When I am elected supreme ruler of all baked goods everywhere, I promise this: I will free the cupcakes from the cooler.
When it comes to cake, refrigeration turns a good thing bad. It dries out even the moistest cake and hardens real buttercream into a chilly blob. It's one reason why cupcakes get a bad rap. They are, all fads and backlash aside, just single-serving cakes.
As with any candidate, this is my stump speech. Today my reason is Hummingbird Bakery. Amy Tornquist's shiny new bakery shares a sensibility with sister-neighbor Watts Grocery, also owned by Tornquist: a seasonal menu, fresh local and homemade ingredients, Joe Van Gogh coffee and espresso. As at Watts, Tornquist's gift is elevation: familiar dishes rendered better with quality ingredients, interesting combinations and skill.
Cupcakes, several flavors of them, are just one of many baked goods at Hummingbird. On one day I visited, it offered banana nut bread, toasted pound cake with fresh berries, fig and almond Danish, cinnamon rolls, apple and pear croustades, crumb cake, various cookies, black and white cake, lemon meringue pie, butterscotch custards and chocolate pots de crème.
In my campaign to rule all baked goods, I'd like to say I tried them all. In my campaign to fit into clothes I already own, I admit I tried the fig and almond Danish (still warm from the oven, and divine), the biscuits, plus three kinds of cupcakes: vanilla cake with vanilla buttercream frosting, red velvet with cream cheese frosting and Devil's food with cream cheese frosting.
Hummingbird keeps some of its cupcakes in a cooler, which could have contributed to the dryness of the vanilla cake. However, its companion vanilla buttercream frosting was lovely—made with real butter and not overly sweet. The red velvet cake was moist and perfect. The cream cheese frosting—atop the Devil's food and the red velvet—had the right amount of sweetness and delivered the needed tang.
Besides the sweet stuff, Hummingbird serves breakfast all day: buttermilk biscuits, served with jam ($2), country sausage ($3.50) or egg and cheese ($4); breakfast burritos ($4.95) and housemade granola with milk and fruit ($5). The buttermilk biscuit was light, fluffy and buttery; the sausage patty was clearly hand-patted and surprisingly spicy.
It also serves a great lunch. Some recent options included fish tacos ($8.99), pimento cheese sandwich ($6.50), smoked chicken wrap ($8.50), roasted vegetable sandwich ($7.95) and a seasonal salad ($7.75), plus soup, beer, wine and soft drinks.
The bacon sandwich ($8.75) was the clear standout. Thick slabs of bacon, served with grainy mustard and arugula topped with apple slaw and served on buttered, grilled sourdough bread, combined three tastes (savory, sour and sweet) and at least two textures (creamy and crunchy) in one bite. Each component complemented another.
The steak sandwich ($8.75)—thinly sliced Angus beef served with caramelized onions and peppers with cheddar cheese and avocado mayo—was almost as wonderful, as was the roasted vegetable sandwich. The latter was served on sunflower bread, also buttered and grilled. The vegetables were still hot, having been roasted shortly before serving. All three sandwiches came with a choice of oven-fried potatoes or green bean and cherry tomato salad with Dijon vinaigrette.
For vegetarians, the menu lists a meatless option to the breakfast burrito, in addition to the pimento cheese sandwich, roasted vegetables sandwich and seasonal salad. The selection of baked goods included two vegan options.
Walking into the bakery, which shares a new building with the American Dance Festival, feels like diving into an iPad: bright color on the walls and a hand-painted lampshade framed by gleaming white walls, chrome and glass. Instead of robotic Siri, though, my guide on each of two visits was counter help with sparkling personality and cheer. There are a few tables inside and more outside on a new wooden deck. It's a beautiful space, and it has its own parking.
In these early days after opening Aug. 22, it appeared Tornquist was still filling out a grab-and-go retail section. Those shelves contained some tempting items, though: housemade pecan brittle, marshmallows, salted peanuts and cherry-almond granola.
As for the chilly cupcakes, Hummingbird manager Courtney Youngblood told me she shares my despair at having to eat cold buttercream, so she keeps a platter outside the cooler and rotates the cupcakes in and out. The cupcakes can be freed—to eat now or later.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Cupcakes, take flight."