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Sweetbites Cafe and Bakery, McLean - Sandra Panetta's Cupcake Truck Opens a Brick and Mortar Store on Elm Street


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The Sweetbites cupcake truck people have opened a bakery/cafe in McLean recently. They serve Illy coffee and had a nice variety of baked goods. The lemon bars, pina colada cupcakes and the double chocolate chip cookies were big hits. They now serve lunch items, but we have not tried them yet.

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The Sweetbites cupcake truck people have opened a bakery/cafe in McLean recently. They serve Illy coffee and had a nice variety of baked goods. The lemon bars, pina colada cupcakes and the double chocolate chip cookies were big hits. They now serve lunch items, but we have not tried them yet.

I was thinking this would be on the back side of the building that houses Greek Taverna, but it isn't - it's in the brown and white office building, by itself on Elm Street, right next to the Post Office.

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I walked into Sweetbites for the first time today, and the first thing I noticed was the grab-n-go cooler on the left, which had been plundered of everything savory, save for a couple of kale salads which tempted me, but I soldiered forward.

Sweetbites serves Illy coffee (like with Little City Gourmet, I suspect Illy paid for the espresso machine in exchange for using the product - this is a great deal for both Illy (who moves product) and the retailer (who doesn't have to shell out $10K for an espresso machine); the only one who suffers is the customer, because Illy coffee, despite being from Italy, is pretty middling). Regardless, I had my pre-existing cup of Starbucks (even worse) sitting out in the car, so I didn't need coffee today - what I was looking for was savory baked items so I could give Sweetbites a whirl.

The prices on some of the items hit me pretty hard - some gluten-free brownies were, if I read this correctly, $5.50 each, and you should be prepared to pay $3.00-$4.50 for most baked goods. That's okay with me as long as the quality is there, and indeed, for the two items I purchased today, the quality was there. I didn't get the prices, or get a copy of the receipt, so I can only guess that my bill, including tax but no tip (I had no cash, and by the time the register got to me, the cashier had skipped over the tip screen), was something between $8-10. I apologized for not having any cash, and made a mental note to leave a little more next time.

A small slice of Quiche with Goat Cheese, Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Black Olives, Sweet White Onion, and Arugula was wonderful - really, everything you want your quiche to be. More custardy than eggy, it was delicious cold although the cashier offered to warm it for me. This was just savory enough so that you could taste the sweetness in the sweated, white onions, and the sun-dried tomatoes (an ingredient which I often do not care for) were wonderful in this.

My Scone with Butternut Squash, Feta, and Sage looked like it might have been underdone, but it wasn't - both the Feta and the squash are moisturizers which can deceive a diner into thinking that baked goods using them aren't cooked long enough, even though that's not the case. This was a delicious scone, and I think the baker may have even put a layer of butternut squash at the midway point in the scone. It was perfectly moist, and the butternut squash was the dominant flavor - this actually reminded me of a pasta dish I might see at Tosca, served with a light cream sauce and nutmeg.

Sweetbites is expensive, but it's in a wealthy neighborhood, and if there are any other bakeries nearby that are as good, I'm certainly unaware. They'll get plenty of support from the office building they're in, but people in McLean looking for breakfast or lunch should be aware it's there. It has much more of a Korean, bubblegum-corporate character (here's their website) than Village Sweet does, giving it a more "finished" look and feel - it leads me to wonder if this is a franchise of some sort; regardless, the baked goods I had were "talented home baker" all the way.

On deck: a lemon bar - I was almost swayed today by the way they looked.

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I walked into Sweetbites for the first time today, and the first thing I noticed was the grab-n-go cooler on the left, which had been plundered of everything savory, save for a couple of kale salads which tempted me, but I soldiered forward.

Sweetbites serves Illy coffee (like with Little City Gourmet, I suspect Illy paid for the espresso machine in exchange for using the product - this is a great deal for both Illy (who moves product) and the retailer (who doesn't have to shell out $10K for an espresso machine); the only one who suffers is the customer, because Illy coffee, despite being from Italy, is pretty middling). Regardless, I had my pre-existing cup of Starbucks (even worse) sitting out in the car, so I didn't need coffee today - what I was looking for was savory baked items so I could give Sweetbites a whirl.

The prices on some of the items hit me pretty hard - some gluten-free brownies were, if I read this correctly, $5.50 each, and you should be prepared to pay $3.00-$4.50 for most baked goods. That's okay with me as long as the quality is there, and indeed, for the two items I purchased today, the quality was there. I didn't get the prices, or get a copy of the receipt, so I can only guess that my bill, including tax but no tip (I had no cash, and by the time the register got to me, the cashier had skipped over the tip screen), was something between $8-10. I apologized for not having any cash, and made a mental note to leave a little more next time.

A small slice of Quiche with Goat Cheese, Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Black Olives, Sweet White Onion, and Arugula was wonderful - really, everything you want your quiche to be. More custardy than eggy, it was delicious cold although the cashier offered to warm it for me. This was just savory enough so that you could taste the sweetness in the sweated, white onions, and the sun-dried tomatoes (an ingredient which I often do not care for) were wonderful in this.

My Scone with Butternut Squash, Feta, and Sage looked like it might have been underdone, but it wasn't - both the Feta and the squash are moisturizers which can deceive a diner into thinking that baked goods using them aren't cooked long enough, even though that's not the case. This was a delicious scone, and I think the baker may have even put a layer of butternut squash at the midway point in the scone. It was perfectly moist, and the butternut squash was the dominant flavor - this actually reminded me of a pasta dish I might see at Tosca, served with a light cream sauce and nutmeg.

Sweetbites is expensive, but it's in a wealthy neighborhood, and if there are any other bakeries nearby that are as good, I'm certainly unaware. They'll get plenty of support from the office building they're in, but people in McLean looking for breakfast or lunch should be aware it's there. It has much more of a Korean, bubblegum-corporate character (here's their website) than Village Sweet does, giving it a more "finished" look and feel - it leads me to wonder if this is a franchise of some sort; regardless, the baked goods I had were "talented home baker" all the way.

On deck: a lemon bar - I was almost swayed today by the way they looked.

Informative and a delight to read. Thanks Don. I'll gobble up your writing any day - every last crumb.

---

[Thank you, Jason!]

Edited by DonRocks
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On my way out of town to drop Matt off at college, I needed to stop and run a quick errand at 9AM Monday morning, Aug 17. Afterwards, I stopped in for an on-the-road breakfast at Sweetbites Cafe and Bakery (recall that I had my lunch all taken care of). I'd already had a hot cup of coffee, and was more in the mood for a cold one - but the iced coffee hadn't been made yet, so I opted instead for a large glass of Iced Tea (I don't remember the price, but it was normal), and I nursed this, savoring each sip, most of the way to the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

The same gentle care can't be said about my breakfast sandwich, which I was most interested in trying for the actual biscuit. A Ham, Egg, and Cheese Biscuit (again, I don't remember the price, but my total bill, including tax and tip, was $8.16). The biscuit itself is outstanding - big, and fluffy, and just the way you want it. The ham is okay, the cheese is cheddar, and the egg more on the unfortunate side - a square-shaped omelet, folded in half, most likely baked in a sheet earlier.This is all heated in a convection oven using circulation as its quick-heat feature, but my sandwich arrived largely cold, dry, and noteworthy for the (excellent) biscuit alone. It was enjoyable, but it also needs work, and if Sandra Panetta is reading this, please count me as both a fan and a friend when you read these words. I've been there several times before, and will continue coming in the future.

Combined with an occasional sip of tea, the biscuit didn't last to Frederick. I remember thinking to myself how I was going to rave about how you couldn't get a better breakfast biscuit in the area (and maybe you can't), but the strengths here are not in the breakfast sandwiches, and I cannot justifiably rave about mine. It was okay; it wasn't great. I'll take a runny egg cooked on the flat-top over this anytime, even though it's messier. Again, the biscuit itself was hors classe - Sandra is a baker, not a chef, and she has so many wonderful baked items (paradoxically including her quiche, by the way) that there are other things more-worth trying - the scones, for example. And her coffee is just fine; I just wanted iced tea on this particular occasion, given that they didn't have iced coffee - it was going to be a hot day on the road.

Sweetbites is maintained in Italic in the Dining Guide, and remains one of the best bakeries in the area, warts and all.

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I agree with Don based on two visits.  Several outdoor tables under the colonnade of the medical building which hosts Sweetbites provide a pleasant spot to perch if you are in McLean or the P.O. on Elm Street.

I found SB's expressi & cappucini far better than the "burned bean" drinks cranked out at Greenberry & Starbucks.  Bonus points: I prefer sipping coffee from authentico ceramic vs cardboard cups.  Coffee & baked goods aside, the appeal for me these late summer days is the outdoor setting - calmer & quieter than the bizz buzzing at the two nearby coffee pit stops.

Star Nut near the Firehouse has a pleasant patio and a more extensive selection of food items. SN & Sweetbites are different but exude their own charms in the culinary desert of McLean.

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