The original Magnolia Bakery in New York City that started the cupcake craze in the 1990s has a neighborhood charm. The outside look couldn't be more different in the Chicago bakery, with doors opening onto State Street's bustling sidewalk. But if the outside is jarringly urban and modern, the inside is charming, with soft pastel colors and cake stands and cookbooks.
And of course, cupcakes.
The bakery can get crowded and seating is limited. While you wait, kids will be fascinated by the hard-working bakers behind a side counter as they cut cookies, frost cupcakes, and put their talents on show.
It offers different cupcakes on different days, with a large array of bar cookies, muffins and slices of old-fashioned icebox cakes.
We especially liked the chocolate cupcake with chocolate frosting, the amazing peanut butter toffee bar (a rich, almost fudge-like texture of peanut butter studded with chunks of toffee and peanuts), the chocolate orange cupcake (vanilla cake with a delicately flavored orange custard center and chocolate buttercream frosting) and the banana pudding. If you love banana cream pie, you owe it to yourself to try this pudding, which is whipped up rich and light and loaded with luscious bites of banana and morsels of vanilla wafer.
Magnolia Bakery is now an expanding company, with other branches in Los Angeles and Dubai, but it was originally a neighborhood bakery. They want you to have the experience of a corner bake shop or even your grandma's kitchen, and in some ways you do.
I wonder if there will be another Magnolia Bakery in a more family-oriented, walking neighborhood like Lincoln Park. Chief Baker Bobbie Lloyd is originally from Chicago and is overseeing the fresh, small batch baking every day, but the store still seems to be finding its Chicago style.