Cupcakes on Kavanaugh Can a cupcake taste wholesome? Because this one did, but in a great way. Everything about this strawberry cupcake, with mostly chocolate and a dollop of strawberry buttercream frosting, smacked of just-milked, just-gathered, just-baked freshness. The cake was moist, moist, moist, in addition to being light, fluffy and barely sweet, and it completely allowed the icing to carry the sugar-ride. And what a ride! This was some uniquely excellent icing — thinner and creamier than most buttercreams, it spawned spontaneous images of happy cows in sunny pastures. Kavanaugh uses organic milk and local eggs — does that really make all the difference? This is one cupcake that doesn't permanently lodge in your stomach post-consumption, making you regret your sugar-cave for the rest of the day. Extra points for being open on Mondays. Price: $2.95. 5625 Kavanaugh Blvd., 664-2253. Cupcakes on the Ridge, 11525 Cantrell Road, 224-2253. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Mon.-Fri.,10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sat.
Brown Sugar This River Market-area bakeshop offers a daily repertoire of red velvet, chocolate, vanilla and strawberry cupcakes, along with two specialty surprises — anything from blueberry citrus to caramel pecan. (There are also interesting to-order flavors, such as maple bacon or Moscato. There's something very Stepford Wives about an alcoholic cupcake!) We chose Cherry Cheesecake a bit skeptically, but (and we're sure your mom would agree), usually everything turns out OK in the end. The cake was adequately moist and not too heavy, the icing was a smooth, thick buttercream with a sharp cheesecake flavor, and the whole thing was sweet-sweet, but it went down easily. Price: $2.50. 419 E. Third St., 372-4009, 10:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Tue.-Fri., 10:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Sat.
Sweet Love Whether it's a blueberry with cream cheese icing or an elaborate Black and White with chocolate and vanilla candy topping, Sweet Love does a good cupcake. We couldn't choose, so we tried both. We were surprised at how well the blueberry flavor muscles through the eggs and milk and all, but the icing is thinner and less fluffy — a little less rich — than the cream cheese varieties we are familiar with. (Have you ever tried a yogurt-based icing? That's what it reminded us of.) Because it's more traditional, we think the Black and White is probably a bigger crowd pleaser. What you get: both chocolate and vanilla swirled cake and icing, but the cake is stronger on the chocolate, and the icing, the vanilla. Moist cake with loose whirls of stiff buttercream and an all-around solid cupcake experience. There was also a Pancake Breakfast cupcake with maple cake and icing and a bacon bits topper. Sounded pretty interesting ... maybe next time? Price: $2.75. 8210 Cantrell Road. 613-7780. 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Tue.-Fri., 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Sat.
The Root The downtown cafe has (usually vegan) cupcakes only on Fridays and Saturdays. We had a vegan something of a spiced, nutty persuasion, with cream-cheese(ish) icing and crushed candied ginger on top. It tasted like winter holidays and spring picnics — both of which we love — but it was more of a heavily iced muffin than an honest-to-goodness cupcake. The texture was dense and a little crumbly, with bits of real nut and a nutmeg bite. The icing was more granulated than buttercream or real cream cheese, but yummy all the same. Big plus: nothing about this cupcake was too sweet or too filling. Price: $2.50. 1500 Main St., 414-0423. 7 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Tue.-Fri., 8 a.m-3:30 p.m. Sat.
Tracy Cakes A filled lemon cupcake that we can actually get behind! Tracy Cakes's Lemondrop looks pretty basic, but our specimen was fresh, with tangy buttercream icing and a spot of lemon curd. Something about the hearty texture of the curd made it more palatable than a jelly or custard, and it always helps when a filling is used sparingly. This filling blended well with the cake, making a few choice bites seem extra moist and delicious. Overall, there was a strong but happy lemon flavor, and we're eager to try other Tracy Cakes varieties. Price: $2.25. 10301 North Rodney Parham Road, 227-4243.
10 a.m.-8 p.m. Tue.-Sat.
Dempsey Bakery Everything at Dempsey's is gluten-free, and half of its offerings are vegan. We had a chocolate cupcake with shockingly pink vanilla icing that was gluten-free and dairy-free, but not egg-free. For a cupcake lacking crucial ingredients, it did a good job passing as normal. The cake was sticky and dense, with a rich dark-chocolate flavor. The icing had a buttercream texture, but it was sweeter and lighter than true buttercream. Actually, the icing is a tad too sweet, and the cupcake was small to be so pricey. But dietary accommodations cost, and even for the non-restricted, this cupcake was a welcome change of pace. (FYI, unless it's a special order, Dempsey's cupcakes only come in chocolate and vanilla.) Price: $3. 323 S. Cross St., 375-2257. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tue.-Fri., 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Sat.
Fresh Market A step (and a buck) above an ordinary grocery, Fresh Market sells store-baked, pre-packaged cupcakes and decadent individual cupcakes in exciting but certainly not exotic flavors, such as Peanut Butter and Cookies and Cream. We tried a classic Red Velvet, which was huge and heaped with billowy cream-cheese icing. The icing was by far the best part, but if you're not big on icing, you should probably avoid Fresh Market cupcakes altogether. The cake was chocolaty and well-flavored, but it was a little stale. We bought this cupcake in the evening, so most likely it sat all day. Perhaps we would have had better luck in the morning? Price: $2.99. 11525 Cantrell Road. 225-7700. 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Mon.-Sat., 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Sun.
Rosalia's Family Bakery Cupcakes are not really Rosalia's thing. The Brazilian bakery does many things splendidly, but we found their cupcake to be a take-or-leave experience. It has cupcakes only a few times a week — most consistently on Saturday mornings — and the flavors change according to bakers' whims. Occasionally Rosalia's cupcakes are gluten-free, but call ahead to be sure. We tried a Peanut Butter and Chocolate mini-cupcake. The icing was delish — luscious, creamy peanut butter goodness — but the cake was much too dry. We'll stick to the yucca cheese puffs from now on. Price: $1.50 (mini). 2701 Kavanaugh Blvd., 319-7035, 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Mon.- Sat.
Blue Cake This shop is cute, and its display boasts some attractive cupcakes, so we were extra disappointed with our Pink Lemonade affair. The cake and even the buttercream icing seemed a little dry. The cake was dense and definitely pink, but it didn't taste like much of anything. We're not sure if it was strawberry or vanilla flavored or what. The icing had a slight lemon flavor and there was a sharp, lemon jelly filling. (Fruit fillings in cake are nearly always a mistake, in our opinion.) An employee had advised the Red Velvet cupcake. We should have gone with it. Price: $2.50. 14710 Cantrell Road. 868-7771. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sat.
Community Bakery Community Bakery is known for its bread, and there's a reason for that. The cupcakes are depressingly basic. They come in chocolate and vanilla — no bells, no whistles. (Unfortunately, the plastic toothpick decor can't quite liven up this party.) We tried the vanilla. The cake was dry, and there was a hearty pile of vanilla confectioner's icing that couldn't quite compensate. As confectioner's icing goes, this was well-executed: creamy beneath a faintly crunchy exterior, not too stiff. Overall, this was an extremely forgettable cupcake — we'd give this vanilla a "C," you know, average, but a few weeks later, we purchased a chocolate to see if Community could redeem itself. The chocolate was less dry, and again, the icing was the standout. The chocolate came from a morning batch; we purchased the vanilla in the afternoon. Maybe a few extra hours in the display box are what killed it? Price: $1.50. 1200 Main St., 375-6418. 6 a.m.-8 p.m. Mon.-Thu., 6 a.m.-9 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 7 a.m.-8 p.m. Sun. West Little Rock: 270 S. Shackleford Road, 224-1656. 6 a.m.-6 p.m. Mon.-Sat., 7 a.m.-1 p.m. Sun.