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December 14th, 2005 KELLY CLARKE | z-Bite Club
 

Touched By The Frosting

Saint Cupcake blesses Northwest Portland.

     
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Saint Cupcake co-owner Jami Curl
"I have a confession to make," Bite Club moaned ecstatically as we crammed a gooey chunk of rich, hot-fudge-drizzled cupcake in our pie hole. "I hate cupcakes." The woman across from us shook her butter-cream-smeared spatula in our direction and leaned in. "I don't like cake," she whispered.

But Saint Cupcake converted us both.

That holy lady of the spatula, Jami Curl, and her husband, Matt, opened their new bakery, Saint Cupcake (407 NW 17th Ave., 473-8760), exactly 15 days ago, in the light-filled Northwest Portland space once inhabited by Epicure. Portland's first cupcake-centric cafe is a jolly spot as long as you don't mention the TV show Sex and the City (more on that in a minute). Its tall walls are doused in shades of pink and brown, Carpenters' Christmas spouts from the speakers, and a handful of honest-to-god regulars—old couples in knit hats and a cabal of sleek, tan women who work at Sylvie's Day Spa next door—already hover hungrily around its squat, retro bakery case like frosting-jonesin' junkies.

That case is packed with, you guessed it, cupcakes: fruity-spicy banana chocolate-chip cups topped with cinnamon-sugar cream-cheese icing; moist pumpkin-spice cupcakes; bite-sized "coco baby cups" crowned with toasted coconut; hulking carnival-colored "big tops" that hide archipelagos of chocolate chips inside. Regardless of their wanton trappings, Saint Cupcake's rounds ($1.75-$2 each) are characterized by moist, spongy innards and chewy, cookie-like tops—the antithesis of the chalk-dry, box-mix-style cakes both Bite Club and Ms. Curl have long despised.

Jami first perfected her quality cups on jobs for a one-woman baking operation she ran as a side project to her marketing job for the Oregon State Bar. After turning 30 last July, the baker, along with her musician husband, scraped together funds to reach Jami's goal of owning an "American bakery": "Nothing fancy, nothing French," she says of her ideal shop. "Just pies, cobblers, cheesecake...stuff everybody loved to eat when they were a kid." The couple contends that those trendy cupcakes are a byproduct of Jami and Matt's cheeky business name, not a marketing move.

Therefore, don't dare christen this joint "Portland's own Magnolia Bakery." The minute we mentioned the New York cupcake mecca, which became a household name after being featured as a favorite late-night dessert destination of the Sex and the City ladies, Jami scrunched up her elfin face like we'd just force-fed her a Hostess Ding Dong. "That makes me sad. I'm not a bandwagon type, and I'd hate people to think we opened this place because 'cupcakes are hot,'" she groans. "I don't even watch Sex and the City. I'm more of a Gilmore Girls person."

Amen to that.

 
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