Sunday, March 4, 2012

donuts + fried chicken = happiness

News flash:  we moved to Philadelphia.   We spent the first six months just getting our bearings (new job, new city, new house, new neighbors, new everything), and now that the daffodils are starting to bloom, our sights are set on breakfast.   Our reasoning is that seeking out a new breakfast spot every weekend will give us a good crash course on all the Philly neighborhoods.

With that context out of the way, let me tell you about Federal Donut, which kind of blew our minds this morning.   First, check out their website. So, yeah, we saw that yesterday, as well as this NYT article.    

Don't worry -- despite the NYT write-up, Federal Donuts is neither trendy or pretentious.   The idea is pretty brilliant:
  1. Rent a corner storefront with a deep fryer and counter space
  2. Serve hot fried-on-demand cake donuts and cold "fancy" cake donuts (glazed and topped) in the morning, until they are gone.
  3. At noon, switch the deep fryer over to chicken duty.  Serve half and whole fried chicken until they are gone.
  4. Close up when you have nothing left to sell   
We showed up around 10 am for donuts.  There were a good number of people in there, but no throngs, so that we all (Vince+K+O, our two-year-old) could fit on a small bench by the door.  K and I both agreed: the hot donuts were the reason to be here:  light and perfectly fried, with the sugar+spice treatment not too sweet and subtly interesting:  Indian cinnamon (the consensus winner), vanilla lavender, and Apollonia spices (something I couldn't really put my finger on).  

The "fancies" of course reminded us of Dynamo Donuts in San Francisco, and similarly Federal Donuts was unafraid of embracing the savory. K's favorite was the caramel banana, which had a flaky, salt-caramel coating (this sold out the fastest, by the way), and I liked the halvah-pistachio, which packed a spicy kick to it.  Their tarter glazed offerings were interesting too: raspberry balsamic (!) and grapefruit brown sugar definitely lived up to their descriptions.

Also worth mentioning was the elaborate rack of scientific glassware for drip-coffee. It appeared to be in operation, but perhaps just for show, as several commercial coffee makers were in action too.

Donuts on the left, fried chicken on the right.

Halvah-pistachio, one of the "fancy" donuts

After our had toddler gobbled enough donuts (he started to spin in circles) we took a walk around the Pennsport neighborhood.   In an empty lot behind the Mummers Museum, O played with another young boy, whose grandmother told us the owner lived on the block. Just then, the owner walked by with his dog, and she said, "These people came all the way from Roxborough to enjoy your donuts!".   "Yeah, it's rocket fuel for the kids too." he called back.

After our walk, we killed some time running errands so we could come back for the fried chicken, which went on sale on noon.    When we got there, the chicken wasn't ready yet, but they were handing out reservation cards; each one guaranteed a half-chicken.  I drew #15 and #16.   As the minutes ticked by more and more people arrived, and soon the entire area in front of the counter was mobbed.   Then, the numbers started to be called.

What struck me watching the process was the similarity in their approach to both the donuts and chicken.  The donuts got fried and then coated in sugar+spice mixture.  The chicken got a "base coat" of batter-fry, and were queued up on the same racks as the donuts.   Then for the different flavors (we ordered half buttermilk ranch and half coconut curry), they did a quick second dip in the fryer with a "dry rub" of spices.   Again, the level of spice was perfect (not overpowering, nor too subtle).  The chicken was not too greasy, and the meat extremely tender and juicy (fresh from the fryer is the best!)  As a bonus, they threw in a "side donut" with each half-chicken.  Now that's what I call class.