Saturday, September 27, 2014

Guest Post: Federal Donuts [Includes BONUS] — (South) Philadelphia, PA

Sacha here! You might remember me from Erin's review of Guatelinda. I am also known as @zigged.

Our 2014 family road trip took us east to visit my dad in New Jersey + enjoy adventures in Ocean City, MD, and New York City. The itinerary I planned included stops at restaurants that are reported to be culinary gems. This time: Federal Donuts.

I first heard of this place in Saveur's America's 50 Best Donuts (print edition). We tried another one on that list, Nord's Bakery in Louisville, and it was delicious. This one was a no-brainer because SOUTH PHILLY (where I'm from) and FRIED CHICKEN.

The menu is short and sweet. This place makes two things: donuts (hot fresh and fancy) and fried chicken. We were down to try both. I pre-ordered the donuts and chicken the night before to guarantee availability because of all the talk of their selling out of things.

We got a half dozen of each kind of donut—one of each fancy and two of each hot fresh—and a whole chicken. Each half chicken comes with a honey donut, so we got two of those too. If you call 15 minutes before arrival then they'll flavor the chicken before you arrive but I failed to do that, which was fine since I didn't remember the choices without looking at the menu anyway. We ended up with half buttermilk ranch (seasoning) and half honey-ginger (glaze). Then we drove to my dad's house in South Jersey, cut up the donuts into 6 pieces each, put the chicken on a plate, and sampled everything.'s fried chicken. Tiny fried chicken. It wasn't piping hot by the time we ate it, and I tried only the honey-ginger because there weren't enough pieces for all of us to have more than one, so your mileage may vary if the conditions are different. But for $9.25 for four pieces of chicken and a donut, I wouldn't make a special trip again. I want to tell you more but there was really nothing memorable about it.

Oh, and every order comes with Japanese cucumber pickles. These were three teensy cucumber coins pickled in a gingery brine. The Huz liked them. I don't eat pickes.

Top photo, clockwise from top left: chocolate old fashioned, blackberry walnut, blueberry mascarpone, marshmallow marshmallow, chocolate sea salt, salted tehina.
Bottom photo, left to right (I think): Indian cinnamon, Apollonia, vanilla lavender.

So...they're donuts. They're good but not $2-a-donut good (although $6 for a half dozen of the hot fresh is reasonable). We each had our favorites, and all of us liked the salted tehina least (because it was almost savory), but we all agreed that they were nothing mind-blowing. My dad suspected as much ahead of time and I should've listened to him but SAVEUR LIST. A friend of mine wanted to bring us frannoli (fresh donut shells filled with cannoli cream) from Frangelli's Bakery the next day and I declined because we were donuted out but I'm sure that would've been a better treat.

We couldn't tell which hot fresh were which. I liked the dark brown ones the most of the three. They were all good but, like I said, DONUTS. Whatever.

I think the honey donuts are the basis for the hot fresh varieties and some of the fancy. There's nothing particularly honey about them but they are tasty for a plain donut. The cake is moist and tender and light and has a hint of tang like a sour cream coffee cake.

Federal Donuts
1219 S. 2nd St.
Philadelphia, PA 19147

BONUS: If you are going to South Philly and you want to hit up a few slam dunk snack spots (i.e., not cheese steaks), go to John's Water Ice and Center City Soft Pretzel Co. You could even walk to one from the other! The pretzel factory closes at noon and the water ice stand opens at noon, so midday is the magic time if that's your plan.

TIP #1: There are other water ice places but John's is the best. For my entire life I got the same order: lemon on top, chocolate on the bottom. This time I tried pineapple on top, chocolate on the bottom. Solid choice. I'm not a fan of cherry-flavored things in general but that flavor seems to be very popular too, as evidenced by the dyed-red hands of the water ice dippers.

TIP #2: Be careful handling hot pretzels! Center City Pretzels has a mustard pump on the counter but, if your batch just came out of the oven, that pump is a trap. Dressing your pretzel will tempt you to bite it and that will hurt. Also, keep the paper bag open and maybe even take your pretzels out of it to cool (if you bought extra to save for later, which you should) so the crust doesn't get soggy and the salt doesn't dissolve.

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