Donuts highlight Philly's friction between local classics and foodie trends [photos]
What makes something the next big thing — the trend foodies want to follow? We all know "Sex in the City" made cupcakes the darling of the grazing lonely hearts club. The sugar high even took over Wall Street for a bit until it didn't.
According to Baum and Whiteman, the international consulting group that has the pulse on these things, this year "Everyone wants to be Chipotle ... even Chipotle," with a shift toward a "fast-casual" experience, a focus on fresher ingredients and a reliance on differentiating flavor combinations.
Baum and Whiteman's chef-director Rozanne Gold — married to Whiteman, and (full disclosure) a friend of mine — recently noted that the company's report on fast-food globalization in other countries could well lead to innovation here in the states. International chains are spicing things up with global flavors as well as a fast-food surf and turf in sandwiches.
As I mentioned to Gold, Philadelphia is a city of sandwiches, and we've always married lots of things between bread — not the least of which is our hot dog and fish cakes. And, while not as prevalent as it once was, the combination predates the current meat and fish pairing by at least five or six decades.
So, perhaps the question is, can Philadelphia keep its traditions while keeping current?
We can look to Federal Donuts, 1219 S. 2nd St., as a champion of fast-food globalization. Chef Michael Solomonov seasons the dough with aromatic Turkish spices and offers exotic frosting combinations. Pairing your donut with crispy twice-fried chicken, also augmented with Middle Eastern flavors, got the attention of ABC's "The Chew," which I guess is as close to hot food trends as any fry-o-lator needs to be.
Donuts do seem to be on our mind. Even Bieler's donuts, once only featured at Reading Terminal during the Harvest and Pennsylvania Dutch Festivals, now has a regular stand there. We'll see how they take to a high-volume outlet and if any of those ethnic flavors from around the market court find their way into the dough.
Still, the classic donuts at Frangelli's, 847 W. Ritner St. in South Philly don't need exotic ingredients or tongues wagging on a talk show. No trend can give a donut shop the touch of authenticity that 70 years in the business can. You won't find a Twitter feed here, but you will watch your cream donuts filled a la minute as you wait. "Fast" doesn't enter the lexicon when there are regulars to chat up or newcomers to educate.
At Frangelli's you'll have to understand the lingo of "light" and "heavy" for yeast and cake doughs. And don't dare try to tell the staff that a crueller is "one of those yeast doughnuts that looks like a truck tire," because at Frangelli's it's a "heavy" cake donut. Blame it on Ohio, I didn't know how to order a cheesesteak when I first came East either.
So, I pose the question, what's your take on Philly food trends? Are regional traditions such as fish cakes and hot dogs a culinary fish out of water, or can we stand our own ground despite ever-increasing pressure from giant corporations to trend our palates and have it their way?
Lari Robling is an independent radio producer and the author of "Endangered Recipes: Too Good to Be Forgotten."