Donut lovers have a reason to rejoice. Holey Moley Coffee and Doughnuts will roll out its wares to the public next week.
In fact, Tuesday, July 22 looks like the magic date, according to Joe Sorge, who has been working with staff to ready the shop at 316 N. Milwaukee St.
The tell-tale green and brown sign hangs out front, and pastry Chef Katie Romenesko has been busily working in the kitchen to perfect recipes for what she hopes will be the best donuts in the city.
Now, I’ve eaten a lot of donuts in my lifetime, but when Sorge invited me over for a preview and tasting of some of the varieties Romenesko had been working on, I found myself preparing for the task at hand by setting some standards for the donuts of my dreams.
It wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. After all, donuts are a bit like pizza; even bad ones are still kind of good. And, if that’s the case, what makes a donut really exceptional?
Someone might say it’s impossible to define what makes a great donut, given all the varieties and flavor preferences out there. After all, there are raised donut people, and cake donut fiends. Glazed people and frosted people. Fritter people and those who believe that the best donut is really just the leftover hole.
But, after giving the matter a bit of contemplation, I do think that truly amazing donuts have a few distinct traits.
First, a great raised donut needs to have a sweet aroma and a nice yeasty flavor. It’s light and slightly chewy, and it doesn’t leave a grease stain on a napkin when you set it down.
Cake donuts – while more dense by nature – should also bear a certain lightness of being. They should harbor a tender, moist interior surrounded by a tasty crisp-fried exterior. And the best of the best don’t even need a cup of coffee at their side, as they won’t leave your mouth dry and wanting.
In fact, the best donut is flavorful and fulfilling all on its own, with little need for augmentation.
Glazes and frostings, on the other hand, should always complement – and not detract from – the flavor of a donut. They shouldn’t be sickeningly sweet or cloying. And they shouldn’t leave an oily residue in your mouth. The same goes for fillings – whether they are fruit, custard or cream-based – which ought to enhance an inherent awesomeness, rather than being relied upon to save an otherwise mediocre donut.
These are the thoughts I carried with me as I descended the stairs to the Holey Moley pastry kitchen in preparation to sample what I hoped would be some of the best donuts I’ve ever eaten.
The first thing I learned is that Holey Moley doesn’t play around when it comes to ingredients. Unlike most doughnut shops who rely upon pre-fab donut mixes, Romenesko says her recipes depend upon thoughtfully employed whole, quality ingredients. Fillings, glazes and frostings are approached similarly – with an eye for creating authentic – and often original – flavors from whole fruit, purees and other natural ingredients.
"I’m playing with blood orange, lime… anything I can think of I’m going to try in a donut," she says.
The tasting began with a vanilla cake donut, a simple creation that stole my heart from first bite. It was light and slightly sweet with pleasantly balanced vanilla notes. A gluten-free version of the same type of donut (made with a blend of rice, sorghum, buckwheat, millet and quinoa flours) produced similar flavors, with only the most subtle differences in texture.
Honestly, I wouldn’t have known it was gluten-free if I hadn’t been told.
Next up was the vanilla raised donut, which was more vanilla-forward than the cake donut, with a pleasantly yeasty smell and flavor. Its texture was light, airy and tender – a good sign that the other variations of yeast donuts were likely to follow a similar path.
And they did.
The Violet Beauregard – a cleverly named blueberry filled donut – let pure blueberry fruit flavor shine in its filling, which was complemented thoroughly by a light blueberry cream cheese icing. And an inventive crème brulee donut held deliciously drippy custard filling with caramelized sugar topping that lent just the right bitter note along with the perfect crème brulee sugar crunch.
My husband – photographer and partner in donut eating crime – fell hard for the s’mores donut, a basic cake donut smothered in just the right amount of chocolate glaze, along with a layer of housemade marshmallow that’s torched and topped with graham cracker crumbs.
And, despite the fact that it was slightly too sweet for my taste, I had to admit it was a bit ingenious.
He had a similar reaction to the BCPB – the bacon chocolate peanut butter donut – a yeast doughnut filled with a light peanut butter filling and topped with chocolate and fried bits of Nueske’s bacon.
And the only fault of the Kahlua chocolate glazed long john topped with crushed espresso beans – by his gauge – was a lack of filling, which he decided was needed to satiate his ever-hungry sweet tooth.
On the other side of the spectrum, an old fashioned lemon cake donut produced the perfect crisp exterior I was looking for with a tender middle and a tart glaze that made me think of the lemon drops I used to sneak out of my grandmother’s candy dish.
On the other hand, I was quite fond of the coconut passionfruit donut – a cake donut which carried a slightly sweet tropical note from passionfruit puree – and not an ounce of the perfumey flavor you sometimes get from more artificially derived fruit glazes.
The giant apple fritter followed suit with plenty of apple pieces, along with a generous ribbon of sweetened cinnamon and a light sweet glaze.
And by then, we were too full of donut to think about much else, aside from swigging down a delicious cup of Hawthorne Coffee Roasters Brazilian brew, one of the coffees likely to be served alongside the donuts at Holey Moley.
So, set your alarms, and mark your calendars. Holey Moley Doughnuts plans to be open from 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. beginning July 22, with donuts available as long as they last.
Alternatively, get a sneak preview and enjoy some Irish dancing at the same time at the 2014 Badger State Feis on Saturday, July 19 or the 10th Annual Cream City Feis on Sunday, July 20 at the Pettit National Ice Center, 500 S. 84th St. Steve Hawthorne of Hawthorne Coffee Roasters will be slinging brews and selling fresh Holey Moley Donuts while they last. Both events are open to the public.
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.