Magnolia Bakery, Chicago/New York
If ever there was an accidental find on this blog, this would have to be the one. Magnolia Bakery’s spot here isn’t because I saw it on the Travel Channel and decided I had to make a trip. It isn’t here because I found it on a “Best of” list or read a review in a newspaper, and it isn’t because of a high rating I saw online. It’s not even here because of its fame from Sex and the City, which I didn’t even know until I started doing some research.
No, it’s here because of a wrong turn that caused Amy to discover this place and decide that trying it was an absolute must. This blog is absolutely dedicated to my wonderful girlfriend, who found it on a trip into the Windy City while her mother and grandmother were in the Midwest for a visit.
Magnolia Bakery’s story is kind of the ultimate “keep taking shots until something hits the target” of the food world. Basically, this place started in New York in 1996, initially planning on simply baking bread and rolls. That plan didn’t work out because of space, so they moved their focus to cakes instead. That plan worked out fairly well, but when they made cakes, they realized that they usually ended up wasting a lot of batter. The solution became to turn the excess batter into cupcakes, and that proved to be the attempt that found the mark. New York, the city that a restaurant for pretty much every food known to man, had its place to get its cupcakes.
Showing just how much they had hit the target, Magnolia Bakery quickly capitalized on its newfound fame as being a cupcake destination in the world’s media capital. From their tiny beginnings, the bakery now has multiple locations in New York, a location in the Chicago Loop, one in Los Angeles and four in the Middle East.
Yes, for some reason, the Middle East loves cupcakes, so Magnolia Bakery has locations in Dubai (United Arab Emirates), Kuwait City, Beirut (Lebanon) and Doha (Qatar). Well, at least the people at the World Cup in Qatar in 2022 will be able to get good cupcakes, and I promise to stop with the soccer references. Anyway, there are plans to eventually add another 120 of these bakeries, and hopefully, some more of them will make their way to other locations in the United States.
The reason for the explosion is that these people know how to bake, and they use a lot of varieties. Their main seller is, of course, the cupcakes that made them famous, and they feature no fewer than 17 kinds of cupcakes, rotating flavors on a daily basis. Usually, only five will be available each day in the bakery, as they serve chocolate, red velvet, vanilla and the flavor of the month daily, plus one other that changes according to the day. But if you have a favorite, you can order any of their 17 flavors as long as you’d like at least a dozen of them. (Hmm, a dozen of something with creative flavors. That’s familiar.) They also do special designs, such as a stack of flower-shaped ones or cupcakes with Chicago Blackhawks logos as the team played for the Stanley Cup. Pretty cool.
Additionally, you can join their cupcake of the month club and get cupcakes shipped to your door. They pick the flavors, which means you’re going to rotate through possibilities like red velvet, pumpkin, peanut butter and jelly and s’mores, among others. Be warned, though, this doesn’t come cheap. One cupcake in the store is $3.50, and if you’re paying for them to ship the cupcakes to you, prices get really high. If you want six cupcakes a month for a year, you’ll pay a cool $500 for the privilege. If you’re doing the math, that adds up to $6.95 per cupcake.
Well, this is why you do your purchasing in the store. Amy opted for the a banana bread cupcake with chocolate buttercream frosting, and this was something special. Everything at Magnolia Bakery is made on-site with the freshest ingredients, which is pretty much the surest guarantee that you’re going to produce something that’s high quality. The cupcakes are moist and flavorful and the icing is perfect. You really can’t ask for much more than that.
Not knowing just how good the cupcakes were (to be fair, Amy didn’t know how famous they were either), I opted for something so different that I had to give it a shot. I don’t always choose peanut butter, chocolate and toffee as my dessert, but when I saw the peanut butter toffee bar, I knew that this simply had to be done. Basically, it’s like a brownie on steroids. Toffee and peanut butter are two of my favorite things in this world, and together, they produce a combination that is simply unbeatable. The flavors work together fantastically, and the texture is just perfect. I loved every bit of it, and definitely considered this to be worthy of our stop.
Along with the toffee bar, Magnolia Bakery produces other classic bakery items, like cookies, pies, cheesecakes and cakes. Along with our choices, her mother and grandmother added a caramel pecan mini cheesecake and a blueberry jamboree icebox pie, both of which looked outstanding. I’d like to say that I have taught her well, but the truth is, Amy always has been able to find good restaurants on her own.
This definitely proved to be another one, even if we weren’t even looking for something to put on the blog. Sometimes, you just have to keep your eyes open to what’s around you, because you never know what you’re going to find. These cupcakes were certainly worth the trip on their own.
Time to go: Anytime, really. Bakeries tend to move pretty quick, even when they do get crowded.
Wait during my visit: Not long, we moved through everything quickly. It took the longest time to decide what to order.
Location: Magnolia Bakery has multiple locations in New York and one in Los Angeles, but this one was at 108 North State Street in Chicago.
Cost: These are not cheap. Most items run about three or four dollars. But they’re really, really good.
Parking: Don’t bother. Take the CTA train on the Blue or Red Line into the Loop and get off at the last underground stop. I think it’s Washington for Blue and Lake for Red.
Seating arrangement: Small chairs and tables. If you’re on the bigger side, this could be a challenge and it might be best to just get your cupcake and eat outside.
Website: Magnolia Bakery
Specialty items: Cupcakes