Sweet Inspiration Bakery, I bid adieu to all that cake and icing
As anyone who reads me regularly knows, I love a good bakery. When word broke last week that Sweet Inspirations was closing, my heart and stomach felt a pang of sadness. I stepped into the place some twenty years ago when I first moved to town and was overwhelmed with not only the cake choices, but the size of the slices they served up. It was my frosting heaven in both cream cheese and whipped buttercream delights. To say I frequented the place on many an occasion would be an understatement. Particularly after I moved in the neighborhood a few blocks away. I often found myself here indulging in their cake, cheesecake or overly large cookies as a way of eating my feelings after a bad date or when me and Ms. O had dined out somewhere the place failed us on dessert. we always knew we could end up here and find something both of us would like.
The place has been a fixture in the hood and seems to have gone through more owners and iterations than Madonna over the years. In general though, the basic concept has remained the same, fresh cakes made in-house and served up whole or by the slice to anyone. Big honking slabs of cake with copious amounts of icing and thick cheesecakes to challenge even the best of sweet eaters like myself. And yes, I usually gluttoned my way through the big slices while there, though every now and then I had some to take home. Rare for sure, but it happened!
After I moved out of the hood, I didn't make it there quite as often, but still enough to see the place morph through its different owners. Most of the time, the cakes and things remained the same even as a handful of new non bakery things were added as offerings. Lately, the place had come under new ownership again and their goal was to try and keep things the same while also shaking it up a bit to help draw in more folks. There was hope as the new guys had successful restaurant experience in and around town and it seemed things were looking up even as they hit a few snags from the city, like a number of places do.
One reason I was hopeful was they were adding some quick things to the menu like burgers and a fried chicken sandwich to go along with all you can eat pancakes for brunch and a couple of other sandwiches which could be popular. I ventured in a few times to check out their new sandwiches as shock of shocks, they were charging less than $10 for them. Unheard of I know in town but a welcome surprise.
In fact, you could get a regular cheeseburger for $5.49 or a double cheeseburger for $7.99 and then just $1.99 for a side a fries with it. Seemed like a bargain to me I really wanted to try.
Of course I went the double route which came with onions, lettuce, tomato, pickle, cheese and special sauce on a toasted and buttered(!) bun. While not the largest of burgers, it is still decent size and is comparable to Super Duper's burger. Considering there is one of those about two blocks away, I will say is probably a reason the pricing was what is was so they could be competitive. Overall it was a pretty good burger too. Juicy, cooked to order, lots of cheese and toppings and definitely filling. The special sauce on it was interesting. Kind of like a Big Mac special sauce with a little bit of kick to it. Not exactly my fave, but okay, though I would have recommended getting it on the side as it was a very wet burger and the bun started to come apart while eating and thus making it very messy.
The fries were of the thin kind, like McDonald's, and crispy fried to order so you got them hot. Plus a quantity you could eat by yourself though plenty to share too. As a combo for about $10, definitely was a nice (temporary) add to the area. I still like Super Dupers better, but at least it would have been an alternative. Can't say the same about the fried chicken sandwich.
It ran the same price as the double cheeseburger but was a little smaller. The chicken was a bit overcooked and on the dry side. I think they tried to make up for it by having a super wet cole slaw which was mixed with kale, two kinds of cabbage and some of the thickest mayo I've ever had. There was also an aioli you could also get to make it even wetter! Still couldn't overcome the dry chicken. Ultimately, this particular item won't be missed.
Really, it is the cake slices I came here for and on my last visit decided to try one of their selection. Seems the choices had been cut back and while they said they were still made in-house, they did look a little different to me. I think part of it was the icing didn't look as prevalent as I remember. On some of the cakes, like the carrot one, you could see the edges of the layers clearly. It's why I ended up getting a piece of Red Velvet.
I have to say, I'm not sure what they have done, but the cake wasn't all that good. The cake was a bit dry and I have to say, the slice didn't seem as big as I was used to. The biggest draw back with it was the frosting. It was cream cheese, but it was so thick and sticky, it was more like eating fondant than actual icing. Plus, they put crumbs from the cake over entire outside of the cake which make help the presentation, but just made it taste dryer than it should have been.
This wasn't my first slice with them either. About a month ago I was there one night and got a piece of the poppy seed cake which has been one of my top choices there. I don't have a picture of it mostly because I was terribly unimpressed with what I had. The cake was super dry and it seemed in effort to help that out, they had put in an extra layer of lemon curd trying to create some lemon poppy seed thing. It didn't help. It only added a sour taste to the cake. Plus the cream cheese icing wasn't creamy then either. Just a sticky thin layer that peeled off like sticker from plastic.
Seems the thing they were known for was suddenly not the thing they were doing well anymore. Burger notwithstanding, I was totally bummed about how bad each of my slices were and even before I knew they were closing, I knew I probably would not be coming back if this is what they were serving. A shame really, but when I did hear the news I wanted to served up some of the better cakes and cookies I have had there over the years. that did stand up to both taste and frosting-ness.
Like this slice of carrot cake. I mean look at all that frosting! And you can see the layers just scream moistness throughout.
Or this peanut butter chocolate cake with thick creamy layers of chocolate and peanut butter frosting. Sure the peanut butter could have been amped up a bit, but the cake was moist and the frosting plentiful for a delicious bite or two or three or more.
And one of my all time faves from them the poppy seed cake with oodles of cream cheese icing between layers and on the outside.
And still another slice of poppy seed cake from a few years later. They weren't being as fancy with the icing as the other one, but still, there were thick layers that still had a smooth creaminess to them.
Finally on the cake front, this raspberry cake with a lemon cream cheese frosting the was tart, tangy, sweet and creamy. The cake part also was buttery and moist. See, I told you I had eaten my fair share there. You can only imagine how many there were before I broke down and got a cell phone with a camera for easy picture taking.
I can't forget the cookies either. Oversized versions for about $2.25 that came in chocolate chip, oatmeal, snickerdoodle, etc.
Not to mention a dipped version of one of their cookies. Big, bold and chocolatey. So many good sweets they had to choose from over the years. It was my after dinner dessert spot of choice by far.
But now I must bid them adieu as the new owners tried, albeit for only a few months, but just couldn't seem to make it work. They said "the cake just aren't selling" and "people are not putting their money behind the cakes." I posit it could be because the quality of them had decreased and they were not the same as they were before. Baking is almost like a science and when you make subtle tweaks to things it can have a definite effect on the overall taste and appearance of something. They can say they were following the recipes all they like, but I know my cream cheese icings and it just was not the same. Plus they did away with the cookies and tried to supersize them like those things you get from Mrs. Fields or something and can print your name on. I mean you aren't going to sell that many at $5 a pop for something the size of a small dog. A grab and go cookie works much better.
Oh well, March 1st is their last day and no use haranguing them about it at this point. Best to just remember fondly the good times and tasty cake slices, cheesecake and cookies I had chowed down on over the years. Times change and I guess I now need to change my bakery along with it. I know I won't find a spot that did cake slices quite like Sweet Inspirations though as I have eaten at a number of them around town and while a few spots have some things, no one else had their kind of selection. Maybe one day a bakery will come along and be my one stop cake slice shop, till then, I will have my memories of moist cake and smooth creamy cream cheese frosting to keep my company. At least memories won't pack on the calories, so there is that.