11 May 2010

More Than Just Cupcakes at the Fine Sweet Shop

Don't Forget to Vote Cupcakes

Photo by María Helena Carey

Recently, a friend was lamenting that we do not seem to have a gourmet cupcake option on the Hill.  And although I agreed and lamented along, I started thinking about it and realizing that it’s not exactly true.  While it is true that we do not have hip new places — with the exception of Curbside Cupcakes, which is Hill-based but which is not there should you need your fix of flour, sugar, and whipped deliciousness whilst strolling around our fair neighborhood — we have a great bakery that often goes overlooked.

Sure, there is no frou-frou Georgetown Cupcake, and no delightful Red Velvet.  There is no CakeLove; no Sticky Fingers; no nearby ACKC; no Baked & Wired either. Am I making you hungry yet?  Because I can keep mentioning new and fabulous cupcakeries all over the city, seeing how these joints are still popping up all over town, and the trend doesn’t seem to be slowing down, in spite of Macarons trying to make it out of obscurity; but I digress. Much has been written and has been discussed when it comes to deciding which is the best cupcake around town, but this Hill bakery is seldom (or try, never) mentioned, perhaps because much like the landmark in which it’s housed, it could take for it to disappear in order for us to fully appreciate it.

Can you think of this tasty place?
It’s the Fine Sweet Shop at Eastern Market– a place I would like to think of as one of our best-kept secrets here on the Hill.  No other cupcake place — no matter how delicious it may be — can offer you a milkshake or a smoothie with your cupcake, for starters.  And the best part of the Fine Sweet Shop?  You can actually buy most of the ingredients for a meal while you also pick up a sweet treat.  From the most amazing homemade pesto to hot, just-baked bread that has that perfect crunchy crust, you can find them at the friendly stand at the southernmost tip of the Market.  Or you could buy some spicy sausage over at Canales Meats and pair it with the Sweet Shop’s heavenly biscuits and have yourself some biscuits and gravy for dinner.  Mm.. breakfast for dinner: dinner of champions.

If you’re feeling a little too tired for dinner, they also have excellent sandwiches.  But, let’s face it: you will most likely be lured first by one of their dainty and reasonable cupcakes (most cuppies are only $1.25 to $1.95); or perhaps it’s the amazing bread pudding, gingerbread, Russian tea cakes or even the black-and-white cookies (look to the cookie!).

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  • Jon

    I would also vouch for their key lime pie, their tollhouse cookies, and their scones as well.

  • sebastian

    Love the chocolate cupcakes at Firehook.

  • Mary

    I guess I just won’t be satisfied by anything less than a Parisian bakery or patisserie. And maybe it’s the unpasteurized butter and cream, but I still think someone could come over here and give us something comparable. The Fine Sweet Shop is just so disappointing…Yes, the key lime pie is top notch, but everything else is just so bland and doughy.

  • Kathleen

    I have a huge and only slightly snobbish sweet tooth, and I find the Fine Sweet Shop to be nothing but a disappointment. Honestly, I think any reasonably discriminating person would. I understand THIH’s role in local boosterism, but when there are so many great places on the Hill, it’s not necessary to devote space to this place. Firehook is our best local option, and that could be easily superseded if someone took opening up a bakery seriously.

  • http://brunchandthecity.wordpress.com/ Claudia Holwill

    I’ve never gotten a pastry from the Fine Sweet Shop that really left me feeling all that wowed, although I don’t think I’ve ever had the cupcakes or key lime pie.

    For cookies, I like the ones at Firehook (when fresh, which doesn’t seem to happen often at the Hill location) or the small place across from the market much better. For brownies or cupcakes, I think the ones at Marvelous Market are much more worth the calories.

  • jayirwin

    I have to agree – the Fine Sweet Shop is a total disappointment. Really, I suspect it continues to exist only because of its location in Eastern Market and appeal to tourists. Nothing I’ve ever bought there was even half decent, and a quick poll of friends in the neighborhood corroborates my experiences.

    Now that we’ve got a wonderful pastry chef at Ted’s Bulletin, there isn’t much reason for locals to buy pastries from the Fine Sweet Shop.

  • Jon

    I can’t say Firehook is all that great either…some of their cookies are good but the cakes leave me feeling like I paid way too much for flour and hype.

    The bakery that is setting up shop on the weekends at Eastern Market over in the parking lot has some great breads. I haven’t tried their cookies or pastries though.

  • Kyra

    Why do we need gourmet cupcakes anyway? Did I miss why cupcakes are so damn cool? Not that I am arguing in favor of the FSS, because I’ve not bought much of anything there, nor am I saying I don’t love cupcakes, which, if you saw me, you’d know that I do. I just refuse to pay outrageous prices for something I can make pretty damn well myself for less. Way less.

    I am looking forward to trying what Ted’s has to offfer. The menu is so overwhelming that I need to work my way through it over several visits.

  • Jen

    Took the kids to Ted’s for an after school snack and I have to say the few things we sampled, the homemade Pop Tarts and the Strawberry Almond Tart were worth both the money and the calories.

  • http://monkeys-uncle-news.blogspot.com/2010/03/full-stop.html?spref=tw jay

    My Irish Grandmother’s secret to baking was to find a nice Jewish Bakery! I have found through the years that Fines can be counted on for a quick fix to my sweet tooth. Gourmet, no, but consistent and reasonably priced, Yes. Thanks for shining a little light on this overlooked gem!

  • http://www.thehillishome.com Nichole Remmert

    @Kyra… so here’s the rebuttal to that argument: If I make a batch of cupcakes at home, they’re delicious, yes. But I am not going to eat an entire batch of cupcakes. I want one or two a month, max. So I end up throwing away the rest of a batch of homemade, making the cost per cupcake much higher than the $3 you pay at a bakery. Add in the time (I just don’t do boxed mixes) and the home made ones are coming in at twice as much and forcing me to throw away food (something I hate to do).

    RE, FSS, I tried two cupcakes from there during Cherry Blossom. One was cherry and tasted so artificial I felt like I was eating a cherry Strawberry Shortcake doll and the other was red velvet and it was dry and crumbly and terrible all around.

    RE Firehook – on it’s best day, it’s mediocre. Their cookies are fine and I’m happy that there’s now one in the courthouse for those days every two years when I have jury duty, but I have no use for that place either.

    Marvelous Market gets my money every time for sugar cookies and salty oat cookies. It’s not the best, but it’s the best of what’s available in the neighborhood.

  • http://www.savinggraceservices.com Grace

    My favorite pastries on the Hill are at the P&C Market near Lincoln Park (in the Surroundings building). They have authentic french pastries that absolutely melt in your mouth. They also have bread delivered fresh each day.

  • Kyra Deblaker-Gebhard

    Ah, see that is where we differ, Nichole. I can finish a full batch of cupcakes in no time flat. I can seriously eat one–sometimes more–at each meal.

    Sadly, I’e never been blown away by a cupcake purchased at a cupcakery. I dind’t like Red Velvet the one time I tried it, nor did I like the cupcake I purchased for way more than I should have paid out in Fairfax. And I actually counseled my husband away from a cupcake at Eastern Market in favor of a $1.25 hot dog from the hot dog man. Now he, my friends, is someone we should all be thankful for. The hot dog man… not necessarily my husband.

  • SCL

    I can definitely vouch for the Toll House cookies — you’d be hard pressed to find a tastier, tiny treat. And I have some strange fixation on Fine Sweet’s black and white cookies. Perhaps because there just hasn’t been much to lure me away. But now that I have my choice of Dangerously Delicious pie and poptarts at Ted’s, I’ll be saving my calories. Except for maybe a Toll House or two.

  • Anonymous

    It’s so refreshing to read these comments. I thought everyone would be gushing over the Sweet Shop. It’s just like Market Lunch to me. Solid and serviceable, but way overrated because of its location in Eastern Market.

    I am apparently a glutton for punishment because I keep trying the cupcakes, but they are simply not good even when they are fresh, which is rare. The pastries also leave much to be desired.

    The croissants, including chocolate, are good. I’ve also had good luck with their bread.

  • http://kormondy.com Karen

    Although not permanently on the Hill, Curbside Cupcakes makes it to Union Station, Barracks Row, and Eastern Market pretty regularly, if you need to have a $3+ cupcake.

    In my opinion, Fine Sweet Shoppe is a little overpriced for their quality and I wouldn’t be surprised if they used a prepared mix/dough from the freezer aisle or even Crisco. BUT the convenience of having a bakery in Eastern Market, regardless of the quality, that is slightly less expensive than Marvelous Market and has more selection than MM too, is something to value.

  • http://madamemeow.com Maria

    Thank you all for your comments and insights!

    As for the FSS, what I do lament about the place is reliability. I have had good cupcakes there, and I vouch for them. Having said that, I have had more than one lackluster experience. But I hope you will all go and try something from what I mentioned or find your own thing to love– I do have a soft spot for the place.

  • Danielle

    I regularly buy FSS’s soft multigrain bread, and I really like it. What I dislike most about FSS, however, is the apparent lack of knowledge most of its employees have regarding the ingredients in their products. I often have to ask three people before getting a list of ingredients, and that’s just ridiculous to me, especially in an age when more people want to know what they’re putting into their bodies. Another disappointment with FSS, and bakeries on the Hill in general, is their complete lack of vegan options and a corresponding lack of desire to create any when asked. I don’t think I’m the only vegan on Capitol Hill, so it’s really disturbing to always have to leave a neighborhood I dearly love just because I want a vegan bakery treat.

  • Ari

    Yeah, FSS isn’t going to win a Michelin star, but their hamantaschen are excellent, I gotta say. The wife and I always pick up a pair there on the weekends. Ice cream’s not bad either, and they have Dr. Brown’s sodas. So I’m not going to complain.

  • Mordecai

    Yes – year round hamantaschen! Makes me want to bust out the Megilla, throw back a few and scream every time I hear someone say “Haman” in the halls of Eastern Market.

    Rugelach are ok too, but that’s about the extent of the baked goods I’ve enjoyed there. Another selling point – they sell Ba-Tampte deli mustard. It’s one of the few nearby outlets where I’ve found it. It was my first purchase at EM temporary tent.

  • Emily

    As a long-time resident of the Capitol Hill area, my loyalty will always be to the Fine Sweete Shop. The goods are so reasonably priced compared to other places around, that it’s the best place to get coffee and a treat.

  • Lionel

    As someone pointed out above, FSS is not in any way attempting to be a gourmet cupcake place, if it was, they would only sell cupcakes. But what about all the other foods that people love and want to buy at a bakery? Give the place a break, and if you want to be ripped off for a tiny piece of cake then go to Georgetown Cupcake.

  • a passer-by

    I was walking down Barracks Row today and saw that Sweet Lobby is coming soon-ish. (http://www.facebook.com/TheSweetLobby) They’ll be doing cupcakes and macarons.

  • Maria Helena Carey

    @a passer-by– Yes! We mentioned it back in February on Hill Buzz (http://www.thehillishome.com/2011/02/hill-buzz-80/) and Lauren also named it on her post from last week (http://www.thehillishome.com/2011/04/who-takes-the-cake-the-hills-best-desserts/). It is pretty exciting news for the sweet-toothed among us :)

  • CC

    Nichole, do you not have any friends? When I make a batch of cupcakes I’m lucky if I even get one.

    Anyway, isn’t there a Hello Cupcake coming to Barracks Row? And I think the Sweet Lobby is supposed to do cupcakes as well…

  • Mark

    If we can support tweo bike shops (I hope)…we can support two bakeries.

    So the beauty supply store is the 404 8th locale correct??

  • http://twitter.com/nicholeaileen Nichole Remmert

    @CC sure, but I’m not in the cupcake delivery business. If they happen to be around when I’m baking – unlikely b/c I almost always only bake in the middle of the night when I’m super stressed about work and can’t sleep – then they get some. But no, I’m not going out of my way to deliver treats to people like some kind of Cupcake Fairy.

  • trulee pist

    We are so loyal to FSS that we still call it “Moe’s.”

    I don’t have time for anyone who can manage to complain about FSS. The proof is in the pudding! OK, they