakes, The Goodwich, Luv-It

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  1. Retro Bakery: http://endoedibles.com/?p=16481

    When a co-worker suggested she was looking for ‘fancy’ cupcakes for her daughter’s birthday that evening and a large gap opened in my midday schedule a plan was hatched to finally visit Centennial staple “Retro Bakery” – a dozen cupcakes for the party that evening and six to be saved for my Saturday dining, each of the $2.65 selections proving unique and impressive…and all at a price nearly half that of other local and national cupcakeries. Locally owned & operated by Kari and Brian Haskell for the past six years and turning out no less than a dozen varieties of cupcakes daily with fresh-bakes ongoing as dictated by need it was to smiling service and a mostly full selection that we arrived and choosing a wide variety each frosted gem was carefully packed into individually slotted boxes; the total tab under $50 even after putting a few bucks in the tip jar. Having heard that the birthday cakes were a resounding success and ensuring freshness by securing my picks airtight in the refrigerator overnight it was with half-cakes after a long morning run that my Saturday began and working from lightest to most dense each option shined, both donut varieties harkening the flavor of a good cake-style ring with light glaze while the signature Hop Scotch presented the same supple vanilla base beneath rich butterscotch brimming with caramelized notes of brown sugar. Moving next to bases with more heft, the Apple Cider was selected largely because the young lady at the counter described it as a “sort of coffee cake” and true to form, the dense crumb was rich with apples and cinnamon akin to the flavor of an apple fritter and duly appointed with sharply spiced butter cream, a truly unique option that would have been my favorite of the six had the last two not been equally excellent – a rich take on the red velvet replacing traditional cream cheese frosting with rich frangipane tinged buttercream and the “Friday Only” Brownie Sundae, more cupcake than brownie and rousing fond memories of my childhood when a warm pan of brownies frequently served as a indispensable wintertime dessert.

    1. Jamms Restaurant: http://endoedibles.com/?p=16599

      Another long-term fixture of the local food scene, and one I’d unknowingly been driving by twice daily every Thursday and Friday since relocating to Las Vegas, Jamms Restaurant quickly earned a spot on the ‘to-visit’ list when my server at Mary’s Hash House mentioned the quaint local eatery as another “great place” serving up home-style breakfasts at a fair price – a 7am opening perfect for another Saturday of dining. Nondescript from the exterior but cozy and kitsch inside as a friendly staff bounced between tables with endless refills of coffee from Illy at a mere $2.75 it was to a diverse menu and a hot, yeasty ‘pot of bread’ slathered with Nutella and toasted almonds that I arrived and after perusing the menu at length an order was placed, a server named Shirley warning me that it would be “a lot of food,” but failing to inform me of noted upcharges of $2 for a single Red Velvet Pancake and $1.25 for grits in place of potatoes. Jovial in spirit with tunes ranging from Sinatra to Madonna playing overhead it was perhaps a ten minute wait after the bread that the rest of my meal arrived and with each item larger than expected in size it was indeed a substantial breakfast with only the cocoa-less Red Velvet failing to impress…the flavor merely that of a decent buttermilk pancake gussied up with $2 in dye. Speaking to the rest, suffice it to say that it would be hard to mess up something as decadent as the signature “S’Mores” with ample chocolate chips and chocolate syrup finding balance in bold buttermilk, marshmallows, plus a dollop of whipped cream and yet as good as the pancake was, the un-fried riff on the Monte Cristo easily stole the show as golden Texas Toast dipped in custard housed Ham, Turkey, and Swiss of good quality and quantity, all just waiting for a sweet gilding of maple syrup to make flavors pop. Never one to quibble prices but a firm believer that upcharges should always be disclosed Jamms strikes me as a good-enough place in a city with plenty of similar options; a bit better than some and a bit worse than others…the sort of place I’m sure to revisit at some point for the Waffle Sundae or the Stuffed French Toast, but not before investigating other family owned spots or before second visits to Blueberry Hill, Hash House, Egg & I, or Baby Stacks.

      1. Wing Lei Year of the Horse Brunch: http://endoedibles.com/?p=16603

        Officially the first Chinese restaurant in the United States to ever garner a Michelin Star, Wing Lei had literally been on my bucket list for 5 years when a friend informed me of their twice-yearly dim-sum brunch, the $68.88 feast featuring both hot carts and a full buffet of items both traditional Chinese and Americanized fare in the gorgeous, gilded, and newly renovated room at Wynn. Generally not particularly interested in buffets given the lackluster quality of ingredients plus intrinsic flaws related to large-scale production and hot plates it was with good faith that I presumed a team the likes of that at Wing Lei would do a stellar job with sourcing as well as preparation and true to form from the moment our party of three arrived it would be hard to find fault in any aspect of the afternoon as the setting, food, and service shined. A no reservations affair playing host to a mixture of young and old, Asian and Caucasian, it was with dim sum that the majority of tables began and with carts circulating at intervals of no more than ten minutes each and every item arrived hot and fresh, the offerings shining with delicate shark’s fin, snappy lobster, and textbook har gow amongst the most impressive steamed items while fried taro root dumplings, juicy XLB, and crispy duck plus pork belly with a crackling crème brulee skin also wowed. Moving next to the vast expanse of items both hot and cold, it was in the soup station that I found two of my favorites – the congee as rich and textural as the bisque proved buttery and sweet (if not particularly Chinese at all) – while split 1.5lb lobsters, King Crab Claws, and prepared to order sushi was all immaculate, an easy place for those so inclined to more than make up for the cost of entry. Focusing less on steam-tray hot items but very impressed by cured duck balanced by sliced pears, fatty yet supple Tomahawk chop, and tender grilled scallops, meaty sea bass, plus lobster salad in delicate ponzu it was at last to desserts that I moved and sampling each one of the sweets it would be difficult to say which I enjoyed the most as the dense caramel coffee crunch and coconut lychee financier were as good as any similar dessert served on the strip, yet given the choice to revisit just one item it was to the Yuzu Cheesecake dipped in White Chocolate that I returned – the creamy center with light citrus and a smooth chocolate shell redefining a dessert I rarely, if ever, order on a restaurant menu. Undoubtedly a decadent brunch but also a case where I feel I got exactly what I paid for suffice it to say I can’t wait for the Year of the Sheep…and more exploration of Vegas’ wide selection of Asian cuisines, both casual and upscale, in the interim.

        1. Pin Up Pizza: http://endoedibles.com/?p=16606

          …with my opinions on traditional New York “slice shops” varying from terrible to merely decent but having found some improvement in the style since relocating to Las Vegas, largely as a result of superior ingredient quality at both “Secret Pizza” and Pop-Up, it was with cautious optimism that I approached the newly minted Strip-side Pin Up Pizza at pH’s Miracle Mile Shops for a late afternoon bite. Truly a “slice shop” featuring a small counter with standing room only dining both inside and out plus a half-dozen pies served by a staff of four including two servers, a cashier, and a pizzaiolo hand-tossing gargantuan crusts it was to warm smiles and pleasantries that I was greeted and taking my time to peruse the options and inquire what was most fresh an order was placed – a seemingly steep $6.76 after tax, but on closer inspection a price well justified by a baseball sized garlic knot and locally sourced heirloom tomatoes on what I’d argue to be the city’s best electric (or gas for that matter) crust, though purists may beg to differ given a lack of “foldability”…or perhaps “fold-necessity” as relates to greasy, flavorless ‘tradition.’ Subtle with semolina but largely a lightly yeasted flour base with just enough spring and char to support the ingredient weight from rim to a center approximately one foot away suffice it to say that single slices at Pin Up will eat like a meal to some, but with dollops of fresh mozzarella playing against fresh sliced tomatoes and a drizzle of olive oil on such an impressive backbone with only pre-filled $3 cannolis for dessert I’d say that’s just fine…besides, knowing what I know now I rather wish I’d have stuck around to try a slice of the housemade pepperoni with shredded fresh mozzarella and hand crushed tomato sauce instead of schlepping to MGM for dessert anyhow.

          1. Corner Cakes: http://endoedibles.com/?p=16609

            Located in the MGM near the main elevators off the lobby and receiving mixed reviews from persons I trust I decided to take it upon myself to decide whether Corner Cakes was simply another overpriced casino money grab or, perhaps, a hidden gem like the Donut Counter at America Restaurant in NY-NY…the results leaning so far to the former that I literally left $12+ of baked ‘goods’ in a trashcan not-far from the small, smoky lounge where I sat to indulge. Noting first that each of the pastries are indeed attractively presented while the staff is smiley, pleasant, and efficient even given the area’s immense foot traffic it is here that the positives of Corner Cakes end – the old adage about putting ‘lipstick on a pig’ rarely as true as a $5 dense, cakey, and flaccid almond croissant to start the tasting off poorly and things only to get worse as I progressed to a ‘cronut’ so oily that it literally could have been wrung out with the excess oil used to fry up another, better version anywhere else in town. Assuming that perhaps laminated and/or French pastry simply isn’t where Corner Cakes shines it was next with half-hearted enthusiasm that I proceeded onward to a duo of actual ‘cakes’ and while the individual carrot cake was actually quite decent, a dense crumb with plenty of spice to balance sweet buttercream, the red velvet cupcake managed the seemingly impossible feat of being nearly inedible, the cake itself tasteless around a nearly solid chocolate core while the chalky, chilly frosting seemed to be channeling sour cream moreso than cream cheese – the questionable freshness and half-frozen presentation making me wonder whether the cupcake was even baked on premises…and if so, when?

              1. Luv-It Frozen Custard: http://endoedibles.com/?p=16612

                Twice thwarted in my prior attempts to experience Luv It, once as a result of arriving two-hours prior to the 1pm opening hour and once due to staff vacation, the third time would finally prove a charm in visiting what a friend and former pastry chef deems “the best frozen custard in the country” – a sentiment ironically echoed by former and current mayors, Oscar and Carolyn Goodman, who arrived moments after me and spoke fondly of myriad visits to Greg Tiedemann’s stand over the years as we waited in line. Generally underwhelmed by custards as compared to artisan ice creams or gelatos in the past I’d hardly realized that the small window had such an extensive menu of flavors until I approached, but with standards of chocolate and vanilla plus seasonal cheesecake, cherry pie, blue moon, and countless toppings, sauces, and mix-ins I was glad to have some time to think – eventually settling on a $4.25 cash-only “Butter Crunch” over vanilla custard plus a large spooned sample of cherry pie. Traditional in texture, full bodied with flavor, unmistakably custard given a light egginess to the vanilla, and with substantially more heft than the versions popularized at iconic Ted Drewes’ or franchised Rita’s it took a few rich spoonfuls to truly appreciate the velvety texture of the custard itself as I worked through toppings acting more as a distraction than a compliment but once down to creamy base it can only be said that this is indeed some excellent custard and for fans of the style it is a ‘must visit,’ though for my dining dollars the presence of Art of Flavors only a few blocks away will make a return unlikely anytime soon as even the “best” custard can’t hold a candle to truly superlative gelato.

                7 Replies
                1. re: uhockey

                  These days, Luv It may not even be able to hold a candle to its own past. Because of a divorce, Greg Tiedemann is no longer running the show, and there has been a subtle, yet noticeable, drop in both the quality and the consistency. Enough to basically drop them off the list (although even at their best they were not up to the level of Art of Flavor).

                  1. re: QAW

                    Still good frozen custard; far better than Drewes' (though clearly part of TD's is the lines, nostalgia, etc)

                  2. re: uhockey

                    I much prefer Ted Drewes to Luv-It's custard, but both pale in comparison to Kopp's in Milwaukee. There are also other places in Milwaukee, such as Leon's, that are much better, too. The last time I tried Culver's, I was disappointed with the plain vanilla custard. But if you put good toppings on any of the above, you will be happy.

                    1. re: Dave Feldman

                      I've never been to Milwaukee, but noted! :-)

                      1. re: uhockey

                        Culver's is the best known of the fast food burger/frozen custard places in the Midwest, but Kopp's is much better. And it's the only frozen custard place that consistently produces flavor variations that are as good as vanilla. http://www.kopps.com/FlavorForecast.aspx

                        1. re: uhockey

                          Have you tried Nielsen's Frozen Custard on Eastern in Henderson ?