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Dining to Doughnuts

Barbara Revsine / September 2012

Chicago—In Chicago, the early bird gets the doughnut. Not the ordinary, everyday kind, but the glazed works of culinary art sold fresh from the fryer at a trio of artisanal shops: Glazed and Infused, The Doughnut Vault, and Do-Rite Donuts (pictured). Delicious as the doughnuts are, it’s the pedigrees of the presiding chefs that are snagging headlines.

Credit über chef Brendan Sodikoff and his Midas touch (Au Cheval, Gilt Bar, Maude’s Liquor Bar) with igniting the trend by opening The Doughnut Vault in a tiny corner of his Gilt Bar. Arriving before 11 a.m. is advisable, since The Doughnut Vault closes as soon as the 800 to 1,000 doughnuts made daily are sold out. Veteran pastry chef Patrick Addison (Hot Chocolate) posts the weekly menu on The Doughnut Vault’s website, limiting the repertoire to six regularly featured varieties and a daily special. Updates on Twitter and Facebook keep customers informed on the wait time and the inventory.

Tucked into Petterino’s restaurant in the heart of the Loop, Do-Rite Donuts, which has minimal outdoor seating, has the first batch of doughnuts ready and waiting by 6:30 a.m. The last batch comes out at noon, and when they’re gone, chef/partners Francis Brennan and Jeff Mahin post the “closed” sign. Brennan and Mahin, who splits his time between Do-Rite and Stella Rosa in Santa Monica, developed the concept when they were both at Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises’ posh L20 restaurant.

“Doughnuts must be fresh,” Brennan maintains, so Do-Rite’s batches are limited to 20 doughnuts each. Even so, the daily repertoire is lengthy and always includes vegan, gluten-free, and oven-baked options. Despite the allure of creations like the candied maple bacon and the peanut butter banana, Do-Rite’s best sellers are the deceptively simple old-fashioned classics made with buttermilk and finished with a vanilla bean glaze.

Guided by restaurateur Scott Harris (Mia Francesca, etc.) and seasoned pastry chef Tom Culleeney (Krispy Kreme), Glazed and Infused successfully launched three locations in less than a month, with a fourth in the offing. While the Mag Mile and Wicker Park venues are tucked into existing restaurants, the Fulton Market location, the only one with indoor seating, was created especially for the format. All three close in the early afternoon, although the Wicker Park location reopens on Thursdays through Saturday nights from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. Best sellers include a chocolate cake doughnut filled with chocolate ganache, topped with chocolate frosting, and finished with chocolate streusel.

Commenting on the doughnut scene, Culleeney says it’s an “idea that has been incubating,” adding, “I didn’t think doughnuts would get so much attention. I just like them.” Apparently, so do a lot of other people.