PICTURED: Sugar Lab treats, clockwise from top: Mini apple pie, vanilla bean scone, Irish Cream cupcake, chocolate cupcake, lemon raspberry cupcake, mini lemon meringue tart. At center: a chocolate brownie. Photo by N. Lackey Shaffer
by Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer
Sugar Lab Bake Shop
1575 Spinnaker Drive, Ventura
$3-56; $30-140 for custom cakes
Ventura Harbor Village gets sweeter every year. Coastal Cone has been scooping up ice cream treats since 1983. Just a little over a year ago, Top This Chocolate brought its create-your-own-candy bar concept to the seaside plaza. And now Sugar Lab Bake Shop has joined the fleet.
Longtime fans remember when this mom-and-daughter enterprise started in 2012 with a tiny footprint in a GPS-defying warehouse space in Montalvo. Despite the odd location, it earned a solid following, and enjoyed a lot of business from cupcake-craving regulars as well as those looking for special occasion desserts (including wedding cakes). Later, it moved to a larger and more convenient spot in the Vons shopping center on the corner of Telegraph Road and Victoria Avenue. In 2021, owners Kelly Shirk and Alison Kenis headed west, giving Sugar Lab some fresh air and new digs at Ventura Harbor.
The shop had a soft open Feb. 18, a grand opening Feb. 27-28 and it’s been a cake walk ever since. In addition to their beloved cupcakes, cookies and mini desserts, Shirk and Kenis have expanded the menu to include breakfast treats and coffee drinks, available seven days a week.
I popped in recently to see how the new storefront was shaping up. It’s simple, clean and bright, with plenty of space for patrons to safely spread out while gazing at the pastries lined up temptingly in the bakery case. If you can come here and resist the urge to buy something, then your resolve is stronger than mine. I went home with a whole bunch of goodies: three cupcakes, two mini pies, a brownie, two hot chocolate bombs (more on those in a minute) and a scone. Don’t judge me.
I’ve eaten my share of Sugar Lab cupcakes through the years, and if anything, they’ve gotten better. There seems to be less frosting, and that’s a good thing: Mile-high toppings sure look good, but can be just too much to eat. Sugar Lab’s more modest decorating is very attractive and allows the taste of those perfectly baked cakes to come through. The lemon cupcake had a nice citrusy tang that pared well with pretty-in-pink raspberry frosting. The March specialty, in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, is an Irish Cream cupcake, marrying moist chocolate cake with a buttercream just kissed with whiskey flavor. For the ultimate chocolate experience, the chocolate cupcake topped with chocolate fudge frosting and sprinkles is deliciously decadent.
Also wonderfully indulgent: the moist, rich, fudgy brownie. So good . . . but you might cut the sweet with some coffee or milk.
And while you’re pouring that milk . . . heat some up to use with the hot chocolate bomb. This hollow chocolate orb is filled with cocoa mix and mini marshmallows. Put it in a mug and pour on the piping hot milk; once the orb melts and splits open, give it a stir and you’ve got hot chocolate. Not cheap, mind you (each bomb is $7.50), but a fun experience.
The mini pies — hardly more than a mouthful — were a nice, fruity foil to all the chocolate. The apple pie featured apple hunks that weren’t too overdone or too sweet. My favorite, however, was the lemon meringue tart, which had the most luscious, lemony curd filling. Cupcakes are wonderful, but I’d take these tangy tartlets over them any day.
The vanilla bean scone was the biggest surprise of all. Lots of vanilla flavor, a texture that was somehow both sturdy and tender, and easy on the sugar. This is no dessert, but a respectable pastry that can stand up to your morning joe or afternoon tea. And by the way, you’d never know it was gluten free. The bakery has other gluten-free and vegan options to check out, too.
With nearly a decade under its belt, Sugar Lab has stood the test of time. Now that the bakery has laid anchor at Ventura Harbor Village, it should be even smoother sailing. Especially with so many wonderful goods on board.