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[Magnolia Bakery's inviting interior. | Courtesy Magnolia Bakery]

Three glucose level-raising items in one:

The famous Magnolia Bakery opens at 10 a.m. Saturday in Block 37 on State Street. The New York bakery (now a chain) is oddly late to the party in Chicago, considering it, for better or worse, was the one who turned the cupcake into the tender, unstoppable beast it is. Crumbs, another New Yorker, was up and running in January and is expanding faster than Matt Damon a la 'The Informant' -- five Chicago stores by the end of the year; Sprinkles, from Los Angeles, opened here last summer. And then there's all those cupcake trucks. Just so you know: Magnolia sells more than just cupcakes. Remember muffins? And brownies? Ever heard of banana pudding? It will sell those, too.

Table Fifty-Two, Art Smith's civilized Southern eatery at 52 W. Elm, will be operating a walk-up sweet stand. Saturday mornings in October. Pastry chef CeCe Campise will offer just two sweets from 8 to 11 a.m. on the restaurant's front porch: jam-filled doughnuts ($3) and hummingbird cupcakes ($4). Coffee will be a buck. (Oh, by the way, Magnolia also does a hummingbird cupcake.) Let's hear it for the walk-up -- not to be confused with the pop-up.

Digressing from cupcakes, the Sweet Spot Macarons truck, which got our attention a few weeks back, is holding its launch party from 8 to 10 p.m. Oct. 6 at the Burlington Bar, 3425 W. Fullerton. A nice, quirky touch: $1 PBRs with the purchase of a macaron ($1.50 a piece, or 3-pack for $4.50). "What doesn't go well with $1 PBR?" said owner Galit Greenfield, rather rhetorically, in an e-mail. Due to Yom Kippur that weekend, Greenfield says she will officially hit the streets on Oct. 10.

Bears Pizza.jpg [Courtesy Dough Boys]

The Bears are in the playoffs. Naturally, this excitement has spawned all sorts of blue, orange and/or oversized treats all over town.

Bleeding Heart Bakery has stocked its case this week with blue- and orange-colored cake balls (vanilla and white chocolate-flavored) for $1.50 each or 6 for $9, as well as and blue- and orange-frosted chocolate cupcakes ($2.75). And owner and Bears fan Vinny Garcia, who an employee reports has worn a Bears shirt to work every day this week, is faithfully abiding by his no-Green Bay Packers cake rule.

"Vinny refuses to do any sort of Packers orders whatsoever," says the bakery's Melinda Sterbenc. (Garcia could not come to the phone, as he was busy making a giant Bears-themed cake for a TV news crew, one of several such cakes this week.)

Apparently suffering from "When in Rome" fever, the New York-based Crumbs Bake Shop, which recently opened its first Chicago store at 303 W. Madison, also is offering a chocolate Bears cupcake with blue and orange frosting through Sunday (or until Super Bowl Sunday, depending on how the Bears fare). It's topped with a plastic Bears helmet, and costs $3.75.

At the new Dough Boys, 626 S. Racine, a 12-by-36-inch thin-crust pizza (above) can be ordered during the playoffs with "Da Bears" spelled out in meatballs (or really, any topping you like -- it's just that the meatballs "look so cool," chef Leo Spizzirri says). It serves 8 to 10 people. and costs $29.95 ($5 for each topping).

Not to be outdone, Donny's Pizzeria in Arlington Heights has what it boasts is the state's largest pizza (below) -- a 20-by-50-inch monster serving 30 to 35 people, with pepperoni slices spelling out "Da Bears."

The family-run pizzeria tinkered with the concept early this week before announcing the special on its Facebook page. That generated some chatter, which caught the attention of a local TV crew yesterday, which in turn brought out a local newspaper today, says sales and catering manager Julie Gathman.

Gathman says the restaurant thus far has had 10 orders for the pizza, which costs $98.95 (plus a $20 deposit, because of the custom box it is delivered in) and comes as one giant rectangular sheet o' pie.

"We're requesting 24 hours notice," Gathman says, "because it's 11 pounds of dough and four pounds of cheese."

4.jpg [Courtesy Donny's Pizzeria]

Whoopie Pies 3.jpg (Whoopie pies coming your way. | Courtesy Sweet Ride)

New year, new food trucks. Among them: two on the sweet side, both with feel-good missions; one with a tamale-and-lucha-libre-spaceship-riding focus; and one serving strictly mac and cheese (though not vegan mac and cheese).

The Southern Mac truck, from the Southern chef Cary Taylor (below), is being outfitted this week with all the technical stuff (running water, generator, etc). Taylor hopes to have it on the road by end of January or early February.

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Taylor has toyed with the idea of a mac and cheese venture for "a few years now." He considered a stand-alone shop in Block 37. The idea stalled over time until he got to know one of his regular customers, Matt Maroni -- the driving force, literally, behind the Gaztro-Wagon naan-wich truck; and behind the proposed food truck legislation; and who, in a small-world twist, happens to be childhood friends with one of Taylor's college buddies.

Taylor told Maroni of his idea. Maroni's reaction: What's stopping you?

Taylor has tested and re-tested recipes, accounting for the fact that customers won't be eating it seconds after he dishes it out, and even sending testers home with orders to try it hours later, reheated.

At launch, Taylor will carry four to five types of mac and cheese on the truck in the $8 to $12 range (a hefty 12 ounces of pasta and 8 ounces of sauce, he says), including smoked Gouda and a crawfish and andouille number -- but not the lobster mac and cheese that's already been hyped.

"It's just not a good value," says Taylor, who will be driving the truck during the day (the restaurant doesn't do lunch). "Lobster's such a scam, anyway."

On the sweet side, there's the Sweet Miss Givings truck, which is quietly wrapping up its first official week on the streets; and the Sweet Ride truck, whose owner, Lupita Kuri, dreamed up the name in her sleep.

"I woke up, Googled it, saw there was a truck in San Francisco and called them," Kuri, 26, says. "It was right place, right time. They just found out they needed to sell the business."

In early November, Kuri flew to San Fran; she shipped the truck (below) back to Chicago a week later.

Truck larger.jpg

Kuri isn't a trained baker or pastry chef, but a full-time marketing assistant who loves to bake (with dreams of trading that 9-to-5 job for this truck gig). In buying the business, she also acquired the recipes, which she says she's tweaked to satisfy Chicagoans' "robust" appetites.

She'll run the truck Fridays through Sundays, offering whoopie pies ($3), mini-cupcakes (three for $5), puddings and mousse ($4) for humans and bone-shaped cakes for dogs. Unsold goodies will go to the Mercy Home for Boys and Girls, and proceeds from her pupcake sales to an animal shelter in Grayslake.

Kuri has all the proper licensing and plans to be driving next week -- or as long as it takes her to recover from the emergency tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy she underwent yesterday.

As for Sweet Miss Givings, "We just got a Twitter feed for the truck. We just have 10 followers at this point," laughs COO Dana Lieberman. (Make that 16, Dana!)

A project of Chicago House, which serves the disabled and formerly homeless, the bakery also operates a stand at the Chicago French Market. And yes, the truck is selling cupcakes - as well as muffins, scones, brownies and cookies. Lieberman highly suggests the turtle brownie ($2.50).

lpp_7026_grande.jpg (Not the turtle brownie -- the German chocolate brownie -- but you get the picture. | Courtesy Sweet Miss Givings)

Because carb and sugar overload is inescapable right now, and because cupcake shops have been indestructible for years, and so that you can kiss goodbye to your New Year's resolution right now... Crumbs Bake Shop will open for business Jan. 7 at 303 W. Madison, a spokeswoman says. (There'll be a soft opening between Christmas and New Year's.)

And because giving away cupcakes is a given, the shop will give away 1,000 cupcakes on opening day.

And because cupcakes are indestructible, there are surely more cupcake shops to come.

Crumbs Bake Shop, a 7-year-old New York chain known for its oversize cupcakes, is coming to Chicago.

The first shop will open at 303 W. Madison in mid-December, a spokeswoman says "in time for the holidays," a release says.

More Crumbs shops are slated to open next year in the Chicago area, which is sorely lacking in cupcake-dispensing options.



The whole freebie cupcake thing was wearing on Patty Rothman.

"I'm ready to start selling," Rothman, owner of More Cupcakes, 1 E. Delaware, said Thursday as we headed for the Willis Tower. She was at the wheel of the sleek More Mobile, not the city's first cupcake truck but most certainly the Mercedes of them all (literally -- it's a Mercedes Sprinter, outfitted with a battery-powered generator).

This was the fourth day of Rothman's week-long promotional push for the truck -- the fourth day of handing out thousands upon thousands of free cupcakes to sometimes perplexed but mostly delighted pedestrians.

At her two-year-old store and on the truck, each cupcake will sell for $3.50. "We handed out 500, 600 in 12 minutes by the Wrigley Building," said Rothman, a lithely built, red-haired mother of five. She didn't want to do the math, didn't want to think about the possibility, or impossibility, of recouping all of that.

"We're convinced the whole world knows about us, and we come down here and people see us and say, 'Oh, are you new?' So we're really looking at it as the cost of introducing ourselves. We're thinking of this as launching an ad campaign," she said as she drove south on Wacker, approaching the Willis Tower.

More from More: The truck

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The More Mobile finally hit the streets Monday, dispensing 1,500 free cupcakes to the hoardes at various points of interest around downtown. They're doing this -- free cupcakes -- all week. That's a lot of cupcakes.

The truck's route today isn't exactly inspired -- it started at the Michigan Avenue bridge and later today is looping back around to Michigan and Wacker. But oh, did we mention, the cupcakes are free?

Follow the More Mobile on Twitter, of course.

The Meatyballs Mobile is in business.

Phillip Foss' kosher meatball sandwich-dispensing truck officially hit the streets Saturday, after not much notice but for a few tweets. But then, this is kind of how Foss, who last month was canned as chef at Lockwood in the Palmer House Hilton, rolls, and we like it.

"This is so fly-by-night right now, I feel like an owl," Foss texted from the truck.

Foss has been talking food trucks for some time now. He tested the waters for one day on Matt Maroni's Gaztro-Wagon, and then again as a pop-up restaurant in Maroni's Edgewater storefront on a recent Sunday.

On today's Mobile menu: meatballs with marinara and mozzarella ($8); chicken curry with mango chutney ($7) and a cola-bourbon barbecue pork shoulder with apples ($8). Foss' secret to tender meatballs: good ol' fashioned Coca-Cola (which, as it happens, was the secret to the recipe he gave us for our story on helping your younguns develop global palates -- food truck foreshadowing!).

In other food truck news: The Gaztro-Wagon and three other Chicago trucks, All Fired Up, Flirty Cupcakes and Happy Bodega -- which launches tomorrow -- are contenders for the next season of the Food Network's "Great Food Truck Race," but you have to vote them in.

And the More Mobile, which is shaping up to be the Rolls-Royce of cupcake trucks, is aiming for a Sept. 15 launch.

Follow all of the above trucks on Twitter. Figuring out what to eat for lunch has never been so fun, or strategic.

Let the invasion of the cupcake trucks begin.

True, Flirty Cupcakes has merrily been doing its cupcakes-on-wheels thing for a few months now.

But with Monday's opening of Sprinkles Cupcakes at 50 E. Walton -- the first Midwest outpost of the Los Angeles-based cupcake chain -- the roads are about to get crowded.

The Sprinklesmobile will be "cruising around the city for the next few weeks giving away free cupcakes," says spokeswoman Jill Katz. Chicagoan-gone-Hollywood Bill Rancic and wife/E! News host Giuliana Rancic will add star power/enviable tans to opening day by working the counter from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and autographing cupcake boxes, Katz says.

Not to be outdone, more, the cupcake boutique at 1 E. Delaware -- just a stone's throw from Sprinkles -- is launching its More Mobile and in its first week, also will be giving away the handheld treats for free.

More owner Patty Rothman hopes to roll out the truck by a week from Friday -- which, not coincidentally, is opening day of the Lollapalooza music fest in Grant Park. The cupcake shop is one of the high-profile vendors in the fest's new and culinarily improved Chow Town food area.

"The best thing I can do is to try and associate myself with being from Chicago," Rothman says.

One sign of a city girl: Rothman's done her homework. In anticipation of a future overhaul of the city's ordinance pertaining to mobile food vendors, and as a nod to the environmentally conscious Mayor Daley, she outfitted her truck with a generator that keeps it refrigerated and air-conditioned even with the motor off. The truck will hold an imposing 1,500 cupcakes in 12 flavors.

As for the competition, Rothman offers this diplomatic take: "At the end of the day, there's enough room for everyone... Truly, I'm always fascinated by how excited people get over cupcakes."

Mm, hmm -- whoops, I mean, mmm.

Follow all three trucks on their respective Twitter/Facebook pages.

Restaurant resolutions


Holiday shopping season is upon us once again, and with it come the magazine stories, window signs, Facebook buttons and individual resolutions carrying the "shop local," banner. It's a noble idea -- to support our local merchants, the ones who give us nice Christmas decorations and put a festive feeling in the air, as well as contribute to the local economy -- instead of doing all our shopping online.

It's certainly something that I am going to try to do as much as I can in the next month or so, but similarly, I have made resolved to "go local" when it comes to food, making the effort when I can to patronize locally-owned restaurants or food stores.

This goes hand-in-hand with another resolution to break out of my "restaurant rut," and try to dine somewhere new more often, as opposed to falling back onto the same two or three restaurants that I regularly visit.

What got me to making this resolution was the untimely demise of one restaurant and the opening of a new cafe, separated by only a few blocks in the Edgewater/Uptown neighborhood. When I noticed a pizza place/bar named Monticchio on Clark Street just north of Lawrence, next to Lincoln Towing, I was surprised that a restaurant would open in such a seemingly inhospitable location -- that stretch of Clark is most notable for the aforementioned towing pirates, a couple garages and a cemetery across the street -- and I made a mental note of the place. I walked or drove past it many times after that, thought it looked cheery and as if time and attention to deal had been paid to the interior and the menu and thought, "I'll have to go there sometime."

"Sometime" never came. Monticchio closed not long ago.

About the blog

Janet Rausa Fuller

Sun-Times Food editor Janet Rausa Fuller is always thinking about her next meal.



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