As DC was readying itself for the Inauguration, Red Velvet Cupcakery in Penn Quarter was preparing for its grand opening on Thursday, January 15. The store, which shares a space in Penn Quarter with a new TangySweet gave away 500 free cupcakes for its grand opening. Even though I didn’t have a prayer of making it in time to nab a free cupcake, I was determined to extend my DC Cupcake Odyssey to DC’s newest cupcake shop. So a friend and I braved the bitter cold that Thursday night to see how DC’s newest cupcake shop stacked up.
Red Velvet Cupcakery’s space is small and pristine, with a minimalist feel. There’s a large blown-up photo of cupcakes against a white background that adorned one wall, and one bright red wall behind the counter with pricing information. A large display case showcasing the cupcakes, a cash register, and a small row of bright-red stools at a window counter complete the space.
When I heard that Red Velvet Cupcakery shared a space with TangySweet, I envisioned a food court configuration. But the side-by side storefronts are actually separate, at least for consumers; you have to walk outside to get from the TangySweet to Red Velvet. This was a good decision on the branding front, since cupcakes and fro-yo don’t exactly mix. But I was sad that we couldn’t take advantage of the ample seating space in TangySweet.
Instead, my friend and I took our cupcakes down to the Rocket Bar so we could sample our wares in the comparative peace. I tried three cupcake on my visit: the coffee-flavored Morning Call, the Red Velvet, and the Peanut Butter Cup. Each was $3.25/piece,, or $36 for a dozen.
The cupcakes were well made, with the exception of a small technical difficulty. All the cupcakes I sampled had a hard, slightly bitter, crust on their tops, as if they’d been left in the oven too long. But that problem is easily fixable, and may just have been opening day jitters.
My favorite cupcake, by far, was the Peanut Butter Cup – a chocolate cake topped with a slightly salty, rich peanut butter frosting. The cake was tender and had a deep chocolate flavor, but the frosting really stole the show. It had a fluffy texture, with a rich salty-sweet peanut butter flavor. I love the combination of chocolate and peanut butter together, and this cupcake was really to die for.
The Red Velvet was also a strong contender – the cake was fluffy and tender, and had that deep red color of a proper red velvet cake. The cream cheese frosting was the right balance of tangy and sweet, with a smooth texture.
The Morning Call, an espresso-chocolate cupcake with mocha buttercream, was my least favorite. I didn’t taste the espresso in the espresso-chocolate cake, although it had a rich chocolate flavor and tender crumb. The frosting tasted like a classic buttercream – it tasted strongly of butter, had an oily texture, and was overwhelmingly rich. To be fair, the mocha flavor was well balanced, and the richness and the texture are all things I’ve encountered in buttercreams before. But I’m not a huge fan of classic buttercreams, so my dislike of the Morning Call may be more a matter of personal taste than anything else.
I was pretty happy with Red Velvet Cupcakery – just writing this makes me want to make a b-line for the store so I can get that Peanut Butter Cup cupcake again. But I also think that Red Velvet has some room to grow.
Red Velvet’s flavor combinations are classic, but seemed a little boring and expected – as though they took a gourmet dessert menu and adapted it for cupcakes. This isn’t a bad thing, but Red Velvet Cupcakery is competing with stores that are passionate about cupcakes, and which offer daily rotating menus in addition to seasonal offerings. Doing classic flavors well just isn’t enough to compete.
In this ever-crowded field, a bakery’s individuality, creativity, and execution are what makes them stand out. Red Velvet has good execution, but I’d love to see them ramp up their menu offerings, start making some seasonal cupcakes, and offer more creative flavor combinations.
My advice to Red Velvet Cupcakery: have fun with it. Take your cue from DC’s other cupcake shops and start varying your menu. See if you can make a cute cupcake for Valentine’s Day that’s a little outside the box. Mix it up. And see what happens.
And yes, I’ll be visiting soon for another Peanut Butter Cup.