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Three foods I miss in NY

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  • Keith Snyder May 8, 2001 03:40 PM
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I moved to New York from Los Angeles three years ago, and there are three things I haven't been able to find yet.

One is Mexican food, which I see is discussed below. Since I live in Queens, I'll have to check out those places.

The second is a proper Cobb salad. I've been ordering Cobb salads in New York for three years -- and for three years, I've been getting all kinds of bizarre combinations of chicken breasts, spinach greens, Greek olives, celery... I have found one actual Cobb salad in New York, but it's at TGI Friday's, which I really don't enjoy visiting.

And the last is the common apple fritter, which you can get at even the least imaginative West Coast donut shop, but which New York has apparently never heard of. (Those little Krispy Kreme squishballs are good, and everything, but...)

To be fair, I've also found some things in New York that I haven't found in L.A. The Knish Nosh on Queens Blvd. near 68th, for instance, is, as my little sister used to say, mwah.

Any suggestions are much appreciated.

Thanks!

Keith

Link: http://www.woollymammoth.com/keith

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  1. j
    Jeremy Osner

    I'm pretty sure you can get a good apple fritter at Alfa Doughnuts, which is on Queens Blvd. and 46th St. Could be wrong, I haven't been back there in a while.

    29 Replies
    1. re: Jeremy Osner
      s
      Steven Stern

      Can someone explain to me the donut shop/L.A. model of the apple fritter? My concept of an apple fritter is the thing they used to serve at the Grand St. Dairy--a ring of apple, battered, fried and served hot. Since the thing I'm thinking of couldn't last for more than three minutes without turning into a soggy, greasy mess, I'm guessing you all have a different breed of apple fritter in mind. (As I live quite close to Alfa Donuts, this is of more than academic interest.)

      1. re: Steven Stern

        As a West Coaster (N.W. to be exact) who currently lives in Brooklyn, I know the pain of not being able to find what I considered run-of-the-mill standard donuts here. I don't even care much for donuts, but you know how it is when you can't find something--you just end up craving it more.

        The apple fritters I'm familiar with are large, bulbous, dense hunks of fried dough that aren't completely round or quite a square either. They are dark brown and crispy on the outside and light colored and bready inside. Streaks of cinnamon usually run throughout, and the better ones have little bits of apple interspersed.

        On a similar note--why don't they sell maple bars here? I never knew they were a regional thing until I moved. Whenever I bring them up (which isn't that often, I swear), I get weird looks.

        1. re: Krista G.
          d
          Dave Feldman

          Maple bars aren't a regional item. I can't think of anyplace else I've ever lived where it was hard to find maple bars.

          1. re: Dave Feldman

            I suppose I was generalizing a bit since the only two places I've lived are Portland, OR and NYC. I can't vouch for what goes on in the world of donuts that exists between those two cities. But I do know that East Coasters (folks from Maryland and Virginia to be precise) seem to be clueless when it comes to maple bars. But then, maybe my friends are just ignorant on the topic of fried dough...

            1. re: Krista G.

              No you're friends are not foolish. Ive never heard of a maple bar before reading this thread. I thought it was like a candy bar.

            2. re: Dave Feldman
              s
              Steven Stern

              I confess: I don't know from maple bars. Maybe you can find them here--along with this exciting species of apple fritter--but no one has ever taught me about them.

              It seems true that folks here are ignorant in the Way of the donut shop. Lead us, O West Coasters, and we will follow gladly.

              1. re: Steven Stern
                c
                Caitlin McGrath

                You know, I'm very rarely a doughnut eater so I've never really thought about it before reading this thread, but as a west coast native I do find it hard to conceptualize a "standard" doughnut shop (so, not Krispy Kreme or Dunkin' Donuts w/their chain-prescribed menu) without apple fritters or maple bars! Another thing I don't think you see here are buttermilk bars, a not-very-sweet (and presumably made w/some buttermilk) cake donut in a bar shape that's either unglazed or with a plain sugar glaze. BTW, maple bars are bar-shaped raised doughnuts with a maple-flavored glaze, though that might be obvious from the name.

                And pastry shops without bear claws are an oddity, as someone mentioned.

                California doughnut trivia: the CA doughnut market used to be dominated by a chain (Winchell's), but nowadays most doughnut shops there are individually owned and operated by, I believe, Cambodian immigrants. Apparently, it all started with one guy in LA who got a job in a doughnut shop and eventually bought the business, and then it spread and multiplied through hiring of family and friends and community business lending. Sociologically interesting (to me anyway).

                1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                  Yeah! Buttermilk bars! I haven't seen one of those in years!

                  I have to get to Alfa today...

                  Link: http://www.woollymammoth.com/keith

                  1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                    In the SF Bay Area, donuts are indeed dominated by Cambodians. An article in the SF Chronicle detailed the whole story about 5 years ago. Even places with all-American names like Chuck's were Cambodian-run.

                    How about in NY? Any particular ethnic group run the donut market?

                    1. re: igj

                      There are three major players in the NY donut market: Dunkin, Krispy, and The Company That Makes Pastries For Street Vendors.

                    2. re: Caitlin McGrath

                      "California doughnut trivia: the CA doughnut market used to be dominated by a chain (Winchell's), but nowadays most doughnut shops there are individually owned and operated..."

                      Independently operated donut shops have been part of the landscape of california for ages -- I'm not sure how far back your data extends. Perhaps Winchell's started the donut revolution in LA, but that might have been generations ago. I wish I can remember where I recently read this, but currently, the largest percentage of donut shops in the US resides in california (Texas is second). And the number of donut shops in southern california alone outnumbers those in Texas, making southern CA the donut capital of the country (possibly the world?).

                      To add to the fritter conversation above, I have fond memories of grabbing blueberry fritters from a donut/burger stand (somewhere near Barrington/Santa Monica-- run by middle easterners, BTW) on the way to high school. They were the frisbee-sized grease bombs, but heavenly for an early teenager or three.

                      I've been on vacation from NYC to LA-Santa Cruz-SF, and I've had donuts on each of my stops and just today, as I bit into my donut from the donut shop on Polk/Sacramento in SF, I wondered why we can't get this kind of stuff in NYC?

                      For a unique NYC donut experience, go to the Donut Plant on Grand (near Essex).

                      1. re: Eric Eto
                        c
                        Caitlin McGrath

                        I didn't mean to imply that there were nothing but Winchell's, but they were fairly dominant in the market, especially in the 1970s and early '80s. Of course there have always been independent shops as well. The Cambodian ownership began in southern California. My knowledge of that phenomenon came from an article in the San Francisco Bay Guardian from around six or seven years ago. Incidentally (though not surprisingly), the vast majority of even the independent shop use mixes to make their doughnuts. (And the Cambodians said they really don't like doughnuts very much.)

                        1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                          Caitlin, I bet you're the girl who can help me remember the donut place on Berkeley's northside. We used to go there about 1am to get them hot out of the fryer when I was an undergrad.

                          1. re: Melanie Wong
                            c
                            Caitlin McGrath

                            Melanie, meet me on the SF Bay Area board.

                            1. re: Melanie Wong

                              Just reaized how old this thread was. The donut shop was Colonial Donuts. I used to go there at 2am for hot fresh chocolate old fashioned donuts. There is still a Colonial on Lakeshore, but they are no longer open 24 hrs.

                          2. re: Eric Eto

                            While we're on the topic of independently owned donuts in NYC, whenever I find myself in Park Slope, I like to grab a couple at the little donut shop on 9th Street at 5th Avenue. They're not the greatest, and I'm never around there when they're freshly fried, but they come closest in reminding me of the SoCal-donut of my yesteryears. It's been a while, but I think they do carry buttermilk bars (or maybe I was dreaming it?), but no apple fritters. Can someone verify this?

                            1. re: Eric Eto

                              Eric, not picking on you, I'm just randomly jumping in here to ask people to puhlease change the subject title when discussion drifts. If it's already digressed, you can still fix it by changing title in your reply. Better late than never!

                              Those hoping for apple fritter info at this point will be seriously disappointed. And those who'd contribute to doughnut discussion might well miss all this.

                              ciao

                            2. re: Eric Eto

                              If you bought a donut at Polk and Sacramento, then you were at Bob's which is one of the kings of the Bay Area donut scene. Hardly a fair comparison...

                              (and Jim, thanks for switching the subject mid-thread which caught my eye)

                              1. re: Melanie Wong

                                Melanie, thanks for pointing out Bob's. I was just in the nabe pointing out to a friend where I took my first sublet out of college in a studio right above Acquerello for $195/mo (that was 1989-90). Those days are long gone. And then I remembered Bob's donuts.

                                1. re: Eric Eto

                                  $195 a month was a steal, even in 1989!

                                  If you make it north of SF your next visit, be sure to swing by Healdsburg to Flaky Cream. A friend turned me on to it a few years ago, and I found an piece he wrote on the web (link below, scan to Day 2). I'd driven by it for years, not knowing that there was a donut master in residence. Chocolate old-fashioned is my favorite. Very crisp and crunchy edges, light and tender through the middle, and the chocolate glaze has a whisper of peppery spice. Breakfasts here are very good too.

                                  Not being a fan of cake donuts, which seem to be the standard fare in NY, I've not tried an East Coast donut. Are the cake donuts better than the ones out here, and am I missing something?

                                  Link: http://www.winexwired.com/4point2/tri...

                                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                                    I don't think they know what an "old-fashioned" is out here. I don't think I've ever seen one on the east coast. The donut scene in the northeast, as far as I can tell, has been completely compromised by the corporate donut machines -- Dunkin, and now Krispy Kreme, and Twin Donuts in NYC. I prefer the donuts from any of the coffee&pastry carts scattered throughout the city in the mornings. As for cake donuts, there's nothing standard about them out here. They're also second rate to the ones I've had in California. I have noticed that besides the big chains, most donuts I've had out here are more bready in texture (Alpha, Donut Plant, and Cupcake Cafe come to mind) -- not quite so light and airy as I like.

                                    1. re: Eric Eto

                                      Light and airy is my preference too. I've never understood the attraction of cake donuts, and if the ones back east are even more leaden ... now I understand why Krispy Kreme can stay in business with its sinkers (everything else buy the hot glazed).

                                      1. re: Melanie Wong
                                        c
                                        Caitlin McGrath

                                        I do like cake donuts, but I see the major attraction of the Donut Plant as the flavors--fresh orange, ginger, Valhrona chocolate, etc.

                                        The only other indigenous thing worth mentioning, I think, (though it's also a cake donut) are the apple cider donuts that the various orchard folk make. Usually someone is selling them at the Union Square farmers' market, but I'd imaging they're much better freshly made at the source.

                                        As I said previously, I'm not much of a donut eater, so I hadn't thought about California standards missing in New York before this thread got going. But Eric is right; I don't remember ever seeing old fashioneds here (and they've always been my favorite). So add old fashioneds to the list along with (for the most part) apple fritters, maple bars, and buttermilk bars. Can't imagine a CA donut shop without old fashioneds!

                                        1. re: Melanie Wong

                                          A thorough disgust with Krispy Kreme donuts seems to a theme here, and I completely understand why. I have lived my entire life in North Carolina, home to Krispy Kreme, and I have always hated their donuts. They're slimy and taste like sugary cardboard.

                                          Every single grocery and convenience store in this state has a 20-foot display of twelve packs of the plain glazed variety, and people *actually buy* these things!? I'm sorry to hear that KK has taken over NY and LA. Give me Dunkin Donuts any time.

                                  2. re: Melanie Wong
                                    j
                                    Jonathan Cook

                                    Mmmmmmmmmm . . . Bob's . . .

                                    Their donuts are superlative. If anyone is in the area, be sure to get the apple fritter. Be warned, it is HUGE. And well worth the trip. Especially if you get there when the fritters are still warm (they hold heat well). Bob's is one of the things I miss most about SF. I'm also quite fond of the banh mi shop on Larkin. "Saigon" is it? Quite tasty and unbelievably cheap. Lots of great food in the Tenderloin.

                                    1. re: Jonathan Cook

                                      The good and cheap food in the Tenderloin is a favorite topic on the SF board - check it out.

                                      And, please join our current discussion on donuts - link below.

                                      Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                          3. re: Krista G.
                            k
                            Keith Snyder

                            The ones Krista described are what I'm talking about. They look like the Horta from Star Trek, only dark brown and tasty.

                            Maple bars... bear claws... The donut situation in NYC is pretty baffling to me. When Krispy Kreme took over the city, I enjoyed a few months of thinking "Well, at least L.A. won't fall for that stupidity -- and then, as I understand it from afar, L.A. fell for that stupidity.

                            I'll probably hit Alfa Donuts today. Thanks, all!

                            Keith

                            Link: http://www.woollymammoth.com/keith

                            1. re: Krista G.

                              My local Dunkin donuts has the apple fritters you described (not round, not square, fried etc). Not a big deal if THE donut chain in US makes em.

                            2. re: Steven Stern
                              j
                              Jeremy Osner

                              The item I'm thinking of is sort of a rectangular doughnutty pastry, iced, with bits of apple in it.

                          4. Seems to me I've seen the apple fritters in some central Jersey bakeries - looked just like the L.A. ones.
                            The cheap Mexican food is one thing I do miss. Pancho's Tacos on Lincoln right near Ocean ave had the greatest carnitas tostadas for around $5/6 and Calimex on Artesia had terrific chorizo with scrambled eggs and fresh tortillas.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Gene
                              k
                              Keith Snyder

                              I don't remember Pancho's on Lincoln; my favorite Mexican place was El Tarasco on Washington, between Pacific and the beach. I go back there for machaca every time I visit L.A.

                              Keith

                              Link: http://www.woollymammoth.com/keith

                            2. It's funny, when I moved out to northern California as a teenager, I couldn't believe how awful the doughnuts were (mostly Winchell's). The only good thing was the apple fritters--which were totally new to me. I really missed the Dunkin' Donuts type of chocolate cakey doughnuts. I live near Alpha and have never seen an apple fritter there, not like I go every day though. Their doughnuts are OK. Guess I had no idea how rare these run-of-the-mill shops have gotten. Truly sad. If you REALLY like a fresh, old-fashioned, homemade doughnut, RUN don't walk to Greenpoint for the puffy, yeasty Polish paczki (jelly type doughnuts). Krispy Kreme make me gag. They taste underdone.
                              Did you try some Mexican food in Queens? It's way different than the stuff I remember from California. More grilled meats than stewed. And last week I had the superb flor de calabaza quesedillas. Wow!

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: K. McB.

                                I haven't made it out to the places recommended here. When I've had Mexican in NY before (including Queens), it's been okay, but lacks the stuff that makes it good back home. The rule of thumb seems to be that if they ask you "black beans or refried," they don't get it. There's no such thing as a black bean at the kind of place I like.

                                I used to stop in occasionally at the "L.A.-Style Tacqueria" on Court Street and Bergen in Brooklyn. It's not. The food was, again, perfectly edible, but the only way it would stay in business in L.A. was if there were no real Mexican joints within half a mile.

                                I have an admitted regional bias when it comes to Mexican food. The stuff in L.A. isn't "real" if you come from Texas or Arizona (or Mexico, for that matter) -- and you can swap all those locations around in that sentence and it'll be equally true. But it's what I grew up with, and after spending 30 years learning its fine points, I miss it a lot.

                                Keith

                                Link: http://www.woollymammoth.com/keith

                              2. I just came home from shopping at Wegmans and surprize!! THEY HAVE APPLE FRITTERS. Look just like what I remember from LaLa land.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: Gene

                                  Cool!

                                  What's a Wegman's?

                                  Keith

                                  Link: http://www.woollymammoth.com/keith

                                  1. re: Keith Snyder

                                    Supermarket chain in NY and NJ

                                2. and apple flavor specifically: Apple-cinnamon is one of the flavors which The Doughnut Plant [doughnutplant.com] makes sometimes. I occasionally like Krispy Kreme (even with the spelling horror of their name), but they are so substantially different from The Doughnut Plant, which makes a more gourmet, larger donut. (Given the ultimatum to choose one or the other for all eternity, I'd choose The Doughnut Plant.)

                                  Link: http://www.angelfire.com/ny3/globalgo...