CHICAGO — The hybrid doughnut craze has taken root and shows no signs of slowing down. Taking a cue from New York’s success with cronuts, the windy city is stealing the hearts of locals and tourists with their own hybrids: wonuts and doughscuits.
When the best way to differentiate is to innovate, hybrids provide a method of creating extraordinary products from ordinary roots. They are novel, but familiar.
Last spring, Waffles Cafe owner Alex Hernandez introduced the wonut, which costs $2 to $3, and is a cheeky marriage of the doughnut and the waffle. The cafe’s two locations in Lakeview and Near Southside feature a plethora of waffle flavors, ranging from Mexican chocolate to green tea.
Following the launch, crowds lined up to sample one of the nine varieties available daily. “People would be in line and they’d get mad when we ran out,” says Sal Moro, a server at the Lakeview location.
To make these hybrid wonders, thickened batter is pressed into a waffle iron in the shapes of orbs or squares with cut-out centers, deep-fried, and coated with glaze and toppings. The frenzy for these sweeter breakfast items has diminished as of late; the Broadway location is deserted in the late afternoon with just four remaining flavors.
Of the small sampling, Mexican chocolate is the most enjoyable, with candied orange rind and chocolate sprinkles on top. Red Velvet is a palm-size burgundy round with a thick white glaze and a sprinkling of crushed walnuts. The gummy texture and untraceable cocoa flavor leave much to be desired. The birthday cake wonut is partially coated with thick royal icing and rainbow sprinkles, the most visually appealing of the four, but overcooked and rubbery. White ganache offers little more in taste or style with a thick coating of ganache and chocolate sprinkles on one third of the square-shaped waffle. “I think the hype blew them away,” notes Steve Ferkau, a doughnut aficionado living in the south loop of Chicago. “They were not expecting it. It blew up in the media and they were just caught up in a storm.”
Also inspired by the cronut’s success last year, but interested in making it their own, Caleb and Enoch Simpson of Endgrain experimented with biscuit doughnut crossovers, coming up with the doughscuit. This butter biscuit is quickly deep-fried and dipped in a flavored glaze. Then it is halved, filled with a creamy spread, and topped with something extra that varies with the flavor.
Situated in Roscoe Village, away from the tourist craze that affects both Waffles Cafe locations, Endgrain attracts a neighborhood crowd for a relaxed dining experience. With a brunch menu bursting with fresh open-faced biscuit sandwiches and cheesy biscuit-topped Bloody Marys, doughscuits were an easy hit.
Rotating flavors include German chocolate, a white biscuit topped with coconut flakes and filled with chocolate cream. Blueberry is currently available, coated with purple glaze, filled with a light whipped berry cream cheese frosting and topped with white chocolate specks. Honey glaze is the original flavor with whipped creme fraiche filling a honey-glazed biscuit, and is the only doughscuit available daily from 7 a.m. until the restaurant runs out. Specialty flavors are offered only on weekends.
“Doughnuts will probably have a fad life like cupcakes and eventually something else will trend up,” says Ferkau. “All of the spins on donuts — cronuts, wonuts, whatevers — will probably die out more quickly.”
Trends come and go, and there’s no telling how long the doughnut hybrid can stick around. Will it be over by the time the deep fryer cools or can they withstand one more layer of glaze and sprinkles?
Endgrain, 1851 West Addison, Chicago. 773-687-8191
Waffles Cafe, 203 E. Ohio, Chicago. 312-846-1242; 3611 N Broadway, Chicago. 773-281-8440.Beth Wittenstein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.