Let Them Eat Cake

When we heard there was a bakery in town serving up a cupcake dedicated to Michael Jackson, we knew we had to check it out. When we heard that the cupcake in question was made of vanilla cake with a fudge center, we were on our way in a matter of minutes (with much snickering and several inappropriate jokes). But it seems we are the ones with the politically incorrect minds.

It became apparent when we arrived at Let Them Eat Cake that Barbara Gardner, the owner of the bakery, had no intention of making any sort of commentary about the late star's mid-life change-of-shade. But we still thought it was funny to share — and tasty enough to recommend. Gardner designed the cupcake with a sparkling glove on top, in honor of MJ's favorite accessory (aside from the face mask). And, completely inappropriate or not, the cupcake was delicious.

Tammie Coe Cakes

We owe Tammie Coe an apology. For years, we've admired the beauty of her cakes — striped Mad Hatter-esque creations with impossibly smooth icing in vibrant colors. Our favorite is a recent creation — plain white covered perfectly with rainbow sprinkles, with a candy candle on top. Adorable.

But we've long refused to eat Coe's fancy cakes; the icing is beautiful, but to be honest, it's not so easy on the taste buds. Then we got hooked on those reality shows about cake decorating (Cake Boss on TLC and The Food Network's Ace of Cakes) and we learned about fondant. Coe is a local fondant pioneer, it turns out — taking a cake-decorating staple and making it mainstream. When we decided to try out fondant for ourselves, the first thing the clerk at the baking supply store said was, "Now, you know no one really ever eats fondant, right? It tastes horrible. You're supposed to peel it off and eat the butter-cream frosting underneath."

Oops. Our apologies, Tammie. You really do take the cake — and make it look better than anyone else.

New Orleans Sno Ball
Evie Carpenter

The snow cone is perfect in its simplicity — ice, bathed in a sweet, flavored syrup. No finer snow cone is found in our hot metropolis than New Orleans Sno Ball. This isn't your ballpark or state fair snow cone, no sirree. Instead of rock-hard chunks of ice, the Sno Ball shaves ice into soft flakes, piled into a cup, that melt on your tongue. Owner Abron Morgan hand-blends more than 50 sophisticated flavors, like real almond, apricot, real vanilla, and margarita, and then layers them so that the sweet flavor is evenly dispersed. As any snow cone aficionado will tell you, evenly dispersed flavor is critical to the cone's being good to the last drop. Of course, if your inner child reigns supreme in the flavor department, he's got classics like Tutti-Frutti and Blue Eagle (bubblegum). If your inner child is concerned about calories, don't fret, because you'd have to eat a lot of Sno Ball before you hit the 100-calorie mark. Soft, shaved ice, loaded with flavor, and lo-cal? We're on our way.

The Gelato Maker

Gelato Maker owner Yaron Cohen dispenses samples of gelato like a benevolent judge dispenses justice. He stands behind the counter, confidently presiding over the rainbow of flavors, and sizes up his customers' tastes. Ask to try the coconut gelato and he'll also suggest you taste his favorite, mojito. Interested in Nutella? You should also sample the hazelnut gelato, called nocilla. "The secret is the fresh ingredients," Cohen says, as he brags about $300 shipments of pistachios from Sicily. The Gelato Maker opened in April and we're not telling how many times we've been since.

Scratch Pastries
Courtesy of Scratch

Scratch is a bright and airy French cafe — in a strip mall. We promise you'll forget your proximity to Subway as soon as you're in the door. The menu is populated with croque madames and savory crèpes oozing Comte, goat, and Brie cheeses. But the pièce de resistance (sorry, we did mention it's a French cafe, right?) is the glass pastry counter filled with raspberry and lemon tartes, French meringues, and gorgeous pyramids and domes made of chocolate. Even if you're not a freak for sweets, the pastries are masterpieces, each a little work of art.

District American Kitchen and Wine Bar

Because District is situated inside the new downtown Sheraton, it's expected that hotel guests would eat here. But interestingly enough, the restaurant seems to be going after locals, too, with a comfort-food menu that name-drops plenty of local purveyors and gives creative twists to American standards. One such classic is something we just don't see on restaurant menus in the Southwest but wouldn't mind if we did: whoopie pies. These traditional Amish treats, with cream sandwiched between two moist round cakes, get a tasty update at District. They're pumpkin instead of the typical chocolate cake, teamed with a frothy bourbon malt milkshake that's as yummy as it sounds. Earlier this year, the New York Times published a story about how whoopie pies are suddenly in vogue. We knew it already.

Amarone Ristorante Italiano

It takes true discipline to behave ourselves at Amarone Ristorante Italiano, a north Scottsdale eatery where everything from the grilled calamari to the homemade gnocchi in vodka sauce is clean-your-plate good. Needless to say, we usually indulge ourselves here. Charming owner Maurizio Benforte (who also runs Pizza A Metro, in Phoenix) has a way of putting us in a festive mood, and before we know it, we're ordering tiramisu when we thought we'd already filled our bellies to capacity. But as with any amazing dessert, there's always room for Amarone's tiramisu — light, creamy mascarpone layered with booze-soaked ladyfingers, with a dusting of cocoa. It's la dolce vita in every bite.

Bertha's Cafe

In a sea of trendy cupcake shops, Bertha's Café rises modestly to the top. This casual and unassuming spot serves breakfast, lunch, and a variety of pastries, but the true-blue reason to go to Bertha's is to sample the adorable mini red velvet cupcakes. At 75 cents apiece, they're highly addictive; they're moist, with white frosting and red sprinkles — they're so cute you could pop. Beyond red velvet, other flavors include chocolate, carrot cake, and pumpkin, in the fall. You'll be back every season, regardless of what's in style.

Tammie Coe Cakes

We'll forgive you if you didn't know MJ Bread exists. It's like a cute toy hidden inside a cereal box, but in this case, the cereal box is Tammie Coe Cakes. You may walk into Tammie Coe's looking for a swirly cake, but you're just as likely to walk out with a crunchy baguette, some ciabatta bread, or a warm olive loaf. MJ Bread also sells to-go servings of garlic bread, as well as crispy baguettes, garlic herb focaccia, and blueberry banana bread. The pretzels are particularly yummy. They have a small menu with a few sandwiches, to boot. Try the tuna slider on a delicious roll that perfects the ideal bread-to-tuna-salad ratio. Anyway, as we were saying, you'd be forgiven for not having known about MJ, but now that you are in the know, you're on your own. No more clemency.

The Phoenician, Scottsdale

Master baker Ben Hershberger has created a monster. His chocolate cherry sourdough bread is a one-pound marvel that has a cult following. Found at The Phoenician and the Scottsdale Farmers Market, it's worth getting up early just to guarantee you'll be able to grab some. Did we mention getting up early? This sweet treat sells out every week faster than your 401(k) tumbles. And for good reason — the little loaves are loaded with three different kinds of chocolate, which is more than you'll find in most cakes in this town. Finally, a sweet treat that's as good as it is good for you. At least, that's how we justified scarfing a whole loaf in one sitting. Those cherries must count for a daily serving of fruit, right? It's the perfect excuse to knock back a slice or three after dinner as the perfect capper for any meal. Or lunch. Heck, even breakfast. Some people call it toast; we call it heaven.

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