Manhattan : Greenwich Village : University Place & East 13th St.
Crumbs is a cupcake shop that first opened in 2003 in the Upper West Side; it now has a number of locations in Manhattan (and one in Brooklyn) as well as a handful outside New York. It’s not the kind of place I would go of my own accord, but Brokelyn alerted me to this free cupcake offer—You still have time to snag one yourself; the vouchers are good through April. Anyway, though I’m not the kind of guy who’d buy a cupcake, I’m not the kind of guy who’d turn down a free cupcake either, so I headed to Crumbs’ Union Square location, voucher in hand.
Crumbs makes a number of cupcake varieties daily, including something they call Colossal Cupcakes which are made to be brought home and shared. Which is just a cake, right? I’m pretty sure we have giant cupcakes already; they’re called cakes.
Here’s some of the flavors I remember seeing there: Cookie Dough, S’Mores, Margarita (I don’t know; the frosting, I guess?), Oreo-Something-or-Other, Chocolate Mint and, of course, Red Velvet. Bitches love a Red Velvet—which, by the way, is just chocolate cake with a ton of red food coloring in it. That’s what they’re losing their shit over.
Okay, anyway: I settled on Chocolate Pecan Pie, which was a chocolate cupcake topped with pecans and some caramel frosting. It was okay, but here’s my problem with the gourmet cupcake thing: If I had paid for that cupcake, it would have been $4. That seems pretty insane, especially because the differences separating a “gourmet” cupcake and a regular, child’s birthday party cupcake are minimal to say the least.
This is the rich white lady version of gorging on a box of Oreos. There’s no difference, not only in that they are both completely empty foods, but also in that they taste essentially the same. No matter what flavor your cupcake is, it’ll always just mostly taste like sugar. And you’ll eat it and you’ll like it because our dumb brains have evolved over time to like sugar and want more of it, originally because nutrition typically came along with it, although that’s not the case anymore.
But eating cake, as with the bag of Oreos, doesn’t really taste like anything aside from the generic sensation of “sweet.” Eating cake is not like eating a great meal or even a great pie or a great cookie, where the flavors can be complex and satisfying. Eating cake is just a few steps removed from poring sugar directly into your mouth. There’s not much else going on there.
So that’s my beef with the so-called “cupcake craze” of the 2000s. It’s just a slightly more bourgeois version of the processed, empty substances food science has been pushing on us for decades. But the cupcake craze may finally be coming to an end, at least according to Gothamist, who reports Crumbs’ sales and stocks are steadily falling. I don’t think cupcakes are going anywhere for now, because I’ve never walked by Magnolia in the West Village and not seen it absolutely packed with middle aged white women. But If all the Crumbs in the city disappeared overnight, I certainly wouldn’t miss them. Those locations would be better served by just about anything else.
I guess that explains the free cupcake voucher in the first place. The idea, I suppose, being that you’d get a free cupcake and like it so much you’d keep coming back. But who needs cupcakes on any regular basis? I can’t imagine stopping off for a cupcake after work. It seems absurd to me—I’m not a child. I think I probably eat a cupcake once every three or four years, and that’s plenty. If there were enough people eating cupcakes every week to make Crumbs expand to close to 70 locations in ten years, I’m not disappointed to see their numbers diminishing.