Magnolia Bakery's signature pastel cupcakes (Lenny Gilmore/RedEye )
108 N. State St. 312-346-7777
Rating: !!!! (out of four) Already hot
The story: A few days before Magnolia Bakery opened its Chicago location on State Street, owner Steve Abrams told us that even though the NYC-based bakery is famous for its cupcakes, we’d forget about them after tasting the banana pudding and cheesecake. Challenge accepted, Mr. Abrams.
The scene: Magnolia is bringing something Block 37 hasn’t seen in a while: crowds. Opening weekend saw lines out the door, but weekday mornings have been quieter. This is the bakery’s most spacious location, with a retro-licious pastel look, plenty of seating and busy bakers providing entertainment while you wait. Rather than order off a menu, just look in the pastry cases and pick as you make your way to the register.
The food: We have no qualms with eating dessert in the morning, but Magnolia does have traditional a.m. snacks, including a soft and fluffy pumpkin-pecan muffin ($2.50). Mini-cheesecakes ($6) are sweet and silky, and the white chocolate-macadamia nut version sits atop a perfect graham cracker crust. Peppermint icebox cake ($4.50 a slice) is made from chocolate wafers that become just the right consistency (not too crunchy, not too mushy) between layers of fluffy whipped cream. This would be a sure-fire hit at a holiday party. If you try nothing else, make it the banana pudding, a creamy amalgam of soft and flaky vanilla wafers, banana slices and vanilla pudding that’s somehow insanely light and indulgently rich at the same time. To die for.
Bottom line: Magnolia’s classic vanilla and chocolate cupcakes are simple and sweet, with that trademark swirl of frosting providing just enough sugary buttercream to balance the cake below. But sure enough, it’s the banana pudding we’d wait in line for next time.