Missy Antonelli is an artist, but she doesn’t work in oils or watercolors or clay, and you won’t see her creations hanging in galleries or museums. Her tools are whisks and baking sheets and pastry knives. Her materials are batters and frostings and fondants. And her studio/showroom is Sweet Mary’s, the bakery she owns in downtown New Haven.
As a child, Missy’s hobby was baking desserts every night for family, including many siblings, and friends. Always running out of sugar, flour or eggs, she was often seen knocking on neighbors’ doors and repaid their kindnesses with baked goods. For her 18th birthday, she got her first Kitchen Aid mixer. A Betty Crocker cookbook was another favorite present.
Last year, after thirty years in the packaging industry and having raised two teenagers of her own, Missy Antonelli was ready for a change. Despite no formal culinary training, in April she opened Sweet Mary’s at 129 Court Street and even moved down the block so she can walk to work, which entails long days—usually from 8 or 9 a.m. to 1 or 2 a.m., she says.
She’s an admitted workaholic who used to travel all the time for her packaging job; now she seems thrilled enough just to be in one place. Her family—mom and dad, sister, cousins, nieces and nephews and her children when they’re home on school break—pitch in. Their pay is a box of goodies to take home, like the lemon squares she was testing the day I visited her open-kitchen shop.
The bakery, by the way, is named after her grandmother Mary, which is also Missy’s given name (but no one calls her that). Her grandparents lived on Academy Street and ran a restaurant on Wooster Street in the 1950s.
But she’s happy being on Court. It’s a “good area and people appreciate me being here.” An insistence on freshness—refusing to freeze her baked goods, for example—might have something to do with the rave reviews that have accumulated on the business’s Facebook page.
The shop’s much-hailed, frosting-piled cupcakes include rotating flavors like Cherry Cheesecake, Death by Chocolate, Red Velvet, Pistachio, Nutella and the list goes on. In cases and under glass covers are Pecan, Apple and Lemon Meringue Pies (and the Cannoli Pie I got to sample); Sugar, Raspberry Sandwich and XL (as in huge) Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Cookies, among others; plus brownies, biscotti and more. Savory baked goods including breads, rolls and croissants are nowhere to be found; Sweet Mary’s only does the sweet stuff.
Some of that stuff goes way off the menu. Her super-specialty is custom cake-making, and the proof of prowess is on Pinterest, where images of Missy’s past cakes reside. One shows a “Hawaiian lei” cake festooned with fourteen hyper-realistic flowers with textured, delicate-looking petals and pistils. A “Noah’s Ark” cake features two layers of animals—lions, turtles, giraffes, alligators, even snails—traveling two by two. Atop a “wine and champagne” cake rest several bunches of handcrafted green and red grapes, with curly green stems poking out and replica champagne logos branded into the sides. A “MAC cake” has makeup brushes, lipstick and powder cases, plus a zippered handbag to hold it all. An “Ariel princess” cake, featuring the former Disney mermaid in a billowing gown with plenty of small details, looks like an expensive doll.
Missy’s goal is “to give people more than they expect,” even as a particularly complex cake can require 12 hours to complete. She says she often takes inspiration from an event’s invitation, which helps the cake connect with the theme and aesthetic of an occasion—a bridal or baby shower, or a birthday, or really any party with a central focus, like celebrating a graduation. She draws the line at erotica or anything mean-spirited, and it’s hard to blame her.
At Sweet Mary’s, things should be sweet.
129 Court St, New Haven (map)
Mon-Fri 10am-7pm, Sat 10am-2pm, Sun 10am-12pm (special orders only)
Written by Bonnie Goldberg. Photographed by Dan Mims.