Even after sampling the supposed Eden of Eats, NYC, I'm still confident that Philly's array of eateries can rival the Apple's own offerings. While our fair city can't compete in sheer magnitude, there's still a picking for every food enthusiast -- gourmet, ethnic, or otherwise. And though Philadelphia may be unable to rival the frou frou dining scene in New York, our smaller city can cite one indefatigable advantage: less fuss. This translates to less transportation hassle and easier choices (Philly is like New York's Whitman Sampler: enough to satisfy, but not enough to give you a headache). Not to mention you'll probably save a few (tens) in Philly.
That precursor out of the way, let's get to the food at hand. Philly seems like prime territory for the delectable and wholly sinful holed treat -- the doughnut -- but no purveyors have delivered the goods. Won't someone give Dunkin Donuts a run for its money (especially when coffee is becoming the chain's top priority)? It's too bad, because New York City has both mass produced and provincial baking contenders. I could do without the former, but god do I want a Doughnut Plant!
Nestled next to the Williamsburg bridge in Lower Manhattan, Doughnut Plant bakes up sheet upon sheet of gourmet doughnuts that'll make you reconsider your morning muffin. Though the cramped storefront is lacking in square footage (three pairs of feet and the place is elbow room only), the kitchen area in back is large enough to pump out doughnuts for a profitable wholesale and bulk order business (Dean & Deluca is a notable buyer). I'm glad the Plant keeps its retail roots at heart, because eating a freshly baked doughtnut off its baking sheet is a glorious experience. (And no, I haven't tried this at a Krispy Kreme.)
Inside the store, a slab of counter separates customers from a very tall, very enticing rack holding sheets of fresh doughnuts. Next to the sheets that are at eye level juts tags with groan-inducing descrptions: Valrhona Chocolate, Vanilla-Bean, Banana with Pecan. Doughnut Plant is no powdered sugar puff pusher.
Sitting at the other end of the counter, is a flexi-glass-covered box of cake donuts -- smaller relatives of the yeast-risen variety placed the rack. I call these dougnuts "relatives" of the yeast variety because they offer a few distinct differences, some of which I'd call an advantage. Though smaller, the cake doughnuts give a heartier but still cleaner bite; the yeast ones may require a little gnashing to chew through the airier insides. The cake type tends also to be sweeter, as the batter and compact shape allow for increased sweetness per square bite (got me?).
That said, when it comes to the filled doughnuts (the jams, the creams), clawing through a nice hand-sized, "old-fashioned," yeast-risen doughnut is an age-defying bliss. During one trip to Doughnut Plant, I decided to go big and get a yeast-risen Blueberry doughnut. The squarish lavender colored treat was speckled with real blueberry bits. I expected a mouthful of blueberry sweetness, but my first bite left me disappointed; the blueberry flavor played second fiddle to the flour-yeast combo. Definitely could have used a bit more sweet, so I'd recommend getting the cakey Blueberry version.
A second trip had me searching the countertop case for a cake-type. Anxious but unable to choose just one, I asked the staffer to recommend a favorite. I walked out of the shop with a Tres Leches doughnut ($1.50 for the smaller type). Damn good pick, sir. Not only was the cracked glaze a delight, but the heavenly cream filling -- a lightly caramel-flavored cream reminding of creme caramel -- almost had me sprinting back for another. Highly recommended!
So, in conclusion...we're all waiting Philadelphia. I demand gourmet doughnuts for the good of our morning consumption! Till Philly whips up a hometown competitor, perhaps Doughnut Plant'll consider a local branch?
Location: 379 Grand Street (Lower East Side, Manhattan)