On a brutally hot July morning a few years ago, a friend arrived at my door bearing a box of Krispy Kreme doughnuts. I had never tasted one, so I took a bite and immediately spit the offending piece into my napkin. This round pastry masquerading as a donut was so sticky and cloyingly sweet I could not, for the life of me, understand why Krispy Kreme was all the rage.
I reflected back to my childhood because I grew up eating real homemade doughnuts. My Austrian-born grandmother made them in the morning during our summers at the shore. The aroma of cinnamon and sugar wafted from the kitchen and all through the house. They were never too sweet.
Fried chicken is a food I love but never ate growing up. The first time I ever tried honest-to-goodness real fried chicken was years ago at a marvelous café in Atlanta. Just the memory of my visits makes me hungry.
This brings me to the topic of this review: Federal Donuts. Go as soon as you can. There is one in Pennsport and another in Center City.
When the Pennsport location first opened, I thought it odd that a restaurant/takeout shop would serve fried chicken, doughnuts and coffee. Philly has been known to invent strange culinary twosomes, such as fried oysters and chicken salad, which harks back to Colonial times when old hens would pair with the then-abundance of oysters.
Let’s start with the doughnuts. The hot, fresh flavors are appollonia, Indian cinnamon and vanilla-lavender (or vanilla spice, strawberry lavender and cinnamon-brown sugar in Center City). They are $1.25 each, $6 for a half dozen and $11 for a dozen. You must eat them hot-from-the-oven while you wait in line for your chicken and coffee. I revisited my childhood at Federal Donuts.
The shop also features flavors of the month, which are called Fancies. March’s flavors are double chocolate, Turkish coffee, raspberry lemonade, milk chocolate-peanut butter, french toast and cherry-almond. They are $2 each, $12 for a half dozen and $20 a dozen. I sampled all of them and my taste buds came alive with each bite. They were not overly sweet — thank goodness. The icing on the double chocolate was rich like a ganache. I savored it with a cup of tea while watching “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”
There are choices with the fried chicken as well. If you are toting your chicken home, it is advisable to order a dry rub rather than a wet glaze. There’s buttermilk ranch, chili-garlic, honey-ginger and coconut curry (or Federal barbecue in Center City). I had the chili-garlic, which was delicious.
The price is $9 for half of a chicken and $17 for a whole chicken. Keep in mind that real fried chicken, as it is prepared in the deep South, is made with small broilers. The frying is more even. The skin of Federal Donuts chicken was thin, flavorful, crispy and free of fat and grease.
I had the urge to nosh on a wing before I left the shop, but this whole perfectly fried bird was to become dinner. The clerk told me to put the chicken on a baking sheet and heat in a 350-degree oven for about 10 minutes.
I did just that. The chicken was moist, juicy and tender inside. The reheat did not overcook the bird. I did serve homemade coleslaw with the chicken and was surprised to find two paper ramekins filled with Japanese cucumber pickles.
Homer Simpson is probably America’s most famous donut lover, even if he only exists on TV. I can imagine what his life would be like if Federal Donuts opened a branch in mythical Springfield.
Three-and-a-half tips of the toque to Federal Donuts.
1219 S. Second St. and
1632 Sansom St.
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