The trend of customizing desserts that started with mix-ins or crush-ins in flavors of ice cream has spread to cupcakes and cookies. Lori Schneider, owner of Figs Catering (www.figscatering.com), included a cupcake bar in a catered event last year, and the concept proved so popular, she ultimately had to create a new business entity to handle the demand. Now party-givers can share this charming retro concept by booking the Cupcake Bar (www.thecupcakebaraustin.com), Schneider's newest venture – where "entertaining takes the cake." The two-tier menu offers a per-person charge for various flavors of cupcakes, fillings, frostings, and toppings, plus beverages, ice cream, and a cupcake bartender to set up, serve, and clean up. I sampled a selection of Schneider's cupcakes after her recent launch party and was especially fond of the "nuts about chocolate" variety. Look for another new business with this same kind of groove to open in the West Campus area this summer. Pastry chef Mark Chapman is busy getting the Cookie Lounge ready to debut in the street level of a new high-rise on Rio Grande. We're told the new spot will feature several varieties of cookie batter with add-ins of your choice. Cookies are baked to order and served warm on the spot. Custom cookie orders will be available for parties, corporate gifts, and special deliveries along with many of Chapman's signature small desserts. Sounds delightful... If you happen to run into Fredericksburg Pastry Queen Rebecca Rather while she's in town serving desserts at two high-profile charity events in the coming week, be sure to congratulate her on winning an International Association of Culinary Professionals Cookbook Award for her second book, The Pastry Queen Christmas (Ten Speed Press)... Three lady friends who live in Southwest Austin joined me at the VIP opening party for the newest Chuy's (4301 W. William Cannon, 899-2489) outlet in the Arbor Trails shopping center recently. The newest addition to the successful homegrown chain features the same good food and drinks, colorful decor, and boisterous Chuy's atmosphere Austinites have embraced for years. My guests are very pleased to have them in the neighborhood... Folks in Northwest Hills welcomed an eagerly awaited Mexican restaurant to their neighborhood when the second outlet of El Chile Cafe y Cantina (3435 Greystone #112, 284-7863) opened last Friday night. The new location is casual and comfy with both a spacious terrace and a sit-down bar area in which to enjoy El Chile's enticing menu and signature cocktails... And speaking of drinks on a great patio, the folks at Fino (2905 San Gabriel, 474-2905) are very eager to share their refreshing new happy-hour offerings for summer. Drop in any weekday between 5 and 7pm for half off on all pink and sparkling wines, $2 off on cocktails, $1 off on beers, and tantalizing small plates for less than $4.
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