Here's part two of ELD Images' two-part series reviewing St. Louis-area cupcakeries (you can read part one, the review of The Cup, here). All words and images by our (traveling) Seattle-based stringer, ELD Images, with some help from his wife and cupcake partner-in-crime, Muffin.
“Peace, Love & Cupcakes”: Jilly’s Cupcake Bar & Café
We met with the delightful Dominique Marquez on an absolutely gorgeous early autumn day at the Jilly’s mothership, just off I-170, the Inner Belt, at Delmar Boulevard, in St. Louis suburb of University City. Dominique is a few months into her new job as the general manager and was a longtime Jilly’s customer before that. Originally from San Diego, Dominique grew up with fond memories of family and her grandma’s Death by Chocolate triple layer cake. That same focus on family and indulgent food is what she loves about working at Jilly’s.
Missylicious for the Cure!
For Dominique, the staff really is like a family, caring for one another, working together, and caring for the community. Jilly’s is active in the community by contributing some of the proceeds from its products to charitable causes. With October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Missylicious for the Cure took the charity spotlight. Jilly’s also offers “sprinkle parties” as another way to connect with the community. That’s where customers have an opportunity to learn and practice decorating techniques. Customers also get to vote, via Facebook, on which of the staff-nominated cupcakes they’d like to see as a special in an upcoming month.
Turtle Cheesecake (top right) shown with 24 Karat Carrot and Reese’s Chunkage
The first thing to understand about Jilly’s is that they make very large cupcakes. Huge, even. Each weighs in at one-half pound, and most are filled. At Jilly’s, cupcakes are elevated to an art form, as pleasing to the eye as they are to the palate. The frostings are incredibly tasty—lighter and less sweet than might be expected from most buttercream frostings. Many have elaborate decorative toppings. Since size does matter, mini cupcakes are also available—typically a sample of the daily delights, along with one of the special cakes—and standard size cupcakes are also available by custom order. Jilly’s offers a roster of eight “daily delights” and four monthly/seasonal specials each day. Dominique’s favorite current cupcake is the Pumpkin Cheesecake, while Bee Sting is one of the best sellers. Bee Sting is stuffed with lemon curd and nicely balances tart and sweet. Very light on the tongue. Turtle Cheesecake is another big seller.
Dominique informed us that Jilly’s has expanded a couple of times over the past five years, with no small part of that growth due to having won Season Three, 2011, of “Cupcake Wars.” We were hard pressed to find anyone in St. Louis for whom Jilly’s was not synonymous with cupcakes.
Laura came to Jilly’s five months ago, assuming the post of head baker. Prior to joining Jilly’s, Laura spent nearly a decade in the wedding cake business. She has, according to executive chef Dana Holland, “elevated the shop to a whole new level.” Laura’s favorite cupcake to eat: Chocolate Thunder. I wholeheartedly concurred. Her passion is decorating special orders, and in particular, working with bridal couples to ensure their wedding cupcake fantasies all come true.
Baseball cupcakes for the win!
October in St. Louis usually means playoff baseball, and Cardinal Nation was awash in red, and the cupcakes were no exception. Cardinal fans have a well-earned and longstanding reputation for being the most supportive in all of Major League Baseball. It’s one thing to sit through a three-plus-hour rain delay during a playoff game, but it’s quite another to represent your passion for the Hometown Nine in wedding cupcakes.
Dana “Food Dude” Holland likes to create behind the scenes, developing new flavors, in his role as the Executive Chef at Jilly’s. In our chat, Dana reminisced about the history behind Jilly’s and some of the back story about the Cupcake Wars gig. For the Food Dude, Jilly’s standard half-pound cupcakes are “Disneyland cupcakes” because they’re so over the top. The long lines of folks waiting for those goodies also bring a touch of Disneyland to St. Louis County. Of course, one with one eight-ounce cupcake, you’ve pretty much had your meal.
The Food Dude may be the power behind the kitchen, but his assistant Casey Shiller, CEPC, thrives in the spotlight and is a natural showman. Casey is also a community college baking/pastry instructor, and because of that relationship, Jilly’s often uses students and interns and allows them to gain great experience in the industry. Casey loves pushing the envelope and being more than a little cheeky, leading edge, and just plain over the top with his creations. His cupcake philosophy is probably best summed up as: “Science, artistry, passion.”
Everyone was so generous with their time and eager to speak with us, we didn’t have time to do a whole lot of cupcake sampling -- at least not in the café. That was actually okay, because everyone we spoke to was great, even in the midst of a crush of cupcake and lunch customers. We were strongly encouraged, however, to have lunch while we were at Jilly’s, which we did, with little arm-twisting required. The brisket sandwiches were fantastic, the chili was tasty, and the French onion soup was damn near perfect. The recipe was virtually identical to the one (ELD's long-suffering cupcake partner) Muffin D’Amour inherited from her grandmother. No wonder the Sunday brunch is so popular!
From left – Dez, Laura, Dominique.
It was clear that this was a team that truly enjoys what it does and doing it together. Jilly’s slogan sums it up best: “Peace, love, and cupcakes…”
Pricing: $3.75 – $5.50
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