Sometimes at Cake Eater Bakery and Café an innocent-looking cupcake will appear. It’s made of plain white cake topped with a bright white frosting, and looks for all the world like the plainest of all possible plain vanilla cupcakes. But it is not. It is “The White Mystery.” ¶ “If you can guess what it is, we give you a free cup of coffee,” explains Cake Eater co-owner Emily Moore Harris. “It’s interesting to see what people’s palates can pick up. One time it was a strawberry-balsamic cupcake and a little kid guessed grape. We thought, You know, essentially you’re right. Your mom wins a coffee! But no one ever got the ginger-plum oolong-tea White Mystery. The closest anyone got was pineapple.” Some other flavors of White Mystery have included orange-habanero, curry, and Thai-peanut-infused with sriracha sauce. Why on earth would anyone want to make an orange-habanero cupcake? “Why not?” asks Cake Eater’s other owner, Sheela Namakkal. “We love weird new stuff. Why settle for the same-old, same-old when you can be a mad scientist?” ¶ And that spirit of mad scientist is what, for this critic, makes Cake Eater the most exciting of the bumper crop of new cupcake bakeries. (Keeping score at home? Twin Cities cupcake-focused bakeries now include: Minneapolis’s granddaddy, Cupcake; the brand-new Sweets Bakeshop; Cocoa & Fig; and Sweet Retreat—not to mention the Salty Tart.) It’s a crowded, frosted world. Yet if I had to take a visitor to one cupcake spot in town it would be Cake Eater, for it’s the only bakery that hits the magic trifecta: first, plainly good cupcakes (the strawberry shortcake one is spectacular); second, great coffee (from Chicago’s Intelligentsia), and, third, something that always electrifies with a chef’s spirit of “What If?” Here, I’m thinking of not just the White Mystery, but the one cupcake in the ever-changing options that just blows the mind. It might be a cupcake made with local microbrew Surly Coffee Bender, a coffee-infused beer; or the “Elvis” banana cake, topped with peanut butter and marshmallow butter-cream frosting sprinkled with bacon—or the blood-orange Champagne, the mango-lassi, the ginger-lime-basil…
Why the passion for innovation? Namakkal says it’s the natural outgrowth of her being raised in St. Paul with an Indian father and a resolutely Midwestern mother. Indian staples, like the soft bread called dosa, were casually rendered into bits of international-fusion cooking. “My sister and I are the only ones who know how good peanut-butter banana dosa are,” Namakkal explains. “Or Velveeta-stuffed dosa, all melting and orange? That’s good!” While Namakkal is the mad scientist of the flavor lab, Harris makes sure the shop is Minneapolis-perfect, drawing on her years spent working at such local landmarks as Ecopolitan and Bad Waitress. Cake Eater has everything a Minnesota coffee-shop denizen could want, like free wi-fi, and gluten-free and vegan offerings. There’s even free coffee, if you can unravel a certain mystery.
Of all the many, many new cupcake shops, only Cake Eater approaches the tiny cutie-pies with a chef’s boldness, curiosity, and playfulness.
Ideal Meal: As many cupcakes as you can justify. Tip: Go early to get the oddest flavors. They make small batches of those and often run out of the truly surprising cupcakes. Hours: 7 a.m.-7 p.m., Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday Prices: Cupcakes 50 cents (during kids’ happy hour) to $3. Address: 2929 E. 25th St., Mpls., 612-354-7178, cakeeaterbakery.com