Cupcakes Add Flavor to Main St.
Walk down the streets of New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles, and you’ll quickly find that the cupcake trend is still in full swing. From larger chains like Magnolia and Crumbs, to national sensations like Georgetown Cupcake and Sprinkles, to independent local cupcake boutiques, the list goes on like a recipe for one of their products. Naturally, one would expect this trend to be centralized in hip, urban areas, and surely nowhere near Middletown, Conn.
Think again. NoRA Cupcake Company is Middletown’s own trendy, gourmet cupcake bakery, established right on Main Street just nine months ago.
Co-founders Carrie Carella and Phil Ouellette had not originally planned to open a bakery—the cupcake store opening came after dedicating years to their first restaurant, the well-established Eli Cannon’s Tap Room, a popular restaurant and bar. Carella has managed Eli Cannon’s for 15 years under the Ouellette’s ownership, and together they made Eli’s into a Middletown staple.
While remaining dedicated to Eli’s, Carella and Ouellette quickly jumped on an opportunity to rent the building across the street. It was the perfect size for the two stores they had in mind: Eli Cannon’s Trading Company, which sells merchandise for the restaurant, and the new NoRA Cupcake Company.
As soon as it opened in January 2011, NoRA became an instant hit.
So what does NoRA stand for, anyway? The name is modeled after the names of neighborhoods in New York City—think “SoHo” and “TriBeCa”—which are acronyms referring to their geographical locations. Similarly, NoRA is short for “North of Rapallo Avenue.” The owners chose this name in order to help fight the stigma associated with the North End neighborhood in Middletown.
In the nine short months that NoRA has been in business, the owners have deemed it a success. Just walking down Main St. past Rapallo Ave., one sees that this area is undergoing shifts toward gentrification and renovation.
“Yeah, there’s a lot going on,” said managing partner Carella. “It’s really an up-and-coming neighborhood.”
One of the factors contributing to NoRA’s success may be the contrast between the bustling downtown atmosphere and the warm ambiance of the bakery. The walls are adorned with countless black and white family photographs, the space is filled with old-fashioned sofas, and cool vintage mirrors are everywhere you look. All in all, the whole store has a comfortable, homey vibe that is refreshing, particularly for lonesome, homesick college students. It’s difficult not to compliment the owners on their keen eye for interior design, but don’t by any means call the bakery “cute.”
“It’s not adorable,” insists Oulette, the man behind the decorating vision. “It was supposed to be set up like anyone’s grandmother’s living room, which is kind of synonymous with baking.”
We interviewed the owners next door, in Eli Cannon’s Trading Shop, which also serves as seating for the bakery, and is a polar opposite of its neighbor. Imagine an edgy bachelor pad, fully stocked with rock posters, understated furniture, and graffiti art. Did we forget to mention the entire wall covered with shelves of hot sauce? It is a stark juxtaposition to the grandmotherly bakery next door.
The unconventional ambiance of these two stores is emblematic of what the owners want the bakery to represent. For instance, they vow to keep their cupcake flavors unique and exciting. Some noteworthy choices include Lavender Earl Grey, featuring lavender-extract-infused-frosting; Fall Fest, comprised of Oktoberfest-beer cake and topped with ginger snap cookies; and Bar Fly, a combination of all the beer and snacks you might find at a bar, wrapped into one overwhelmingly delicious cupcake. Not convinced? Try Adult Twinkie, Death by Chocolate, or Strawberry Shortcake. They even have cupcake flavors inspired by cocktails, candies, and savory sensations.
NoRA’s menu rotates daily, with a complete list of all the current flavors listed on its website. In all, they promise to have at least eight varieties every day and they rotate between over 30 regular flavors. The few varieties you can expect to see everyday are at least one each of a gluten-free, vegan, and weight watchers-compatible cupcake. Also expect a “boozy” cupcake that is made using some variety of alcohol, as well as the famous Irish Car Bomb.
Back up, we said. The famous Irish what?
This cupcake is reported to be their best seller. The decadent concoction is comprised of a Guinness-infused chocolate cake, filled with Jameson-laced chocolate ganache, and topped with Bailey’s Irish Cream cream cheese frosting.
Is your mouth watering yet? Ours too.
When asked what to expect from NoRA in the near future, Carella revealed that within the next few months, a couple of new non-cupcake options, like shortbread cookies and brownies, will be added to the menu. But don’t go in expecting typical baked goods.
“The brownies are going to be weird,” Carella warned. “We try to be creative as possible. We don’t limit ourselves to certain things and are always trying to be a step ahead. We’re definitely not following bakery rules.”
Other additions will include a build-your-own-cupcake option, reminiscent of sandwich building at Subways or salad bars. This will give you the opportunity to pick and choose which flavors you want, so you can build the cupcake creation of your dreams.
In addition, the owners hope to start offering care packages for parents wishing to send their Wesleyan sons and daughters some delicious baked love. Also, keep an eye out for the chance to pre-order gift baskets for the holidays. Nothing says “Happy Holidays” better than a fresh batch of shortbread cookies and whoopie pies from one of the best bakeries in town.
Did we forget to mention the NoRA food truck? You might have seen this black and pink badass beauty cruising along High Street on the weekends. You wouldn't be remiss to say it looks like a rock and roller's tour bus—talk about the late night munchies. So lay off the grilled cheese and falafel and visit the NoRA truck—give your taste buds that sweet sensation they’ve been craving all night.
Carella and the food truck driver, Ryan Clark—who looks like he came straight from a poetry slam in Brooklyn—are eager to make the truck Wesleyan-friendly. They’re supportive of music suggestions for the speaker system, and are looking into creating online polls to allow Wesleyan students to decide which cupcakes should be offered in the truck. If you’re interested, Carella says to like NoRA on Facebook and shoot them a message showing your support.
NoRA Cupcake Company is more than just a delicious bakery. It’s on the top of our list for unique destinations in Middletown. For delicious cupcakes served by the coolest people on Main Street, in an atmosphere that’s so hip it’ll give any dive bar in the East Village a run for its money, let your inner child and sweet tooth run wild in NoRA’s bakery.