Cupcake Lab offers more than just pastries: New caf? combines comfort food and fresh, top quality ingredients

Posted by Tegan O'Neil

Elizabeth and Michael Phillips knew two things for certain before they opened their eatery in March of 2010: they did not like bad coffee or bad service.

This conviction grew out of an informal cross-country survey of coffee, cupcakes and comfort chow as the couple searched for ideas for their own culinary adventure.

After about five years of preparation and countless cups of bad coffee, their dream of opening a café came into fruition and the doors of Isabel's Bistro at The Cupcake Lab were finally opened, located at 517 Broadway Suite 205.

Originally, the establishment was simply named The Cupcake Lab. The name is a play on words inspired by the owners' four Labradors who watch their home while the couple's at work.

"Cupcakes are happy food and labs are happy dogs," co-owner Michael Phillips said, "so the name seemed to fit."

However, as the food offerings became more serious, the husband and wife team realized that a more serious name was needed to match.

"We offer more than just cupcakes," Elizabeth Phillips said.

Isabel's Bistro offers a range of comfort food options including macaroni and cheese, shepherd's pie and pulled pork.

About 20 percent of the menu is vegetarian and there are vegan options as well. The veggie black bean burrito is a favorite of vegetarian patrons.

There are always three homemade soups available, and at least one of them is always vegetarian or vegan.

Bistro menu offerings range from $4.95 to $10.95.

While Michael Phillips concentrates on the food aspect of the business, Elizabeth Phillips reigns over the bakery. She grew up loving to bake and her enthusiasm for it is clear.

"Everyone says baking is an exact science," she explained, "but all you really need is ambition to experiment and blend ingredients."

And it is the ingredients that make the cupcakes from The Cupcake Lab so scrumptious. Elizabeth Phillips swears by only using top notch ingredients. Her cupcakes are made with Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Extract, King Arthur flour and Cabot butter.

While most bakers are all about balancing profits, Elizabeth Phillips is all about quality.

"I do things in a more purist way" Elizabeth Phillips said. Her cupcakes are not adorned with tons of sprinkles; there is very minimal decoration.

"I want it to be about the cupcakes," she said.

The cookies and cream style is the best selling cupcake, but the red velvet is gaining popularity.

"People will cry if there are no red velvet cupcakes left," she said.

Elizabeth's red velvet cupcake recipe is unique because it is made with high quality cocoa, it is easy on the food coloring and she doesn't overdo the cream cheese in the frosting.

Standard sized cupcakes are $2.50 each, $26 a dozen, and mini cupcakes are $1.25 each, $12 a dozen. In addition to a wide selection of cupcakes, the bakery menu includes scone and cookies. Custom cakes, cupcakes and pies can be made to order.

Isabel's Bistro at the Cupcake Lab serves seven types of coffee, all Fair Trade Organic. The coffee is ground and brewed only after orders are placed, so the coffee is at its peak freshness.

"No one else within 150 miles does this," Michael Phillips said. "Our business strategy is that if we do it the right way, people will come," he said.

So far, it seems to be working. "Business is good and we got a strong local following very quickly," Elizabeth Phillips said.

The building where Isabel's Bistro at the Cupcake Lab is housed used to be the old community theater building. The bakery/bistro is located in the old prop room of the theater.

Inspired by the building's history, the Philips' decided to project old movies on the wall as a throwback to its days as the host of community theater projects.

The venue is spacious and can accommodate many patrons without it getting too loud. Free Wi-Fi is available, making it a great place to study as well.

Isabel's Bistro at the Cupcake lab does not currently accept SkidCard, but is in the process of setting up this service. The Phillips are also attempting to set up open mic nights, as well as a potential bigger gig in November.

The Cupcake Lab is open Tuesday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Sunday from 9 a.m.to 5 p.m.

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