You'd think the cupcake craze would be cooling. Not by a long shot. In the past 18 months, a new crop of cupcake shops have been added to Tampa Bay's already sweet lineup. Here are the new players, with a look at their best offerings.
Laura Reiley, Times food critic
Jessica Beebe opened her first location in 2010 in New Port Richey and a second shop in Palm Harbor near the end of 2011 with a third shop set to open any day in Land O'Lakes. Originally aiming to be an ice cream parlor, she soon found she couldn't keep up with the demand for her cupcakes. Ice cream took a backseat as she went full throttle on the cupcakes, known for their super-moist cake and vanilla- or cream cheese-based frostings. There are four core offerings every day (chocolate-chocolate, chocolate peanut butter, red velvet and cannoli) with another dozen or so rotating flavors. She likes to experiment with exotics (think ginger-wasabi, spicy chocolate, hibiscus or honey lavender), and, in 2011, Sugardarlings won the Great St. Pete Cupcake Contest.
Crowning Achievement: Beebe won the contest with a peanut butter s'mores cupcake, but the cannoli-inspired version with mascarpone frosting and chocolate chips is a showstopper.
8511 Old County Road 54, New Port Richey; (727) 376-2253, sugardarlingscupcakes.com. Also 4966 Ridgemoor Blvd., Palm Harbor; (727) 785-2253. A third location is opening soon in Land O'Lakes.
$2 each, $20 per dozen
Sweet! By the Cake Factory
Jeannette Sanchez and son Daniel Delgado plus partner Carlos Delgado opened their little cupcake bar in January. They have a unique spin on the cupcake game: Choose from six flavors of cake, five kinds of icing and 18 toppings to create a custom cupcake for $3.50. You can get creative, with Oreo cookies, coconut, Pop Rocks and chocolate-covered pretzels as toppers, in the vein of Yogurtology or other create-your-bliss yogurt spots. Sweet! has also carved out a niche for itself with gluten-free and vegan options and it chooses a different charity each month and crafts a celebratory cupcake, with 50 percent of the proceeds going to benefit that charity.
Crowning achievement: Sweet! makes a lovely classic red velvet cupcake with not-too-sweet cream cheese icing, decorated with a delicate fondant heart (shown).
1100 Fourth St. N, St. Petersburg; (727) 498-8587, sweetstpetersburg.com
$3 for premade cupcakes, $3.50 to craft your own
Opened in November, Glorified Cupcakes is the brainchild of Pedro Gonzalez. His shop is an outgrowth of his work as pastor of "Saturday Night Cafe," an alternative service at the Casa del Alfarero church on Hesperides Street. Glorified Cupcakes is run by volunteers, and some of the proceeds go to benefit the church and the community's needy. The group aims to open more locations in the Tampa area, but for now the little storefront is crowded with display cases of peanut butter cup, dulce de leche, key lime and Almond Joy cupcakes. They also sell coffee, salads and wraps, and deliver within 5 miles with a $20 minimum order.
Crowning achievement: A Cuban coffee cupcake starts with either a basic chocolate or yellow cake that is filled as well as topped with a subtle Cuban coffee buttercream, capped demurely with a coffee bean.
3601 W Kennedy Blvd., Tampa; (813) 874-2253, glorifiedcupcakes.com
$2.75 each, $29.99 per dozen
I Love Cupcakes
Sherry Sheppard opened her shop in February after years of baking at home for family and friends. Many of those loved ones had dietary restrictions as, it appears, do many locals; at I Love Cupcakes, gluten-free and vegan cupcakes have been huge sellers. Sheppard offers eight to 10 regular flavors a day, including a core of chocolate, vanilla and red velvet, in addition to other sweets like brownies and cookies. She has also focused on hosting birthday parties and, on the second Thursday of the month, a ladies' night.
Crowning achievement: The banana cream pie cupcake begins with a dense, very moist organic banana cupcake with a vanilla custard filling, then topped with whipped cream frosting and capped with crunchy organic banana chips. (Second place definitely goes to the carrot cupcake.)
13220 Belcher Road, Weston Plaza, Largo; (727) 543-9045, ilovecupcakesllc.com
$2.50 each, $24 for a dozen
The shop, opened last year, features a charming pink-and-brown color scheme, with a little seating counter and two cases that contain the daily-changing cupcake lineup selected from a pool of more than 60 varieties. One of 30 franchises of a company started a couple of years ago in Nashville by Gina "GiGi" Butler, this outpost seems to do a brisk business. Very tall piped icing is the signature, which can make the cupcakes a little top-heavy and inclined to tip. A whiteboard over the counter lists each day's offerings, as does the website, complete with pictures and lavish descriptions.
Crowning achievement: A perfect summer cupcake, the s'mores version features milk chocolate cake with chocolate chips baked in, topped with vanilla fluff and toasted marshmallows, the whole periphery rimmed in graham cracker crumbs and with a jaunty square of Hershey bar sticking out the top (shown above).
3810 Neptune Ave., Tampa; (813) 258-5555, gigiscupcakesusa.com/florida
$3.50 each, $36 per dozen, and they have just introduced minis for $15 a dozen
Enjoi Sweets & Company
Joi Escobar didn't grow up baking. But after studying fashion merchandising and not finding a job in her field, she took her burgeoning baking hobby and turned it into a business. She and her mother, Rhonda Mitchell, sold cupcakes, cookies and mini pies at the Ybor City Saturday Market under the name Sugar Flower Cupcakes before opening Enjoi in March. It's a pull-up-a-chair-and-relax kind of shop with local artists' work on the walls and a lounge area with a couch and soft chairs and coffee tables. Opinions are divided on the top offerings — some say cupcakes, others say the mini pies (offered in apple, sweet potato and sweet cream lemon custard).
Crowning achievement: With 11 kinds of cupcakes each day (rotating from a master list of about 22), the most exciting may be the "cookies and cream" version, a yellow cake that has Oreo cookies in the batter, topped with vanilla buttercream with more cookie crumbs on top.
4707 W Gandy Blvd., Tampa; (813) 545-7282, enjoisweets.com
Laura Reiley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2293.