who’s got the best buns in northern virginia?


According to Champion Cupcake Sleuth (CCS), Sara Lewis HolmesBest Buns Bread Company in Arlington has some pretty good ones, in addition to a killer Triple Lemon Cupcake.

So Len and I zipped on over to the Village at Shirlington, a cool complex of small shops and restaurants full of happy folks strolling hither and yon, walking their adorable dogs, showing off their shocking pink-purple hair, and gliding by on their tandem bicycles wearing red, white, and blue spandex.

Unlike Bakeshop, which is owned by a young, upcoming entrepreneur, Best Buns is part of the Great American Restaurants family — a popular chain of seven restaurants (8th opening this Fall), based in Fairfax, Virginia. We’ve actually eaten Best Buns’ products many times before, since they bake all the yummy bread served in the restaurants (mmmm, sourdough, carrot banana, raisin pecan).

BUT. We’d never eaten any of their cupcakes. This was so wrong. And, I always listen to Sara. She mentioned the Triple Lemon after I raved about Hello Cupcake’s You Tart. So with Triple Lemon in my heart, we ventured forth. But first!

Carlyle Main Dining Room photo by ZagatBuzz.

We had lunch at Carlyle (again, Sara’s suggestion), which is adjacent to Best Buns. A wonderful experience complete with crab cake sandwiches and green salad, joyfully and gratefully consumed after almost being whacked in the face by a distracted young mother and being given too much information about a woman’s shoulder injury while we waited for our table. It’s risky leaving the safety of one’s home on a Spring afternoon, no?

When our waiter asked if we wanted any dessert, I smiled and said, “No thank you,” because of course I was chomping at the bit to get my Triple Lemon Cupcake. Yes, it was going to be good, so, so good. A little tart with the sweet, refreshing, moist, unforgettable — something to write home about.

After we hurried next door to Best Buns, I immediately checked the cupcake case. Hmmmm — Red Velvet, Carrot Cake, Chocolate Peanut Butter, Chocolate with Chocolate Ganache, White with Chocolate Buttercream, but where? NO!!


There, on the bottom shelf, was this terrible empty spot where the Triple Lemon Cupcakes were supposed to be. An exceedingly sad sight to be sure. A nice man said, “May I help you?”

“Any more Triple Lemon Cupcakes?”

He checked the trays. “No, it looks like we’re all sold out.”

“You can’t be!”

“We have these little lemon bundt cakes.”

“No, they’re not the same.”

“No, I guess not.”


Sigh. Best Buns had everything that day — at least ten varieties of bread and warm rolls in all shapes and sizes, delicious scones (cherry pecan! orange currant!), giant cookies (oatmeal! ginger!), muffins (lemon blueberry! apple harvest!), panini, sticky buns, all kinds of danish (cinnamon raisin! cheese!), mini crostadas (apple! peach-blueberry!), hot cross buns, even Bavarian cream puffs.

But not a single Triple Lemon Cupcake. My life was meaningless.

But we couldn’t go home empty-handed. And I did need to get at least one chocolate variety. So, it was Carrot Cake and Chocolate with Chocolate Ganache frosting.

In a word. Them suckers are BIG. Check out the side by side comparison with one of Justin’s Bakeshop cupcakes. Both cost $2.75.


It makes perfect sense that a company with the word, “American” in its name should make big products. Americans love everything big: big cars, big houses, big screen TVs, big cupcakes. But is big always better? Does size matter when it comes to cupcakes?

Yes, at least I think so. Both Best Buns cupcakes were tasty, to be sure, but for me too big. One wants to be able to eat a cupcake in one fell swoop, and not feel a little sick afterwards. Can you see how much of that rich chocolate ganache is on top of that cupcake? Len and I split it, but it was still quite rich, and I sense it really wanted to be a piece of cake, not a cupcake.


Same with the carrot cake. Because of its ingredients (especially the nuts), carrot cake can never be “light.” Moist, yes, but not light. I think it should keep its identity as a cake, and not masquerade as a cupcake. I had to eat it with a fork anyway. Same with the chocolate ganache. It should face the world as a good piece of chocolate cake, then we can be prepared to slice it with all due respect and fork it down.


But none of this compensates for the tragic absence of the Triple Lemon, which continues to plague me. If they sold out that quickly, they must be even better than Sara said. Now I’m obsessed with them! Go back, you say? Perhaps, when I’m ready to face possible disappointment again (sniff).

 Cornelius loved his giant ginger cookie.

Someday, when I find the perfect chocolate cupcake, all this suffering will have been worth it. Right?

photo by bored-now.

Copyright © 2010 Jama Rattigan of jama rattigan’s alphabet soup. All rights reserved.