On our last day, Billy took me to the High Line, which is a new, quintessentially urban park that runs several stories above the city streets on Manhattan’s West Side from Gansevoort Street to Thirty-Fourth. The High Line itself used to be a railroad track for freight trains, so the trains delivering meat to the original meatpacking district and baking stuffs to the Nabisco warehouse didn’t have to co-mingle (dangerously) with cars. And now? An inspired, above-the-fray pedestrian thoroughfare, with native plants crawling haphazardly over old tracks and marvelous views of the aforementioned fray and the Empire State Building, besides.
And then, in a spurt of, “Well, we’re in the neighborhood” and “Cupcakes aren’t that filling,” we stopped in at Billy’s Bakery on 9th Ave and 21st before lunch. Feeling gluttonous generous, I also bought four more cupcakes to tote home to Virginia, put them in the apartment’s fridge for safekeeping, and promptly forgot them. Cue violins. For the uninitiated: Billy’s cupcakes have garnered a cult following in the city, quite as zealous as Magnolia’s omnipresent original buttercream ones — in fact, I’ve heard buzzing around that the Billy’s founders are Magnolia-trained? Magnolia-inspired? Disgruntled former disciples? Well, there’s a link in there.
And which is better? I know far more fans of Billy’s, most of which vehemently protest Magnolia’s lines, hype, and freshness (or lack thereof), but I am honestly torn, largely because both leave me thinking, “Great, but…”
With Magnolia Bakery . . .
- Carrie and Miranda famously wolfed down their cupcakes in Season Three (they’re gabbing about crushes, if anyone cares), so plus 10 for publicity,
- But come on, that was literally ten years ago, and some people are still going just for that, so minus 15 for not getting over it
- Frosting is sweet and light, but can be a bit bland. Plus 5 anyway, because this rarely happens.
- When the cake’s good, it’s so good. I love their crumbly, airy batter, especially the vanilla one, so plus 12,
- EXCEPT, when bf and I plus Ksenia and her bf went last week, Billo’s red velvet was stale. Minus 15, because COME ON.
- I guess we should be happy that it’s expanding like the little bakery that could, but how can I feel delightfully local at Rockefeller Center? Minus 15, because my snobbiness knows no bounds.
- There is always a line in the summer, but the original shop’s in the West Village (swoon) and located across the street from a shady park with benches for noshing. Plus 23 for flaneur possibilities, and charm both planned and incidental.
- They have a recipe book which, I hear, is awesome. Plus 4.
- Total: 9
And at Billy’s Bakery . . .
- The bakery interior is, if possible, more charming than Magnolia’s AND has seats inside. Plus 12.
- Less than two blocks from the uber-cool High Line now — eating cupcakes on an elevated park — amazing! Plus 15.
- A trek for anything but the Chelsea galleries, one section of the High Line, or the apartment where I used to babysit. Limited flaneur possibilities mean minus 8.
- The icing is better. Plus 8.
- The cake is not. Who likes dense cupcake cake, and who has been telling bakeries to strive for this? Minus 15.
- Fifty cents cheaper than Magnolia. That’s good, but let’s not split hairs. Plus 2.
- Total: 14
I wish we’d gotten to Sugar Sweet Sunshine, located on the Lower East Side and (confirmation, friends?) apparently the next big thing. More violins, please.
Anyway, we’re back in Iowa City now. And since we’re among friends, I don’t mind confessing that it was a hard return. After early cherry blossoms in DC and the buoyant sense of foodie possibility in New York — that is, the many, many village streets seductively murmuring that each passing restaurant surely is, surely will be your next favorite place — well, you get it. It’s colder, no flowers yet, no dozens of museums to walk through on a Sunday afternoon and few murmuring restaurant streets.
But today was a beautiful day. Flowers are starting to peek out, and luckily, seventy degree days haven’t ruined me for blazers-not-coats during fifty degrees. Picnic weather is visible on the horizon, kiddos! Isn’t that lovely?