Cindy Lou’s Cookies are not good for you.
They aren’t fortified with kale. They’re woefully lacking in quinoa and ancient grains. There’s gluten in every single bite.
And yes, that giant tub under the counter at their Little River storefront is filled to rim with plain white sugar.
Keto? You must be kidding.
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“It’s a cookie. It’s not supposed to be healthy,” co-owner Cindy Kruse said. “It’s not supposed to be anything but delicious.”
Turns out that’s more than enough.
After 25 years of making grown-up desserts for grown-up palates, Kruse, a classically trained pastry chef who spent a career making beautiful, elaborate desserts for some of America’s best known chefs, realized she wanted to bake for the kid in her — and us.
She turned that training into the sweet that speaks to her childhood. And, with her short black hair in pigtails, she serves her oversized cookies with a sprightly enthusiasm at her year-old store. There, you can find Kruse at one of the stainless steel tables, spreading cream cheese frosting over red velvet dough with her gloved hands, like a finger-painting kindergartener.
Inside every bright, pink box of cookies, she writes in Sharpie, “Baked with love. Cookies nourish the soul.” She signs her name because she believes it.
“To me, there’s beauty in simplicity. I love the simplicity in a cookie and the memories it evokes,” Kruse said.
Simple, however, doesn’t mean unsophisticated.
Simple cookies, expert baker
Kruse, a graduate of Boston University and New York’s Culinary Institute of America, spent a career learning to make show-stopping desserts. It began in South Beach, where she met her partner of 22 years, chef Eric Paige, at actor Michael Caine’s South Beach Brasserie on Lincoln Road. (Paige asked her to go roller blading — the most ‘90s first date ever.)
They spent the next two decades at high end restaurants, he cooking the savory, she baking the sweet. And together those careers took them everywhere from the Ritz Carlton dining room in Puerto Rico (where she was born and where much of her family still lives) to Las Vegas, where she worked for Emeril Lagasse, Wolfgang Puck and Charlie Trotter.
But those 12-to-14-hour days took their tolls on them when they returned to Miami. Now, both 52, they wanted more than a career — they wanted a life.
“After working so hard, nothing made me happier than making something simple,” she said. “If I was going to work that hard, it was going to be for something I love and made me happy.”
After taking a year off, Kruse started baking cookies, brownies and cakes for restaurants like Gigi’s and Panther Coffee out of the garage of her rented Coconut Grove cottage. When she rolled open the garage door, neighbors and peacocks were waiting for her with the scent of cookies on their beaks. And so were restaurants, lining up to carry her cookies.
There’s a reason people responded.
Her cookies are fun
Each cookie uses a dough specific to that cookie. The white chocolate macadamia uses a classic brown butter in the batter. The Lemon Cloud cookie uses fresh lemon juice and zests. She makes her own granola for the oatmeal-chocolate chip.
Her Brownie Krispie Crunchy should be served on Wedgwood. It layers brownie fudge, Rice Krispies in house-made chocolate sauce, a thin layer of Nutella used as an ingredient rather than a sledgehammer and a crunchy toffee topping. It’s a terrine of sweet decadence.
She makes decisions about her food based only on whether they make her desserts taste better. The banana bread is vegan — she uses soy yogurt and oil instead of eggs and butter — only because it’s more delicious that way. (Some realize it only after reading the receipt.)
And her cookies also had to be fun. She makes them oversized on purpose. Each cookie is at least 6 ounces only because 5 didn’t look big enough in her hands. She wants you to need both hands to hold it.
“It’s for the kid in all of us,” she said. “You look at it and say, ‘Oh, my God!’ That’s the reaction I wanted.”
That’s the reaction she gets in her new store, which sits pink and inviting beneath a fuchsia bougainvillea bush on a street that has been closed for the better part of a year for construction.
Still, people park blocks away and walk over in the heat for their Cindy Lou fix. Uber and Postmates drivers have learned to navigate the orange traffic cones.
“I can’t stop,” said Miami artist Rafael Leonidas, his black shirt sweat-stained. He stops in regularly, always for a pair of brownies. “These are from another era. The brownie? [He kisses his fingertips.] They’re next level. Fit for a king.”
Sometimes customers ask whether she has considered making her cookies gluten-free or vegan or all-organic — things she says would distract from the sheer joy of indulging in a cookie. There’s a reason desserts are called treats.
“Sorry,” she tells them, “this is like grandma used to make — old-fashioned and delicious.”
For lunch every day, she eats one of her own cookies fresh out of the oven. (These days, she’s partial to the white-chocolate macadamia.) If Paige notices she’s grumpy, he’ll ask, “Have you had your cookie today?” It always put her in a better mood.
She eats her cookie the way Homer Simpson eats a doughnut: without a hint of pretension or a flicker of dieter’s remorse.
“People are trying way too hard nowadays,” she said. “I mean, rosemary in chocolate cake? Nah. Give me the classics.”
Cindy Lou’s Cookies
7320 NE 2nd Ave., Little River