Monday, December 31, 2012

Dixie Donuts

Top: Aztec, Samoa, German Chocolate, Bangkok Beauty, The Cutie
Middle: Dixie Spice, Peach Cobbler, Dulce de Leche, Strawberry Shortcake
Bottom: Chocolate Spice, Oreo, French Toast, Sweet Potato
“Floral” and “delicate” are not adjectives usually associated with doughnuts. But it also could be said that rosewater candy and curried mango salt aren’t typical ingredients on a holey fried delight. Contradictions like these are what, for me, define the new south. And Richmond, Virginia is a perfect example.

On historic Monument Avenue, lavish mansions occupied by old money sit next door to neglected buildings that house college students and starving artists. Grizzled I-don’t-give-a-care punks like Tim Barry emphasize local history/tradition while getting "Sic Semper Tyrannis" tattooed on their bodies. Once thriving industrial sections of town may look run-down, but they host local businesses and art galleries. And in Carytown, Dixie Donuts makes creations with names like Aztec, Maharaja and the Bangkok Beauty.

It didn’t take much effort to convince my brother Brian to join in trying this new establishment. And after we ordered, it may have taken us even less effort to polish off 8 doughnuts. Even with the reduced size of the doughnuts (perhaps three-quarters the average size one expects with a doughnut), it is rare to find cake doughnuts like these that don’t sit heavily after one or two. Though the doughnuts were indeed on the light side, Brian and I’s breakfast vanquishing also had something to do with the exotic flavors being offered.

I had never considered doughnuts as a culinary opportunity to explore other cultures but, based on the 16 varieties I’ve tried, this is what Dixie Donuts does best. (Contradictions: wearing cream-colored suits in the height of summer; a beauty queen with a gutter mouth.) It is also how the business distinguishes itself from other gourmet doughnut outlets.* The Bangkok Beauty is my favorite of the pack—lime-mango curried salt with penden cookies. Next was the Maharaja (vanilla-rosewater pistachio with garam masala). Their Dulce de Leche doughtnut had an appropriately gooey topping that made it stand out from the rest. The Aztec was a delicious double chocolate doughnut dusted with chipotle cinnamon and topped with candied pepitas (pumpkin seeds). And the German Chocolate Cake has a sizeable dollop of crystally coconut ooze that left me scraping the box with my finger.

DoughNOT miss Dixie Donuts. (How many times have I blogged about donuts, yet somehow never made that joke until now? Huzzah!)

* Gourmet donuts: (n) fanciful donuts characterized by unusual toppings or flavor combinations, often with a larger price tag. Antonym: traditional donuts.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Dangerously Delicious Pies

My brother and I sit at the counter while a twenty-something kid with skinny jeans, a lip ring and a frizzy black 80s mullet slinks around preparing our food. We listen to the Dickies’ infectious version of “Silent Night” while he delivers our order: the Date Night Special. It is May in Baltimore and this is Dangerously Delicious Pies.

Click this picture and drool.
For our dessert this visit, we smack our way through the Mobtown, gooey, melty fudge and caramel with pecans (pictured). We cut the full-bodied richness of that pie with the sweet tooth sugar high of the Baltimore Bomb, a buttermilk and vanilla pie with Berger cookies. It takes skill to turn the Baltimore “tradition” (or trick played on tourists) of Berger cookies—shortbread slathered with chocolate frosting—into a delectable treat. A slice of the Baltimore Bomb with the Mobtown was the perfect combination.

On our next visit, this time to the DC location, we finished things off with two different slices. I had a slice of Strawberry-Rhubarb and marveled at how distinct each fruit was. Thankfully, the rhubarb was not overpowered by the sweetness of the strawberry, as it is in most would-be strawberry-rhubarb desserts. Brian, less a fan of fruit pie, had the Mint Chocolate Cream, which was light with a refreshing lift of mint that flew over the chocolate bliss like a descant. The mint flavor left only a quick floating reverberation and not a clamorous lasting burn.

Having now dined at both the DC and Baltimore locations, Brian and I can easily say that everything we’ve consumed has been incredible. Both times, we received flawless recommendations from the colorful staff members and tipped them accordingly. I encourage you to try as much as possible. The most cost-efficient way of doing this is the Date Night Special, available Sunday through Thursday happy hour—2 savory pies, 2 sweet pies, 2 sodas, 22 bucks. For savory pies, the BBQ, the hot rod potato with bacon, the curry-licious butter chicken, the steak and cheese…you can’t lose. Hopefully their newest location in Detroit will beget a Chicago opening or, better yet, world domination. I will raise the pie-and-crossbones flag as a signal to friends and foes!

UPDATE from 2016: Having now been to four different locations and tried numerous flavors, their fruits pies always please, but I am more often drawn to the creativity of their non-fruit, non-cream pies. Another notable favorite to surface is the Chocolate Chip Pancake pie, a white chocolate custard pie with chocolate chips, which is right up there with my favorite, the Mobtown Brown.

Monday, December 24, 2012

July at Christmas – Paletas in the Off-Season

It is a hazy grey lazy day meant for staying indoors. Boren and I sit on couches, each with laptops in their rightful place. The Christmas tree his girlfriend bought for our apartment stands center in the bay windows, elegantly lit with white lights. Until Jamie has a free moment to adorn the tree with her much-prized vintage ornaments, it holds only my two contributions: (1) a stocking-capped penguin whose belly is a relative’s grade school portrait and (2) an ice cream cone. Quietly contributing to the scene’s iconic glow, Boren and I click around, alternating between work and distractions. At this particular moment, we both eat Mexican popsicles.

Record scratch. Perhaps I should explain.

Back in September, I hoarded a dozen or so paletas in hopes of clutching tightly to whatever I could of the all-too-short Chicago summer. Most paletas are just popsicles—water, fruit and syrup. Nothing special, really. But the crema paletas are a different breed entirely: not quite ice cream and not quite popsicle, creamy while retaining that icy popsicle texture. I almost always buy one of these frozen delights after a swim at Foster Beach. I persuade the water out of my ears, follow the sound of the pushcart’s bells, hand the mustachioed man my buck-twenty-five, and flip flop my way back home, goggles and all.

The bad news, Ponyboy, is that Robert Frost was right: nothing gold can stay, not even the summer sun. Paleta season is short and the off-season unforgiving. Twitter-savvy food trucks may be more urban chic and easy to track down, but some delicacy deliverers (like elotes carts or the tamale guy) can only be found with luck and some know-how. So when the temperature started dropping, I knew I needed to stock up so I headed over to the place paletas carts hibernate during the winter, Paleteria La Reina in Albany Park. Since then, the other ice cream in my freezer has enjoyed the company of bilingual dessert products.

Since I bought the paletas in bulk, I gave all the other crema flavors a try. With the exception of Coconut Crema (the ultimate) and Rice (the cinnamon-y horchata-esque silver medal winner), the rest of the flavors taste more-or-less like a milkshake that solidified after being put in the freezer. Nothing bad about that, but one should be aware of how they are distinct from ice cream.

I am not alone in saying that the first Coconut Crema paleta marks the true beginning of summer in Chicago. And sharing my dwindling supply in the off-season isn’t something I do lightly. But the way I figure it, Boren and I eating paletas in December seems the best bet for keeping the weather warm, at least until that damn groundhog seals our fate again.

Paleteria La Reina
3012 W Lawrence
Chicago, IL  60625

Monday, December 17, 2012

Donut Stop

“We’ve been open for 59 years,” the elderly proprietor of Donut Stop tells me.

My friend Ryan and I had mentioned we’d never been there before and without hesitation he stopped to tell us about the place. While his other staff members bustled around assisting the scads of customers waiting their turn in the crowded standing area, he was chatting us up. We liked him immediately.

“And how many of those years have you been here?” I asked.

“I’ve been working here since 1990. Then my son and I bought the place 11 years ago.” I wondered if he ever thought when he began 22 years ago that one day he’d own the place.

Frequently featured on Top Ten lists for doughnuts, St. Louis’ Donut Stop is a modest building, not unlike those you may pass telling yourself, “I’ll have to stop there one of these days.” Who’d guess that it was a local legend with national acclaim? When we tasted the doughnuts, we understood why.

At a classic place like this I expected that, of the doughnuts I tried, the best would be the staples of the doughnut canon. This was certainly true of my favorite, the blueberry cake. Though a flavor I usually find dry and forgettable, theirs was moist yet crisp on the outside—crisp like the dollar bills I contributed to their cash register—not hard or crumbly. Like all of their products, it tastes fresh because at the rate their product was moving, none of it had been sitting around very long! Another classic, their cinnamon roll, was also a stand-out. Through I’d been told it was another product that put them on the map—the cinnamon glob, which to me was a less-than-memorable fruitless fritter, an apple fritter minus the apples—I found the cinnamon roll more memorable. Sweet and chewy with the right balance of flavors, not the usual case either the cinnamon or the icing overpowering the dough. And then there was my usual go to doughnut, the French Cruller, which is best understood in the words of Ryan. 

“I’ll try it, but I’m not as experienced as you in crullers.” (takes his first bite) “Oh, that’s incredible!” He was more than impressed. It was if someone had just informed him that the St. Louis arch was actually a giant space doughnut embedded in the earth.

But it wasn’t just the classics that were good. Other standouts were the caramel long john, a dunkably long yeast doughnut with maple-roasted overtones and a sweet caramel aftertaste, and the cream cheese with cherries, a yeast doughnut with a dollop of light whipped goodness on top that tasted like a fried pie or fried danish.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Mr. T Coloring Contest

Sighted in a recent visit to Seattle's Bluebird. I hope these decorations hang for many years.