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Doughnuts reach a new level goir/iStock/Thinkstock

Doughnuts reach a new level

Cheffed up fried pastries make their mark on the culinary landscape

Our ongoing obsession with doughnuts is enough to bring even a noted aficionado like Homer Simpson to his knees. The recent past has seen a new generation of doughnuteries open for business around the country, and they differ from the usual suspects in several ways.

First, many operate on the theory of planned scarcity. Chicago’s Doughnut Vault promises “artisanal, handcrafted doughnuts that are made fresh daily in small batches to preserve quality,” and once those small batches are depleted, the doors are closed. This strategy creates urgency, builds buzz and results in a very long line of anxious customers well before the shop opens.

Secondly, they often boast serious culinary firepower, like lauded chefs Brendan Sodikoff of Doughnut Vault or Michael Solomonov of Federal Donuts in Philadelphia, who were in the first wave of the doughnut revival. In the most recent wave, they’ve been joined by the likes of Wylie Dufresne with Du’s Donuts in Brooklyn, N.Y., and Ford Fry with his Sunday Donut Brunch at Beetlecat in Atlanta.

Finally, these thoroughly modern operators offer totally contemporary takes on the standard, the stuff that doughnut-y dreams are made of. The Thai Dust Doughnut at Donut Savant in Oakland, Calif., is made with toasted coconut, fresh ginger, kaffir lime and roasted chiles, a nifty nod to the ongoing sweet-heat trend; and Dufresne creates complex Honey Fennel Pollen and Pomegranate Tahini options.

The embrace of savory flavors by doughnut specialists has inspired other restaurateurs to add doughnuts and beignets, their French cousins, to their appetizer menus. A great example is the simply named Doughnut at The Cookery in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., which belies its unassuming title with an unconventional mix of smoked pig’s head, barbecue onion, basil and spicy maple.  On a similarly savory note, diners at Boeufhaus, a temple to carnivores in Chicago, can launch their meal with Shortrib Beignets made with braised ribs and served with natural jus for dunking.

In Charleston, S.C., the menu at popular Butcher & Bee features Mediterranean mezze, or small plates, including Potato Beignets with muhamarra, a spicy red pepper and walnut spread. A few blocks away and on a less exotic note, patrons at Hominy Grill can enjoy a low-country starter of Shrimp and Okra Beignets. Chains are also in the game: Artichoke Beignets are filled with Parmesan and fontina cheeses and sweet basil dressing at Del Frisco’s Grille.

Doughnuts have migrated to the entrée list, too. The sophisticated Oxtail Doughnut at Restauration in Long Beach, Calif., comprises a house-made, salted drop doughnut, black garlic-salsify purée, brown sugar and oxtail jam. The brunch menu at Café No Sé in Austin, Texas, has featured English Pea Beignets with whipped feta cheese as a main dish; the current bill of fare includes a starter of Sweet Potato Beignets with crispy sage, Parmesan and turmeric aïoli. Tim Hortons, a Canadian chain that specializes in doughnuts, changed things up last summer with a promotional Poutine Donut, which topped a Honey Dip Donut with potato wedges, gravy and cheese curds. 

Of course, doughnuts are delightful as dessert. The signature Hot Bag O’ Donuts served with raspberry and chocolate dipping sauces is a long-running favorite at the Smokey Bones Bar and Fire Grill chain. At independent restaurant Giada in Las Vegas, Zeppoli, Italian doughnuts, are citrus infused before being plated with warm chocolate sauce, while the version on offer at Olive Garden is dusted with powdered sugar, then paired with the requisite sauce. Patrons of Party Fowl in Nashville can turn down the heat on the house’s hot-chicken dishes with Bourbon-Glazed Beignets topped with powdered sugar. But for a truly dramatic change of pace, the Tofu Donut at Otoko, a high-end Japanese restaurant in Austin, combines the titular ingredient with flour, sugar and salt, along with a topping of mezcal-condensed milk sauce and an orange slice for garnish.

Creating the recipe may be the easy part, since the restaurateur also has to grapple with the doughnut-versus-donut spelling duality. The former is considered proper, though the latter, which came into existence in the 19th century as part of an American trend to simplify English spelling, has doubtless gotten a major boost with the national expansion of Dunkin’ Donuts. Grammarist, an online reference source and guardian of good grammar, tut tuts that “donut” now appears about a third of the time in published American writing.

Nancy Kruse, President of the Kruse Company, is a menu trends analyst based in Atlanta. As one of Linked In’s Top 100 Influencers in the US, she blogs regularly on food-related subjects on the Linked In website.

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