I can’t believe I ate the whole thing. Neither can Kristen LoVullo and Ashley Mastowski, who’ve just overwhelmed me (in the best possible way) with dessert and wine at their sparkling new “bake shoppe” in Henderson. Three decadent plates, three lip-smacking glasses and a little Haute Chocolate for good measure. That’s how they roll at Gimme Some Sugar.
The Tropical Tease is the dish I can't stop nibbling until it disappears entirely, from the flourishes of edible gold, pastel chocolate and berry coulis down to the perfect layers of Malibu-soaked coconut jaconde (almond sponge cake), mango-passion creme and passion fruit curd. The cake has a wonderful juiciness and almost a granularity from the desiccated coconut, and the tropical fruit flavors are fresh and deep. Paired with the peach and bright citrus overtones of the Bernardus Sauvignon Blanc, it’s the perfect Thursday night indulgence.
Unless you're in the mood for a classic pavlova of baked meringue with seasonal fruit and sweet cream, or warm brownie a la mode, or petite New York cheesecake with balsamic strawberries, or maybe Kahlua-spiked opera cake with dark chocolate ganache. The glowing case of signature desserts makes me close my eyes and sigh without a single taste. There’s just one problem. LoVullo might be the tiniest pastry chef I’ve ever seen. I joke with her that the old line about not trusting a skinny chef goes double for someone who makes dessert. She says she gets that a lot, pointing out that when you’re running a busy custom cake business (soon to celebrate five years) and still getting in the groove of handling a sit-down bakery and wine bar, it’s hard to find time to eat. Or sleep. That’s why LoVullo and Mastowski need each other. One makes the sweets with a crew of six young bakers, the other keeps everything running smoothly around them.
“Ashley doesn’t touch food. She doesn’t go into my kitchen,” LoVullo says, mentioning that the last time Mastowski tried to help she almost lost a hand. They laugh and give each other this look, like sisters. They've essentially lived at the bake shoppe since it opened about two months ago, making sure the food and atmosphere are just right. They say they’d rather work 100 hours a week for themselves than 40 hours a week for someone else.
Both from Portland, the duo met in college, where LoVullo was running track and studying to be a teacher. She began to lose focus in her third year while an obsession with pastry grew, through the Food Network and her own recipe experiments. She remembers picking up her mom’s Betty Crocker Cookbook at a young age and feeling at home with eggs, flour, butter and sugar. After an agonizing semester of soul searching, she dropped out, moved back in with her parents and enrolled in Le Cordon Bleu.
“That was a rough year,” LoVullo says, adding that pursuing culinary school was the best decision of her life. “I’m a big believer in what’s meant to be will be. ... You feel it.”
She made another decision that went against the grain when she left her job at the Bellagio under the direction of pastry legend Jean-Philippe Maury to start Gimme Some Sugar with Mastowski. Their first high-profile job was a giant Jim Beam bottle cake for Kid Rock’s birthday at Lavo, and the orders poured in from there.
Today, Mastowski says Gimme Some Sugar is the go-to for a lot of the major clubs on the Strip. They’ve made six cakes for Kim Kardashian, if that tells you anything. The walls of the bake shoppe are decorated with LoVullo’s artistry, many-tiered showpieces inspired by everything from fashion icons like Alexander McQueen and Betsey Johnson to the characters in Monsters, Inc. Cakes this elaborate take multiple days to construct and can cost $1,500, but signature desserts in the bakery run between $5 and $7. The vibe echoes that mix of elegant and easygoing. LoVullo calls it “upscale whimsy,” and the black walls, white and silver furniture, ornate chandeliers and hot-pink tulips say just that.
“We didn’t want to be another cupcake place,” Mastowski adds. So the case that would normally be filled with cupcakes is brimming with French macarons instead. But these are much larger than the traditional feather-light meringue confection. “They’re sharable," Mastowski says, "but nobody wants to share them.” The rotation of more than 40 flavors (10 are available each day) ranges from fig and goat cheese to maple-bacon. LoVullo says the bakers love coming up with crazy combinations to try and calls the macaron project her "baby." “I don’t know what struck me. All of a sudden it just clicked—this is gonna stand out,” she says. Right by the case, there’s a helpful sign explaining the difference between a macaron and a macaroon, basically that one is delicious and lovely and that the other is “a great way of using up that crusty bag of dried coconut wedged in between the baking soda and the cornflour in the deep, dark depths of your pantry.”
Playfulness abounds in the menu text, in the music (The Shins one moment, Lil Jon the next) and in the beverage pairings. Six Champagnes are available by the bottle, two by the glass. Other by-the-glass options (all $10) include whites, reds and dessert wines from France and California, Spain and Washington. Beer drinkers have their pick of seven craft beers (all $5) ranging from Spaten Optimator to Young’s Chocolate Stout. Or there’s coffee and Haute Chocolate, which LoVullo describes as ganache you can drink.
Ganache you can eat crowns the Chambord Mousse Dome in chocolate silkiness that must be tasted to be believed. It's that good. The crispy gianduja (chocolate and pulverized hazelnut) base is layered with velvety Chambord-infused mousse and rich brownie. You’d think so many hits of chocolate would be too much, but the bite is balanced in texture and taste. I could easily eat the whole thing (if I hadn’t already eaten the whole other thing), especially with swigs of the Amavi Cabernet out of Walla Walla, a burgeoning hot spot for NW wine. The essences of leather and dark red berries deepen with bites of the elegant dessert.
Mastowski says she doesn’t like red wine—unless you pair it with a brownie. I try the Charles Krug Late Harvest Zinfandel Limited Release from Napa Valley, almost balsamic in its viscosity and depth of flavor. It taps into the same pleasure spot in the brain as the brownie’s core, which is cool but somehow molten. LoVullo calls the dessert “substantial.” Mastowski calls it “a party in your mouth.” They’re both right.
This brick of sweetness isn’t the only thing meant for sharing. The menu also offers trios of petite or full-sized desserts, and Milk & Cookies with the option of making the milk “naughty” with Frangelico. There are cake pops and bars and even a few cupcakes to please the masses. LoVullo says that while the focus isn't on vegan, gluten-free or sugar-free baking, there will always be options sprinkled in to ensure that all palates and preferences are covered. That goes for body builders flocking from the nearby Gold’s Gym on cheat days and girlfriends celebrating birthdays or baby showers or nothing at all. I’m told there’s a “Cookie Lady” who pops in once a week for a box to savor before coming back to resupply, and an old couple who read over coffee and goodies in blissful silence.
This is the reason Mastowski and LoVullo decided to open the bake shoppe. They knew people enjoyed their sweets, but now, they can actually see it.
Gimme Some Sugar 19 S. Stephanie St. #150, 882-2537. Tuesday-Thursday, noon-10 p.m.; Friday & Saturday noon-midnight; Sunday, noon-5 p.m.