Sunday, December 31, 2006

The Grillswith

Blognut is back from Virginia, two Donuts and lots of ice cream heavier. But before we get into food, I would first like to apologize to my svelte and bleach-stained friend Reverend Dick, who played the heartiest of roles in my nuptials – meaning my real hitching, not my Donut ceremony – in September of 05, and who should have definitely been made privy to the existence of this blog. Sorry RD. And thanks for not choosing the title of Druid or Warlock when cyber-ordaining yourself, thus avoiding way too many unanswerable questions from grandma J. But now, the Donuts.

Last April I ran a piece on my favorite of all Donut shops, Spudnuts in Charlottesville, VA. The resulting online chatter eventually led to something called the Grillswith, a marvelous triad of grilled Donuts, vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce, popular in C’ville for decades. Having spent four years of my life in said town, I’m ashamed to admit I had not heard of the Grillswith at the time, and would like to thank all those who enlightened me on the matter. But those days of being young and uniformed have since passed, for I have now ingested the famous dessert and understand what all the fuss over this decadent Central-Virginia phenomenon is about.

Now the concept of mashing together Donuts, ice cream and chocolate sauce might not be specific to Charlottesville. In fact, I remember having the same combination years ago at the 3rd Street Diner in Richmond, VA. But as far as I can tell, the name Grillswith was born in C’ville, at the long-since closed University Diner. When the diner shut its doors - probably in response to one too many boozed-up frat guys dropping roofies into sorority sodas and regurgitating Donut on the walls – the considerably more boho Blue Moon Diner picked up the tradition (check their MySpace page here). As did a few other local dives, like the greasy and satisfying Mel’s Diner, and the White Spot, infamous for fattening up undergrads with their cholesterol-heavy “Gus Burger,” a hamburger topped with a fried egg.

I think it was two years ago when the Blue Moon Diner decided to close up shop and devote itself exclusively to catering. Charlottesville sighed with disappointment. But while giving up some of the grungy eclecticism that patrons so adored (ie, breast feeding women at the counter, unleashed Golden Retrievers scrounging for crumbs), the BMD recently reopened as a slightly sleeker, more disinfected diner. But don’t get Blognut wrong, the place is still brimming with character – from the window sill lined with records for spinning on the house turntable, to the portrait of a 70’s era Elvis hanging above the bar – and managed to maintain their local cred by bringing back the Grillswith.

So finally back in C’ville after so many months, Blognut shows up at the Blue Moon with a voracious appetite, primed on Christmas ham, sugar cookies and, oddly enough, corn salsa. I’m accompanied by Mrs. Blognut and my old friend Slim, neither of whom share my enthusiasm for the heavy, creamy and fried dessert we’re about to face. We order a round of pilsners and a single Grillswith.

The Blue Moon’s Grillswith consists of two plain-glazed, Krispy Kreme Doughnuts nestled beside a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream and drizzled with chocolate sauce. The Doughnuts are grilled until the sugary glaze caramelizes into a gooey and crunchy coating. Thanks to the grilling process, the interior of each Doughnut loses the light and airy physique of a typical glazed, and instead has the consistency of a dense, chewy bagel, making its eater work for his/her reward. But trust me, it tastes great. The ice cream is provided by another Charlottesville staple, Chap’s Homemade Ice Cream, and the sauce by Hershey’s. With nary a bite of help from either of my dining companions, I end up finishing the entire thing myself, vowing to start jogging again after New Year’s.

On the way out we spot a customer calling it quits for the night and creating a makeshift headlight by attaching a large metal flashlight to his bicycle handlebars. His method of attachment - packing tape. So here’s to the Blue Moon Diner for helping preserve the quirky, friendly and, at times, beautifully tacky lore of American diner culture, and for grilling up one of the finest desserts in the Piedmont.

Blue Moon Diner
512 West Main St.
Charlottesville, VA

Blognut has chosen to classify the Grillswith as a dessert rather than a Donut, and will therefore not be assigning it a Donut Score.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

A holiday donut from Blognut

Blognut will be on the move for the next week enjoying honey hams and hopefully lots of Donuts with family in New York and Virginia. Check back after New Year's, at which point I'll have ingested and thoroughly evaluated a Grillswith, provided everything goes according to plan. I'll explain later. Happy holidays.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Where to get a good Christmas Donut in NYC

Yesterday Mrs. Blognut scored me this moderately-sized apple cider Donut from the Christmas market in Columbus Circle. And I have to say, it was far superior to any of the Christmas market Donuts I tried in Vienna - the dough was super light, with only a hint of sweetness and the cider flavor was subtle and as healthy tasting as something that's fried can be. Its absorbant dough and gustatory minimalism made it perfect for dunking. Nice work Mrs. Blognut.

Mrs. Blognut didn't remember the stand's name, but it looked like this.


Donut Score:

Apple Cider Donut from Columbus Circle -

Monday, December 11, 2006

Donut Photo Album

I've finally taught my cat Dominic that Donuts are more satisfying and nutrionally essential than Meow Mix.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

This is Blognut's 100th Post!!!

Enough about Austria. Blognut’s back in Brooklyn celebrating our centesimal post with a visit to Mike’s Donuts in Bay Ridge.

Mike’s has been stuffing Brooklynites full of monstrous bursting-at-the-seems homemade donuts for over 30 years. The place is run by Mike Neamonitis and his son Gus. I think Mike’s son-in-law is also involved too but I don’t know his name.

I spoke with Gus a few weeks ago over a steaming cup of black coffee and a plain glazed, which I have to say is one of the best in all of Brooklyn. It was soft, only a smidge chewy and covered in just the right amount of glaze – like a slightly less sweet Dunkin, making it WAY less sweet than a Krispy Kreme. Why does Krispy Kreme suck so bad?!

After a lengthy conversation about the state of independent Brooklyn donut culture, Gus hands me a large white box stuffed to corners with every kind of Donut you can think of. That’s actually not true, because after the fact I realized that there was only a single “filled” Donut among the group – a lone Boston Creme. Which is odd because filled Donuts are a big deal. And in my experience, they’re the most popular variety among most Donut eaters. But here’s the kicker (I’ve never before used this phrase in print): This crazy mofo Gus won’t let me pay for him the Donuts. Come on Gus, you just gave me a cup of coffee and well over a dozen fresh Donuts, let me pay you something. “No,” says Gus, “enjoy my Donuts.”

When I get home I feel guilty. Here I am championing the mom-and-pop Donut shop, hoping they can survive the intimidating and overly-purple neon threat of Dunkin, and I go and take a significant portion of their daily inventory without shelling out even a dime of compensation. But whatever, it’s too late now. So I eat the Donuts:

Plain Glazed – Already described above. Dunkin-y, but better.

Glazed Twist – Exactly the same flavor as the plain glazed, but with a more inventive and longer lasting shape. Perfect for when you’re in the mood for a glazed but are starving.

Vanilla Frosted – The same light and airy yeast-raised dough as the glazed varieties only this time covered in a smooth vanilla frosting and a unilateral swath of sprinkles. Again, the dough is soft and a bit chewy and the frosting provides the perfect amount of sugar.

Marble Twist – A classic New York Donut, the marble twist is like two Donuts in one. Just as I start to appreciate the wad of plain cake dough that’s resting in my mouth, the taste of chocolate takes over. Both components are soft and moist and just light enough so I don’t feel sick after ingesting the 10 inch long shaft of dough. That didn’t come out the way I wanted it to.

Cinnamon Roll – Again, the same outstanding yeast-raised dough, only this time wrapped four times into an irresistible spiral. Between each coil lies a hearty vein of cinnamon and after finishing the entire thing in under 10 seconds I feel simultaneously sick and the best I’ve ever felt.

Vanilla Triangle Thing – I honestly don’t know what this donut is called. But I do know is that it consists of a wedge of yeast-raised dough smeared with a thick layer of vanilla frosting. It really just tasted like the Vanilla Frosted I described earlier so I’ll stop here.

Chocolate Frosted – Same as Vanilla Frosted but with chocolate frosting. I’m getting lazy with these descriptions, I know.

Lastly, the Boston Crème – Again, yeast-raised dough smeared with smooth chocolate frosting and impregnated with a glob of rich Boston Crème. Though Blognut is generally not a huge fan of filled Donuts, the Boston Creme, along with the plain-glazed, were the highlights of the box.

And that’s it for Mike’s. This place is definitely tops and ranks right up there with Peter Pan as one of the best Donut shops in Brooklyn, and all of NYC for that matter. If it wasn’t such a chore getting out to Bay Ridge, I could see myself starting off everyday at Mike’s, with my lazy, Donut-eating ass firmly planted on one of the shop’s vintage swivel bar stools and my elbows resting on a slab of retro Formica.

Mike's Donuts
6822 5th Avenue
Bayridge, Brooklyn

Donut Scores:

Plain Glazed -

Glazed Twist -

Vanilla Frosted -

Marble Twist -

Vanilla Frosted Triangle Thing -

Chocolate Frosted -

Boston Creme -

Monday, December 04, 2006

Blognut gives a krapfen: Donuts I ate in vienna

Donuts are everywhere in Vienna. And while they don't suck nearly as bad as Parisian Donuts, they definitely failed to meet the minimum sugar level my all-American, sweet-seeking tongue requires of a Donut.

There are basically two types of Donuts in Vienna: there's the traditionally-German/Austrian Krapfen, which 50% of the time taste like a 2-day old dinner roll, and there's the second-rate ringed American knock0ffs. Now it's this second category that really poses an ancestral paradox given that our red, white and blue holey Donuts are most certainly direct descendants of the bland, usually-jam-filled Donuts found all over Eastern Europe (including Austria). It seems the Euros have taken our sweeter, more processed version of their traditional fried dough, and created a completely unenjoyable knockoff of a knockoff. It's really sort of incestuous.

But like I said, Austrian Donuts weren't nearly as foul as those I had in Paris (far and away THE WORST DONUTS I'VE EVER HAD!). The key is to hit Vienna's famed Christmas markets, most of which have at least one vendor peddling authentic Krapfen stuffed with either apricot or raspberry jam. When done right, they're freshly fried in front of you and sprinkled with powdered sugar resulting in a hot, sticky mess of goodness. When they've sat out too long, you'll most likely take one bite and drop the rest in an oddly-shaped and way-too-small-for-a-major-urban-center trash can. But I'll let you see for yourself. Without further ado, here's a rundown of all the Donuts Blognut encountered while in Vienna.

These were small Donuts....

fried right in front of my face by a surly Donut Man. Once cooked, he lifted six at once from the oil with a stick and dropped them into a small paper bag. He then grabbed an enormous bottle of chocolate sauce and let loose a hearty squirt atop the still steaming Donuts. Now while these tiny ringlets are meant to be eaten with a small wooden fork, this proved nearly impossible, as the liquidy chocolate quickly turned them into a soggy mound of goo. They tasted fine I guess, but I was a bit skeived out by the mushy consistency - I typically have a problem with gooey foods like bread pudding, or even regular pudding for that matter.

Oh, and here was the menu at the small Donut stand. Maybe lecker means really soggy.

I found this Krapfen stand at the Christmas market outside of city hall (Rathaus). The Donuts were freshly-fried and filled with either vanilla, chocolate or apricot upon request using a metal probe. The whole thing reminded me of all those anal probe scenes in alien movies.

Blond, Austrian Donut Lady getting ready to squirt my Krapfen full of apricot. This sounds perverse for some reason.

My Krapfen getting filled. This was by far the best Donut I had in Austria - soft, warm and stuffed with gooey apricot jam. The powdered sugar sprinkled on top melted into a clear glaze and masked the fact that the dough was probably completely devoid of sugar and tasted like bread.

Apricot Krapfen closeup.

Here's a Krapfen shaped like a pretzel.

Another nearby stand was selling something called Bauernkropfn. They were akin to the Czech kolache in that they had their jam filling on top rather than inside.

Mine tasted like ass - if ass tastes like a really bad, stale dinner roll.

These were small Krapfen on sticks. The looked and tasted like your average zeppole, decent but uninspiring.

Later that day I stopped in McDonalds because I knew that McD's in Europe serve Donuts. Which this one did. They were chocolate strudel Donuts but I didn't eat one because they looked artificial and disgusting. And while this has never stopped me in the past, at this point in the trip my stomach was in knots from all the sausage and Weiner schnitzel.

Chocolate-filled Krapfen which I didn't eat because all Krapfen started to taste the same. And also for the reason put forth in the previous caption.

Menu at stand with the chocolate-filled Krapfen which I didn't eat.

Alright, like I said earlier, I stopped by McDonald's to see what sort of Donut selection they had, but I didn't eat any. Well it gets better. I scored this chocolate streusel at a Starbucks on the main drag of downtown Vienna. Yes, even the coffee capital of the world has 11 Starbucks! And see if you can guess what this bumpy little number tasted like? You got it, those mini chocolate frosted Donuts made by Hostess. An exact flavor replica. The majority of this one ended up in the trash can.

Starbucks was also selling this Donut. I won't say anything about it because the name really says it all.

In keeping with my policy that international Donuts are unratable due to differential cultural expectations, I will not be assigning Donut Scores to any Viennese Donuts.