Why: Simply Sweets was started by Jen Allpress, who specializes in unique custom cakes. Last year she moved her business from Westfield Vancouver mall to its new location on East Mill Plain Boulevard in Vancouver. Allpress employs a team of talented people who create not only artistic cakes, but an assortment of baked goods, including cupcakes, muffins, cookies, scones and brownies. Simply Sweets also sells espresso beverages, and although there isn't much room for dining in, the convenient downtown location makes it a piece of cake to pop in and pick up some goodies on the go.
Atmosphere: The space, which has been occupied by several startups and since-defunct bake shops, underwent an overhaul before the well-established Simply Sweets moved in. It is a creative space from ceiling to floor, down to the smallest detail. Soft colors give the space a warm, feminine vibe, walls display professional photography, sample cakes are exhibited atop an interior dividing wall, baked goods are attractively presented behind glass at the counter, and a comfortable consultation setting at the front of the bakery provides a space to discuss specialized orders for memorable occasions.
What I tried: I filled several boxes with cupcakes, muffins, cookies, a brownie and a couple of scones. The cupcakes included one of each flavor of the week: Simply Vanilla, Simply Chocolate, Red Velvet, Mocha, Princess and Boston Cream (the weekly cupcake menu is posted on Simply Sweets' website). Each cupcake was frosted with a variation of buttercream frosting, from classic vanilla to chocolate ganache with chocolate drizzle.
I've mentioned this before, but in case you weren't with me, I'll mention it again. I would forgo an entire birthday cake for one exquisite cupcake. This is how much I love them. This said, the cupcakes at Simply Sweets did not meet my expectations. All of the frostings lacked the classic buttercream essence and tasted more like a sweet classic cake icing. My all-time favorite variety, red velvet, was described on the menu as having a "cream cheese buttercream" frosting. The cream cheese, a distinguishing characteristic of the red velvet cupcake, barely came through. Conversely, the Boston cream was spot on and delivered an experience that could only be associated with a Boston cream pie. The cake component of each cupcake was moist and sweet, but the cake had a more expansive texture and was less spongy than my ideal version.
The cookies included a peanut butter cup, snickerdoodle, M&M's, and a frosted sugar cookie. Though all were delicious, moist and authentic in flavor, my favorite was the snickerdoodle.
I chose the simplest of the brownie selections, which consisted of a basic brownie with chunks of chocolate in it. Other available brownies had caramel drizzle, nuts, and other toppings. I enjoyed the brownie, which was perfect with a glass of milk, and welcomed the occasional burst of rich chocolate from the chocolate chunks.
I sampled a blueberry scone and a strawberry scone with an Americano. Both of the scones were topped with crystallized sugar and both had a well of their respective fruit jam in the center. Traditionally, scones are dry, but these were moist and the jam wasn't overly sweet. The Americano, which I ordered with cream, was smooth and retained its heat even with the addition of cream.
The muffins, a banana nut, a blueberry and an almond poppyseed, were the highlight of my selections from Simply Sweet. Each perfectly represented its specific flavor in a natural way without artificial exaggeration, and each was an appetizing balance of muffin to topping. I was especially fond of the almond poppyseed, which was topped with sliced almonds.
Menu highlights beyond what I tried: Custom cakes are the main focus at Simply Sweets, and from the looks of those on display, Allpress and her team are experts at bringing images from the imagination to life. Grab-and-go cakes are available, but they are a different variety than the custom creations. Customers should consult two weeks in advance for custom cakes, and six to eight weeks in advance during peak times.
Other observations: Service was friendly and helpful. Allpress uses her family cookie recipes at Simply Sweets.
Cost: Cupcakes cost $2.50 each, $20 per dozen. Mini cupcakes are $1.25 each, $12 per dozen. Cookies are $1.50 each, $15 per dozen. Muffins and brownies are $1.50 each. Scones are $3 each. Grab-and-go cakes are available in a 6-inch size for $14 and an 8-inch size for $22. Custom cakes start at $35. Espresso drinks come in a 16-ounce size and range from $1.50 to $3.
Hours: 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday; 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.
Where: 316 E. Mill Plain Blvd., Vancouver.
Web:www.simplysweetsbyjen.com. Simply Sweets also is on Facebook.
Health score: Simply Sweets received a score of 5 on Oct. 28. Zero is a perfect score, and Clark County Public Health closes restaurants with a score of 100 or higher. For information, call 360-397-8428.