I've been pretty sour about the whole cupcake trend in D.C., because a) I'm inclined to disdain anything that's been relentlessly hyped and b) I honestly just don't really care that much about cupcakes.
But everywhere you go, and everywhere you click, it's cupcakes. Cupcake sales! Cupcake signs! Cupcake stories! Cupcake tweets! Cupcake shops! Hello Cupcake! Red Velvet Cupcake! And the mother of them all, Georgetown Cupcake!
The owners of Georgetown Cupcake have achieved something far more genius than any feat of baking: They have managed to get TLC to make a show about their shop. In the olden days, bakeries hoping to ignite a frenzy of publicity would strive for a mention on, say, Sex and the City. But now that absolutely every service industry can qualify as entertainment, making cupcakes now merits a whole show unto itself.
My annoyance at the cupcake trend is admittedly irrational. Had I ever even tried one of the famous cupcakes? No. Had I watched the show? No. And don't I love sweets? Yes. It seemed only fair to at least try the darn things, if only to cement my surly viewpoint on it all. So we set off for a walk from my Dupont Circle apartment, through the holiday weekend throngs in Georgetown, and up to the door of 3301 M St. to taste the hype firsthand. And we encountered this.
The line stretched up the block. We peered inside. Was it really cupcakes they were serving? Could it be crack, or $100 bills, instead? No, it looked like cupcakes. A woman sat dazed in front of the shop. She affirmed that she had made it through the line and procured her treat. Was it worth it? "It was OK, but nothing ... that ... great," she shrugged. Of course not. How could any cupcake be worth that long, sweaty line?
We turned away and crossed M St. I wasn't exactly crestfallen, having been partly afraid that I would try a cupcake and actually like one, thereby becoming just another who had succumbed. As we turned the corner, a chalkboard sign caught my eye, and I stopped. "Can we walk down here?" I requested. We made our way down a seemingly empty section of 33rd St., across from the crowds at Georgetown Cupcake.
I'm not necessarily a big gourmet chocolate person, either. A Heath bar or a Rolo will do me just fine, thank you very much. Yes, dark chocolate is very healthy. Flavonoids, percentage dark cacao... What were you saying, again?
But J. Chocolatier drew me in. Here's how:
1. Put up a sign right across from an overcrowded Georgetown Cupcake.
2. Write "fleur de sel and caramel" somewhere on the sign
3. Make the shop a little haven of delights
A little note in the window promised that this was a happy place. And so it was, but more in a luxe, museum-of-chocolate way than in an aggressively cheery, Willy Wonka way. Behind the counter, a modest selection of confections and baked goods waited under small domes at varying heights, little spaceships of pleasure hovering so close, yet so far behind all that glass.
The price of admission to these spaceships is not insignificant: Truffles are $2 each. But they deliver you the journey promised. As I mentioned, it was the mention of fleur-del-sel-spiked caramel -- not chocolate -- that brought me here. And the fleur del sel chocolates (center, below) were the perfect mixture of smooth chocolate, sweet caramel and crunchy salt.
A green tea variety (far left, above) was nice too, but without seeing the name and the matcha dusted on top, I'm not sure I would have known which flavor it was supposed to be. But one last selection made a serendipitous stop all the more so: one sign called out a basil flavor (far right, above), made with herbs from the chocolate maker's garden. Basil, you say? Come on now.
But yes. The sweet, bright basil creme leapt onto my tongue from its silky chocolate exterior. It was probably the most original and tasty chocolate I've ever had. Maybe that's because it challenged my expectations and then exceeded them, much like J. Chocolatier itself did with that sign across from the madness.
So much better than a cupcake.
1039 33 St. NW (off M St.)
Truffles $2 each
Photography by sirmichael