Restaurant Review: How Sweet It Is
Sugar Mama's Bakeshop East moves beyond the cupcake
Reviewed by Virginia B. Wood, Fri., Oct. 24, 2014
Baking entrepreneur Olivia O'Neal made a name for herself locally by creating a truly inspired line of cupcake flavors to sell in the South Austin bakeshop she opened in 2005. In the spring of 2013, judges on the Food Network's Cupcake Wars were wowed by such delights as Harlow's Honey Baklava – a honey buttermilk cake with a nutty baklava filling topped with cinnamon cream cheese frosting – and the Alpocalypse – moist Valrhona chocolate cake filled with spicy chipotle chocolate truffle ganache under a swirl of rich chocolate buttercream. The $10,000 prize from the win jump-started expansion plans that were already in the works, and a couple of months back, O'Neal proudly introduced Sugar Mama's Bakeshop East. The clever pastry shop and dessert lounge is located next door to the new Dai Due Butcher Shop & Supper Club on Manor Road's ever-expanding restaurant row.
The new shop has been an immediate hit in the East Austin neighborhood, offering everything from breakfast pastries and coffee drinks to house signature cupcakes and elegant plated desserts paired with wine or craft beer. We've noticed diners stopping in to check out Sugar Mama's desserts before dining at Dai Due, and now we know why. The company boasts the services of two accomplished pastry chefs: Kendall Melton, who oversees dessert production and is responsible for developing breakfast pastries such as sweet and savory scones and Pop-Tarts-style treats, in addition to dreaming up eclectic ice cream flavors and plated desserts; and Karina Akhavan, who produces some of the macarons, pies, cakes, and cheesecakes that can become the daily plated desserts.
So far, their efforts are pretty impressive, with only a couple of minor missteps. On a recent Sunday morning, we started the day with a cranberry-nut sweet roll ($3) and the most requested recent cupcake flavor – the French Toast ($3) – made with maple cake topped with maple cinnamon cream cheese frosting and crispy bacon sprinkles – a perfectly executed brunch treat if ever there was one. Our luck with pie has not been quite as good. The snowy drifts of meringue on a slice of lemon pie ($5) were unfortunately gritty with undissolved sugar, and while the velvety filling of the cherry crumb pie ($5) struck just the right balance between sweet and tart underneath its buttery mantle, the pie crust was so thick and tough it wouldn't cut with a fork – not exactly a feature that leads to bragging rights.
On the other hand, bar cookies and macarons were truly remarkable and now rank among our favorite sweet treats around town. We loved the creamy tartness of the Key Lime Pie bar ($3) atop a crunchy graham cracker base, and the chocolate roasted-peanut candy bar ($3), with its luxurious layers of nougat, honey-roasted peanuts, and salted caramel under a thin coating of Valrhona dark chocolate, is a decadent, upscale version of a popular candy bar. The most impressive dessert we sampled on any visit, however, is this month's seasonal macaron offering: the chocolate candy-bar macaron ($6), featuring crisp, delicate disks of chocolate meringue sandwiched together with marshmallow fluff, dark chocolate ganache, salted caramel, and Heath toffee bits. It's a wonder, festooned with edible gold leaf, an adult indulgence assembled from homemade versions of retro candy-bar ingredients that cries out for pairing with coffee or sparkling wine. O'Neal says "ladies love cupcakes with Cava," but I'm betting ladies (and gents) will love this macaron with just about anything. I want to go back and have it with a scoop of ice cream and a cappuccino ($2.25).