In the spirit of disclosure, I’d like to say that I really try to eat well – fruits, veggies, portion control and all that – but sometimes I fall off the wagon.
Friday was one of those days. It started as every morning does for me. A multigrain English muffin with a couple of tablespoons of peanut butter. So far, so good. My son, Dan, and I drove to Philadelphia to do a couple of things, and we finished up around lunchtime. We were getting hungry, and I remembered a perfect lunch spot for something utterly different and fun.
I’d been eager to check out Federal Donuts (www.federaldonuts.com) for quite some time. Its concept is simple, but seems a bit unlikely, until you’re there and it all makes sense: a take-out joint (with limited seating) serving just-made fried chicken and donuts (and coffee, too). Similar to chicken-and-waffles, but not really. Dan and I strolled right in to the shop on Sansom Street and waited on a short line. The menu was posted on small placards hanging above the counter. The choices? Half (4 pieces) or whole chicken or wings (which on this particular day were already sold out by noon), dry seasonings or glaze, served with sliced Japanese mini cucumber pickles and a honey donut. Donut selections vary by location; regular flavors at this location are cinnamon-brown sugar, vanilla spice and strawberry-lavender; the “fancy” flavors include cookies and cream, banana cream pie, milk chocolate-peanut butter and sticky bun. The good news? Fresh donuts made on the spot. The bad news? When they’re gone, they are GONE!
We both go for the half chicken, Dan’s with “Ballpark BBQ” spice, mine with buttermilk ranch (spices and glazes also vary at other locations). Then we order donuts. I was not leaving without donuts. Two seats are open against the back wall, and we take them. From our vantage point, we watch the chicken being fried and then sauced or spiced to order. And get this – next to the fry baskets is what’s called a Donut Robot. Seriously. I’m a little mesmerized by this contraption, which has clearly taken over for the guy in the old Dunkin’ Donuts commercial who’s goes to work before dawn to make the donuts every morning. As best I can tell, someone needs to fill the robot with batter and it does the rest: the robot drops the batter onto a conveyor belt in a pan of hot oil, shapes the batter into donuts, then fries them on one side and flips them to fry the other side; the finished donuts then move off the conveyor and wait to be decorated (the only other thing done by human hands).
Our chicken is spiced to order, and comes to us piping hot. We pick at the crispy coating, which is lip-smackingly tasty. The chicken underneath is steaming, but we brave it, and it’s perfectly cooked, moist and flavorful. Each bite of the barbecued chicken is savory but not overwhelming; the buttermilk ranch chicken has now become my new comfort food.
Dan finishes before me (I’m still getting through my second piece) and takes a hefty bite of the cookies-and-cream donut. His smile tells me it’s good. Light and airy, with the crunchy topping. The poor donut is history in 3 or 4 bites. I save mine for later, long after I’ve finished the chicken, and when I finally break off a small piece, the chocolate frosting peppered with sea salt (perhaps a special flavor today?) delivers on the savory-sweet front. I could eat 10 more.
Clearly, Philadelphians are smitten with fried chicken, donuts and coffee. Federal Donuts has spread its wings to two city locations (South Philadelphia on S. 2nd Street and Center City at 15th and Sansom), and an outpost at Citizens Bank Park (home of the Phillies); I read that a third city location may be in the works.
If you live in the city or are in town for a visit, wander over for lunch, grab takeout for dinner (if you’re lucky enough to get there before everything’s gone), or surprise your co-workers with a dozen donuts on Monday morning. I know we’ll be back for more.