Dining on a Shoestring: Buzz

At this stylish wi-fi cafe, it's cupcakes, quiches, and coffee all day long.

Buzz, a lounge/pastry shop/coffeehouse in Alexandria, has made itself into a mecca for cupcake lovers. Photograph by Stacy Zarin-Goldberg.

What is it with cupcakes? Once the stuff of ballet recitals and birthday parties, the little sweets are a kind of national obsession: Google “cupcake” and you’ll find upward of 40 blogs devoted to them. Go to a white-tablecloth restaurant and you might find them slipped between galettes and ganaches on the dessert menu. Wander the kitchen section at Target and you’ll see plastic cupcake-carrying cases.

Buzz—the Alexandria bakery/dessert lounge that opened last year—has fashioned itself into a mecca for cupcake fans, complete with coffee tables inlaid with pleated silver wrappers. On any given day, the bakery case holds five flavors ($2 each)—such as coconut or the terrific vanilla-on-vanilla—often dressed up for occasions like Hanukkah or the Super Bowl.

Pastry chef Josh Short, who recently replaced Lisa Scruggs, has spun out even more versions—not all of them hits. There’s a gluten-free effort—Short substitutes rice flour for wheat—and a sugar-free flop in which a stiff blob of honey-scented cream cheese takes the place of frosting. But the vegan-friendly variety, made with vegetable shortening and soymilk, could beat out many butter-filled cupcakes at other bakeries.

Cupcakes might be the best reason to stop into the pink-walled cafe, but they’re not the only one. Serving a steady stream of customers daily from 6 am to midnight, Buzz is a new breed of hybrid dining. Its mood changes almost by the hour. In early morning, sugar-shocked toddlers—they’ve got their own corner with a toy oven—run free while their moms fuel up on Illy lattes. Around noon, the soundtrack shifts from Chet Baker to feel-good indie pop and the laptop crowd settles in around the communal farm table. Late into the night, it’s a cozy date spot for couples sharing cocktails inspired by lemon cake and warm apple pie.

It’s the kind of place that makes sense for Josh Short, a Le Cirque–trained talent who made a name for himself whipping up whimsical trifles and bombes at Red Sage and Zola. This spring he returned to the area after a two-year stint in Charlottesville, where he had opened a bakery/catering outfit with a culinary-school pal. At Buzz, Short can turn out a little of everything—elegant plated desserts, fudgy farmhouse brownies and handmade chocolates, savory quiches and potpies, breakfast pastries and take-home bags of granola (the maple-pecan, $4.95, is addictive).

Buzz’s contributions to the morning ritual include a sublime breakfast brioche filled with scrambled eggs, crispy bacon, and cheddar ($2.75); a flaky, sausage-flecked buttermilk biscuit ($1); and an airy cinnamon bun ($2.25) that banishes any memory of Cinnabon glucose bombs.

The quiches ($3.50 a slice) are hit-or-miss—the nutmeg-flecked Lorraine and the maple-sausage-studded breakfast wedge are much better than the bland leek-and-shiitake version. Even better are the potpies ($5.95), with buttery crusts folded around such fillings as chicken jambalaya or steak with spinach and corn.

Buzz can falter with the fancier stuff, mostly served during the postdinner dessert rush. A pyramid of honey panna cotta ($3.95) tastes rubbery; a Nutella crème brûlée ($2.95), its top blazed to order, bears barely a whiff of the chocolate-hazelnut spread. The best thing to do if you’re there in the evening? Ask for a couple of cupcakes. There are usually a few left—even at midnight.

Ann Limpert
Executive Food Editor/Critic

Ann Limpert joined Washingtonian in late 2003. She was previously an editorial assistant at Entertainment Weekly and a cook in New York restaurant kitchens, and she is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education. She lives in Petworth.