Bakery puts creative twist on doughy classic

Columnist Caitlin Weigel said that a lengthy trek to South Philly’s Federal Donuts is worth the trip, but make sure to get there early. The hype for Federal Donuts began early in the summer and

Screen shot 2011-11-14 at 5.43.11 PMColumnist Caitlin Weigel said that a lengthy trek to South Philly’s Federal Donuts is worth the trip, but make sure to get there early.

The hype for Federal Donuts began early in the summer and grew during the following months. I hopped on the bandwagon pretty early, signing up for their email list and stalking them on Twitter.

The few articles released about the elusive donut shop with a TBA opening date all described the same thing: gourmet donuts and killer fried chicken. How could I not become obsessed? Those are two beautiful food items, two things that I constantly crave. And here were some people who not only had access to a deep fryer, but were elevating it to a higher level, making the mundane into something magnificent.

I continued to check regularly for updates to no avail. I liked their Facebook page but it only made my heartache more as I read updates about pomegranate tahini nutella donuts and garlic chili glazed chicken.

CAITLIN WEIGEL TTN Federal Donuts’ menu includes Key Lime flavored and Pomegranate Tahini Nutella donuts.

I desperately tweeted at my food crush, asking when they would open. After three-and-a-half months of reading about Indian cinnamon hot donuts and buttermilk ranch fried chicken, I finally wrote an email asking if there was any way I could sample some of their food –you know, for journalism and stuff.

Was it an abuse of my power? Absolutely. But apparently all it takes for me to cast aside my ethics is the promise of dead birds and fried dough dangled in front of me for a lengthy period of time.

There was no response, I felt jilted. I wondered if this place actually existed. But then, on a beautiful day in early fall, it finally happened. They opened. And the public could finally taste the goodness that had been hyped during the summer, if they could find a way to South Philly, that is.

The location is about as far off the public transit grid as you can get, tucked away on South Second Street near Washington Avenue. Still, I vowed to make the trek. The only other problem, was that the donuts were selling like literal hot cakes.

Every day before 2 p.m., a sad tweet declaring they were totally out of food for the day would appear on my feed. There was obviously a lot of strategic planning that needed to go into this trip, and so finally, I set a date.

Around noon on Nov. 4, I drove  with my roommate to make the journey to South Philly. On the way, I dreamt up order combinations as my roommate read the menu aloud from her iPhone. I was solidifying my plans mentally as I parked the car and stepped out.

Turning to the door, I made eye contact with a man in an apron with the saddest look on his face. He stopped dead in his tracks in the doorway and we had an awkward, totally still standoff for a moment before he finally spoke.

“I am so sorry. We literally just ran out.  All we have left is coffee,” he said.

At that moment, my heart deflated. All the goodness in it was sucked out along with the hope I had harbored for a delicious dining experience, and the hype that had inflated it to its current buoyant status. It just popped.

And maybe it was the metaphorical heart-popping or maybe it was low-blood sugar, but I got pretty snarky with the apron man. Was I killing the messenger? Yeah, I was. But that dude was separating me from my food crush and I was not having it.

After a biting remark about “waking up at the crack of dawn,” the apron man, in an attempt to soothe the raving lunatic in front of him, me, suggested we come closer to 10:30 a.m. the next time to ensure we got our donuts.

After a mini-rant on the way home, in which I vowed to never patronize Federal Donuts again, like some sort of vengeful toddler upset that her piñata was broken by another child, I made plans to go back the next morning. Alarm clocks were set and mental preparations were made. It was going to happen this time, or I would seriously hulk out and possibly be banned from donut establishments everywhere.

When we got to Federal Donuts the next morning, the line curved all the way out the door. As soon as we got into the small indoor waiting area, I noticed our apron friend from the day before. We made eye contact, and though I thought I saw a hint of terror in his eyes, it soon relaxed into recognition.

Apron dude seemed happy that we gave it another shot. While waiting in line, he came around with samples of the hot donuts –Appollian spice, Indian Cinnamon and Vanilla Lavender–for waiting customers to try.

I ended up purchasing three donuts: one hot donut, Vanilla Lavender, and two fancy donuts–Key Lime and Pomegranate Tahini Nutella. Extreme forces of will power were necessary not to eat them all immediately, and I was amazed that any semblance of a crumb made it back to the house to be photographed.

In the end they were amazing. I was nervous that nothing would be able to live up the hype that I had built during four months of time, but they were absolutely worth it.

My own donut attempts went pretty well too. The dark chocolate with caramel and sea salt was amazing, but the cloves, cinnamon and apple with baked Granny Smiths on top was the crowd favorite. Minimal burns were inflicted as well, which made it a rare victory for me.

If you have the means transportation-wise I definitely recommend going to Federal Donuts. The warm donuts are pure heaven and the entire donut menu is a steal at less than $2 a pop. Making your own donuts is a great way to win friends’ hearts, though be warned: There is yeast involved along with a fair amount of waiting time and a bubbling pot of hot oil. Proceed at your own risk.

Despite my fears that Federal Donuts would never live up to the insane food crush I had developed in my mind, I was delighted with my experience there. I take back all the snark I dished out on the apron man and hope to consume my body weight in donuts in the very near future.

Caitlin Weigel can be reached at

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