Though they spend much of their time mixing ingredients and dialing in oven temperatures, the team at Mary's Cakes and Pastries has also perfected the art of building cars, football stadiums, and mandolins. The designs are all custom cakes decorated with layers of fondant and buttercream icing to bring customers’ ideas to life. In addition to their edible sculptures, the kitchen crew bakes fresh cookies and pastries each day and fires up lunch specialties such as stuffed croissants and turkey gumbo.
Gigi of Gigi’s Cupcakes has been a self-starter since she was 15. That’s when she began her first business—a cleaning company—because she "didn’t want to work for anyone else." What began as a youthful whim blossomed into a business that, along with waiting tables and singing professionally, carried Gigi into her 30s.
Then, one day, her brother suggested making a career out of her baking hobby. That pastime had been born in her childhood, when Gigi often spent time with her mother and grandmother as they baked and bonded. So, amid seemingly insurmountable financial constraints, Gigi unveiled Gigi’s Cupcakes in 2008 and, within weeks, had more than covered her bills. Today, the franchise boasts more than 50 locations in the 18 states that haven’t outlawed dessert.
Each bakery crafts its cupcakes daily with fresh ingredients, and updates the menu according to day of the week and season. Traditional summer flavors such as Scarlett’s red velvet, chocolate-chip-cookie dough, and Birthday Surprise have recently met their culinary match in new mini cheesecakes that masquerade as cupcakes to rebel against their conservative wedding-cake parents.
Courtyard Cafe & Bakery's lunch artists whip up from-scratch dishes of Southern fare, plunk classic sandwiches into brown bags, and introduce kids to nutritious eats in hands-on cooking classes. Patrons can grab brown-bagged lunches ($3.49–$6.99) from the café's menu and trade the chips for coworkers' fancy dental plans. In the fried-green-tomato BLT ($5.99), green tomatoes soak in buttermilk before somersaulting through cornmeal fields and then rinsing off in creole mustard sauce. The café's salads ($4.99–$8.49) accompany crackers and fruit. Kids can learn some of Courtyard's culinary secrets and don white chef hats during two-hour cooking-class parties. Fueled by an instinctive desire to manhandle food items, kids roll their own dough into personal pizzas, sling fresh ingredients into healthy breakfast eats, or learn about another culture with Mexican-inspired cuisine under the guidance of a watchful instructor. After polishing off their main courses, partygoers devour ice cream and wish for laser vision with candle-topped cupcakes.
Although The Whole Scoop's freezers are certainly stocked with vanilla ice cream, there's certainly nothing "vanilla" about the shop's 32 different hand-dipped flavors. Hoover residents Sue and David Cohen opened The Whole Scoop over two years ago, and quickly carved out a niche for their shop as a go-to destination for families, teams, and groups in need of frozen treats. Once they're drawn in by the eclectic menu of eight types of sundaes, creamsicle shakes, and fresh-baked cookies, satisfied patrons can show their love by adding photos of themselves to a collage of smiling customers that adorn The Whole Scoop's wall.
The dessert technicians at Top It Off Frozen Yogurt & Smoothies satisfy sweet cravings with a delicious lineup of fruit-, chocolate-, and cake-flavored treats. Nestled within brightly painted walls adorned with trees and swirls, a rainbow-colored self-serve display doles out frozen treats ($0.45/oz.) like a mechanical candy man, filling bowls with fro-yo flavors including old-fashioned peanut butter, milk chocolate, or low-fat red-velvet cake. Selected flavors allow diners to spoil dinners with minimal damage, sweetly serenading palates with no-sugar-added and non-dairy varieties. In addition to enticing taste buds with dulcet frozen treats, 20-ounce smoothies ($4.99 each) deliver fruity packages of flavor in slurpable form, and free WiFi feeds laptops delicious desserts of silly cat videos and Photoshopped toddlers.
Voted to have the best milkshakes by Birmingham News’ readers, Eclipse Coffee & Books boasts an eclectic selection of hot and cold beverages, as well as a menu that brims with sandwiches and delectable breakfast options. Literary theorists can interpret the poetry of pastries with the pecan pie milkshake ($6), or nurse a cup of chocolate turtle latte ($4.50) as they thumb through a novel from one of Eclipse's three book rooms. A bite from the avocado melt ($5.50) with red onion and provolone will satiate hungry bookworms, while Eclipse's selection of beers and liquor is as ever-changing as Abe Lincoln's facial expressions on Mount Rushmore. In addition to its laid-back vibe and stacks of intriguing literature, Eclipse hosts several events each month, including palate-pleasing wine tastings, trivia nights, poetry slams, and soothing musical performances.