Walk down the streets of New York City, and you’ll quickly find that gourmet cupcake bakeries are all the rage. From larger chains like Magnolia and Crumbs, to national treasures like Georgetown Cupcake and Sprinkles, to the independent cupcake boutiques, like Baked and Buttercup Bakeshop, the list goes on and on. Naturally, one would expect this trend to be centralized in hip, urban areas. Where else would these cool bakeries choose to locate? Surely not in Middle(-of-nowhere-)town, Connecticut! Unless of course you consider NoRA Cupcake Company, a trendy, gourmet cupcake bakery established right on Main Street just nine short months ago.

“New Year’s Eve brought so much foot traffic,” said Carella. “People would go to Eli’s across the street and come here for dessert.”

Co-founders Carrie Carella and Phil Ouellette never foresaw their little bakery becoming such a huge success. After dedicating years to longtime Main Street establishment Eli Cannon’s Tap Room, a popular restaurant and bar, they decided that it was time to try something new and exciting. Carella had managed Eli Cannon’s for fifteen years under the ownership of Ouellette, and together they made Eli’s into a celebrated Middletown staple. While remaining dedicated to Eli’s, Carella and Ouellette were quick to jump on the opportunity to rent the building across the street as soon as it was put up for sale. It was the perfect size for the two stores they had in mind: Eli Cannon’s Trading Company, to sell merchandise for the famous restaurant across the street, as well as NoRA Cupcake Company. As soon as it opened in January 2011, NoRa became an instant hit, with people visiting from all over the country to get one of their delicious baked creations.

“The demographic is really from all over,” remarked Carella. “One guy flew into Providence and was going to New York City but made a special pit stop at NoRA along the way.”

So what does NoRA stand for anyway? The name is modeled after neighborhoods in New York City, like “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 minimize the stigma associated with the North End neighborhood, and this venture has definitely been successful so far. Just by walking down the street, one sees that this area is undergoing major advancements toward gentrification and renovation.

“Yeah, there’s a lot going on,” said managing partner Carrie Carella. “It’s really an up and coming neighborhood.”

Maybe it’s the contrast between the bustling downtown atmosphere and the warm ambiance of the bakery that is the key to its success. The walls are adorned with countless black and white family photos, the space is filled with old-fashioned sofas, and there are cool vintage mirrors everywhere you look. All in all, the whole store has a comfortable, homey vibe that we find really refreshing. In fact, 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 totally support this idea, but the day our grandmother’s living rooms look anywhere near this chic will be a fascinating one indeed.

When we sat for our interview next door in Eli Cannon’s Trading Shop, which now also serves as seating for the bakery, we felt as if we had entered an entirely different world. Just imagine a male teenager’s bedroom combined with an edgy bachelor pad in the midst of the tri-state area, fully stocked with rock posters, understated furniture, and graffiti art. Did we forget to mention the entire wall covered with shelves of hot sauce? Trust us; you won’t find anything else like this place in Middletown.

“Yeah, we make meth in the back,” joked Ouellette, admitting that the place has somewhat of a meth lab appearance.

The unconventional ambiance of these two stores is a great reflection 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.

NoRa’s menu rotates daily, with a complete list of all the current flavors listed on their website.  The few varieties you can expect to see everyday are at least one gluten-free, vegan, and weight watchers-compatible cupcake, a “boozy” cupcake that is made using alcohol, and the famous Irish Car Bomb.

Irish Car Bomb on the top left!

… Wait, the famous Irish what? This cupcake is reported to be their best seller and 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 forewarned. “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 the sandwich building at Subway stores. This will give you the opportunity to pick and choose what 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.

“We’re just always trying to be a step ahead,” said Carella. With their creativity and individuality, we’d even go so far as to say that they’re a whole ten steps ahead of any other bakery remotely nearby.

Did we forget to mention the new NoRA food truck? You might have seen this black and pink beauty cruising along high street on the weekends. Talk about innovative! Lay off the grilled cheese and falafel and give your taste buds that sweet sensation they’ve been craving all night. Carella and the food truck driver, Ryan Clark, who upon first glance looks like he came straight from a poetry slam in Brooklyn, are eager to make the truck Wesleyan-friendly. They would appreciate any and all music suggestions, and are looking into creating online polls to allow Wesleyan students to decide for themselves which cupcakes should be offered in the truck. Interested? Go like NoRa on Facebook and shoot them a message showing your support!

Ryan and Carrie

NoRA Cupcake Company is more than just a delicious bakery, it’s one of the most unique places we’ve been in Middletown, or anywhere else for that matter. For extraordinary cupcakes served by the coolest people on Main Street in an atmosphere that’s so hip it’ll give any dive bar in East Village a run for its money, check this place out. They’re open from 10 to 7 on Tuesday through Thursday, 10 to 10 on Friday and Saturday, and 10 to 3 on Sundays. We’d recommend going on Sunday for a less crowded scene, but honestly any time is perfect for one of these incredible baked masterpieces!

Yours truly,

Alex Irace & Ari Rudess