THE SPOT: At Two Tartes Café & Catering (5629 Airport Way S. 206-767-8012), the cashier is an amateur comedian, the cookies are the size of the average human head, and the locals line up for wholesome soups, salads and sandwiches that change daily. In the past two years, the small, cheery space -- with its butter-colored walls, five tables and flower-filled whiskey barrels -- has become a mainstay in Seattle's industrial, artsy Georgetown neighborhood.
THE SPECS: The basic brownie ($3), with a raised, wrinkled crust and slightly undercooked molten middle, is classic baked perfection. At 3 to 4 square inches, it would be daunting if it didn't provide so much joy. There's nothing fancy about this brownie, but sometimes only the simplest dessert will do.PHILADELPHIA
THE SPOT: In 2002, Rebecca Michaels ditched grad school to start baking; now, after years spent selling sweets to coffee shops, she's opened Flying Monkey Patisserie (12th and Arch streets, 215-928-0340, flyingmonkeyphilly.com) in the famed Reading Terminal Market. The 450-square-foot stand, stuffed with playful, oversize baked goods and strewn with toy monkeys, fast became a Philadelphia institution.
THE SPECS: Though her work caters to chocoholics, Michaels herself prefers the white variety, creating the White Chocolate Raspberry Chip Bar ($3) to satisfy her own cravings. Her customers are the lucky beneficiaries of the concoction: a chunk of Callebaut Belgian white chocolate baked with semisweet chocolate chips and raspberry jam.
THE SPOT: Muddy's Bake Shop (5101 Sanderlin Ave. #114, 901-683-8844) is a bright spot in Memphis' bakery scene, mainly composed of grocery chains. Owner Kat Gordon named the shop for her late maternal grandmother -- Jayne Bond, nickname "Muddy" -- who handed out homemade cakes and cookies to anyone who needed cheering up. Gordon's business is fittingly community-minded: In order to keep prices down she refuses to advertise, and she donates all tips to a variety of local nonprofit organizations.
THE SPECS: You can't go wrong with the mint brownie ($1), which is at once rich and just cakey enough: The batter's made with butter, loads of cocoa powder, farm-fresh eggs, whole milk and pure peppermint extract, then topped with mint-flavored icing.CHICAGO
THE SPOT: The Bleeding Heart Bakery (1955 W. Belmont Ave., 773-327-6934) blows your senses: punk-rock music, neon walls, enormous whisks as chandeliers and a heavily tattooed staff. But the bakery, which has four city shops, hasn't gained its following by looks alone. Socially minded Chicagoans appreciate that The Bleeding Heart works with Growing Power (growingpower .org), which helps inner-city communities learn about sustainable agriculture.
THE SPECS: When co-owner Michelle Garcia was pregnant, she demanded s'mores brownies, the recipe for which she promptly wrote. Now crowds flock for the decadent treat ($3.25), overloaded with chunks of milk chocolate and handmade graham crackers, and topped with a house-made marshmallow.
Want to make your own? Get our favorite brownie recipes
*Prices and other details were accurate when we published this article in December 2009.