You can browse the rave reviews on Yelp or watch the bakery’s victory on Food Network’s “Cupcake Wars,” but the best way to understand Chicagoans’ love for Molly’s Cupcakes is to walk in and realize that the three other people you glimpsed on the street are also in there with you. Molly’s is that good. Located in the foodie hotspot Clark Street in Lincoln Park, Molly’s is marked by an unassuming, easily-missed sign in loopy cursive, but inside, the cupcake shop has its own distinct flair. Childhood memorabilia like board-games, comic book lunchboxes and a bar area with hanging swings instead of stools is mixed with hip accents like white, floral tiled walls and glossy, oval-shaped tables in Molly’s three signature colors (robin’s egg blue, lime green and light orange). It’s just quirky enough to be cool and upbeat, and not overly cutesy.
The main feature of the decor is Molly’s center-filled cupcakes, displayed in a glass case at the front of the bakery. Although customers are free to design their own cupcakes with various cake and frosting choices, it is these center-filled, beautifully-presented creations that set Molly’s apart from the crop of trendy cupcake boutiques that have sprung up in recent years. Using high-quality, fresh ingredients, the bakery transforms traditional gourmet desserts into cupcake form. For example, the pineapple panache, a newcomer to the menu, is a stylish take on a pineapple upside-down cake. It features a honey cake, beautifully topped with a toasted meringue and filled with crushed pineapple. The tartness of the pineapple and the sweetness of the incredibly moist honey cake make for a perfect combination, and the meringue is the perfect topping for this whimsical, delightfully light cupcake.
On the heavier side is the famed “Ron Bennington,” which consists of chocolate cake filled with a peanut butter and butterscotch mixture and topped with chocolate ganache, butterscotch chips and butterfinger crumbles. This is a sinfully decadent take on the tried and true combination of peanut butter and chocolate. However, the rich moistness of the cake and the thick, creamy ganache will leave you in a state of bliss that no Reese’s peanut-butter cup could ever achieve, even if it means you have to skip your next major meal. If you like your cupcake with a little kick, the “Kahlua” packs bold flavors into only a few bites. Kahlua cream filling and Kahlua buttercream frosting invigorate the chocolate cake with a sweet but strong coffee flavor, and the liqueur adds sophistication to the cupcake without being overpowering.
Besides its mainstays, Molly’s offers seasonal cupcakes like the wonderfully fresh strawberry shortcake in the summer and the indulgent pumpkin spice in the winter, showing the bakery’s dedication to showcasing only the best ingredients in its desserts. These cakes aren’t cheap but the creative flavors and flawless presentation are worth every penny. For those who don’t want to shell out nearly $4 for a cupcake, Molly’s offers discounted “Walk of Shame” cupcakes that don’t quite live up to the bakery’s presentation standards, but still taste wonderful.
Molly’s cupcakes are more than just the product of another food fad. They make loyal customers out of cupcake fanatics and skeptics alike. The bakery is great excuse for Northwestern students to make their way to Lincoln Park and explore its fantastic restaurants, thrift stores and coffee shops. Then again, the bakery is enough of a reason for its own special trip. Just hop on the purple line to experience unparalleled cupcake perfection.