Food tours are an appetizing way to learn about a city. But with children along, you may want to make sure dessert is on the menu! Recently, we were treated (quite literally) to one of the “Dessert Tours” offered by the folks at Sugartooth Tours. Their goal, to “introduce the sweeter side of NYC!” had us wanting to learn more. And with between 4 and 6 stops on the tour (depending on group size, age and mobility ranges and special pre-arranged requests), we did.
Although it was colder outside than a case of gelato, we walked through the city streets. With dessert at each destination, there were few complaints from the kids. The tour was the “Downtown Village to Village Cupcake Crawl,” but despite the recent fascination for “cupcake crawls,” there were no big chains or “overrated” spots on the itinerary. Owners Sarah Rolleston and Allyson Tolbert turned their sweet teeth towards the tours in 2012 with the goal of tourists gaining both historical and culinary knowledge. (And a good excuse to suss out the “best of” local sweet spots.)
We learned from Sarah, our guide, for instance, that cupcakes have been around for more than 200 years, and they were invented in America. They are called cupcakes because when they were first made, they were often baked in cups—long before the muffin/cupcake tins existed. And size is key too—mini cupcakes or giant ones aren’t technically cupcakes. Her references went back to the recipe book “American Cookery” by Amelia Simmons, the first known cookbook written by an American published in 1796. Back then, the frosting was not sweet—rather more likely a lard. Other historical tidbits included Winston Churchill being credited with suggesting sweet frosting (which he later blamed as the cause of his large jowls) and George Washington ending up with wooden teeth as a result of his sweet tooth and a penchant for ice cream.
The tour began in Chelsea at Billy’s Bakery, where all of their baked goods are made on-site and served in a 1940’s style store. The aim is to make you feel like you’re eating in “Grandma’s kitchen,” but with the sampling of a banana cupcake with Nutella icing, it was hard not to think that a lot of Grandmas out there should learn that recipe!
Next stop on the tour was City Cakes, best known for its “whimsical and fun cakes,” according to Sarah, (and evidenced by photos of various cakes including a giant Smurf cake highlighted on the Food Network). They started making cupcakes as a chance for visitors to have a chance to try their special occasion cakes on a smaller scale. This location is a hidden gem—a tiny spot down a stairway that you could easily walk past. But co-owners/cake designers Benny Rivera and Marc Mathias use every square foot effectively.
Onwards to Molly’s Cupcakes. Originating in Chicago, but with locations in New York and Iowa City as well, this spot caters to families with children (and adults who want to live like children). Books and games line shelves, there are “swing chairs” to sit in, and the ability to “make your own” cupcakes. The spot is named after the founder’s third-grade teacher who evidently baked cupcakes for her students whenever they had a birthday. In her honor, a portion of the profits are donated to schools in the community. Here, a red velvet cupcake was “created”—covered with vanilla frosting and mini M&M’s—kid’s choice.
For the Adults
The final destination was in the West Village—Sweet Revenge. This homey spot started off as cupcakes only, but now does much more–including special cupcake and wine (or beer) pairings. Owner Marlo Scott, who opened for business in 2008, wants to make sure adults who come in for cupcakes want to stay for a while. (Not to worry, there are milk pairings for the kids.) For instance, Scott suggests the Crimson and Cream can be paired with a Raspberry Bellini to “accentuate the spices and enhance notes you’ll taste.” Make sure you have Scott tell you (or read on her website) the back story as to who she took her Sweet Revenge on in building her business and you’ll want to take another cupcake to go.
With the weather so cold and young children along, four stops was more than plenty for the day, and stomachs were more than full! But when the weather is better, whether you’re on the Hell’s Kitchen Tour, the Theatre District Broadway Tour, the Holiday Market Tour or others offered by Sugartooth, you can console yourself that you’ll be burning off at least a few of the calories as you walk from spot to spot! Sugartooth asks for tours to be booked at least seven days in advance if possible—with a minimum of three people and a maximum of 16. Make sure the kids brush and floss post tour, so they don’t end up like George Washington!