I ride my bike to the windy city's hidden gems, lost goldmines, new kids on the block, and old standbys then tell you what to think and what to order. Check, czech, Česká it out...

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Street (Food) Fight: Part 6, Oh Dough You Didn't!

In these topsy turvy times people turn to two things to sooth their worried minds: comfort food and booze. Here in Chi-tizzle we have Wrigleyville to fulfill the latter part of the equation but the former part is currently up for grabs. For the last five years we've gotten our foodie fixes in the form of pork products, gussied up burgers and premium cupcakes. But change is in the air and that change currently smells like...Doughnuts!

After being neglected for the better part of the decade, Chicago is starting to take these breakfast/cake combos seriously again. A couple gutsy little shoppes have popped up in the last few months so I peddled over to give 'em a proper review.

The Players

1. The Doughnut Vault
The Vault is Gilt Bar's little early-rising sister. Same owners, same address (almost), very different vibe. Just walk up (after waiting between 10 minutes to an hour), tell them what you want and, if they have it, they'll sell you it. There are usually only four or five varieties available and once they're gone they are gone. They have but one drink and that's coffee. In short, they keep it simple. Perhaps it's for this reason that this place has become a "scene," meaning that when I showed up 15 minutes before opening on a Tuesday there was already and line stretching 80 feet from the door.

2. Dirty Betty's
If you've been to Cookie Bar (and you have been to Cookie Bar, right?) then you've been to Dirty Betty's (DB). Only Betty's just does doughnuts, where as Cookie Bar focuses more on... you got it. DB is a brand spanking new concept (like it's 4 days old as this is being written) and is focused on introducing you to wholesome doughnuts you'd be glad to take home to meet your parents (read no trans fats, no hydrogenated oils and no phony bologna flavors or colors). Here's the catch; their doughnuts never touch oil, they are baked (!) rather than deep fried.

The Criteria
I procured four doughnuts and a single cup of coffee (black, no sugar) from each establishment. I tried to get comparable doughnuts; one ol' fashioned type, one chocolate themed and two funky fresh flavors. The winner was decided based on the sum of their scores and not, as some of my critics have insinuated, on how much free shit they gave me.

The Goods  

Funky 1

pomegranate, DB
chestnut, Vault

 DB is serving notice that the pomegranate trend is alive and well and now lives in doughnut form! I only wish the people at DB had turned up the volume on the pom flavor though. As for the chestnut glazed treat, I'm not sure where the Vault hid the chestnut flavor but I couldn't find it as I engulfed this glorified glazed ring.
Edge: DB

Funky 2
gingerbread, Vault
blueberry lemon, DB
 No contest. The gingerbread doughnut, though small in comparison to its gargantuan chocolate and chestnut brethren, was nicely seasoned with cinnamon-sugar and ginger. Couple that with excellent crunch and moisture and what you get is doughnut bliss. The blueberry-lemon was a disappointment in that it tasted very little like blueberry or lemon.
Edge: The Vault

Ol' Fashioned
old fashioned powdered sugar, DB
buttermilk old fashioned, Vault
 I really wanted to like DB's powdered sugar old fashioned but when I bit into it I felt like I was eating a small bundt cake (which I like), not a doughnut (which I love). The Vault's old fashioned was characterized by heavy body, thick frosting and excellent dunkability.
Edge: The Vault

Chocosaurus Rex
chocolate toffee, DB
chocolate frosted, Vault
The epic struggle raged on only this time it was personal, I mean, chocolate. DB's d'nut had a frosting that tasted luxurious and delicious. The Vault's frosting couldn't hold a candle to it but made up a ton of ground in the texture and size department: it melted in my mouth the way a fresh doughnut should and it was HUGE! DB's doughnut had the texture of moist cake but was lacking the contrasting crisp exterior that I yearn for in doughnuts.
Edge: The Vault

-The Vault features local darling Metropolis Coffee (for a buck!), which will always have a special place in my heart as it fueled much of my college existence. Judging from the notes of caramel and cognac, I'd say they're using Schweik's blend whose acidity makes it a great doughnut coffee.
-DB uses Alterra Coffee, a Milwaukee based roaster who doesn't usually branch out into the Chicago area but I guess thought Dirty Betty's would make it worth their while. The coffee was earthy, mild and showed hints of almond. It worked brilliantly with the chocolate doughnut.
Edge: The Vault.
The Verdict
I always root for the underdog but in this case I have to give the title to The Doughnut Vault. Their doughnuts are fresh, substantial and do all the right things in your mouth. If I'm being honest, once I tasted one of the gingerbread stackers I knew it was over. That being said standing outside for 20 minutes for doughnuts is obnoxious and I remember thinking "Is this line here because their stuff is that good? Or is it because they have the hipness factor working for them? Or is it because there's no competition out there?" In the end it's a mix of all of them.

The Consolation
I really like what DB's is trying to do; leave out the trans fat, the artificial flavor and the excess grease of typical doughnut experiences. But baking doughnuts strips them of their doughnuthood and turns them into small cakes. Small cakes are good but they lack the crisp outer edge (I hesitate to use the word crust but you know what I mean) that sets doughnuts apart and magically makes them appropriate for morning consumption. It should also be noted that they are brand new and (if they're like any other small business) still working out the kinks. I'm rooting for them.

Dirty Betty's on Urbanspoon
Dirty Betty's
The Doughnut Vault on Urbanspoon
The Doughnut Vault

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