Photo by Scott Bartolomei Edmonds.
New York City terrified me when we first moved here nine years ago. Everything about the city was overwhelming: the noise, smelly streets (it was August after all), tall buildings, signs everywhere and everyone on a mission. I wanted to hide out in the tiny studio apartment where we had landed. I didn’t want to open the curtains, poke my head out the window, or step outside. Scott would have to drag me out of the apartment those first few weeks after we arrived.
What got me over this deep need to hide? Well… it was doughnuts. I was flipping through a Time Out New York and a page caught my eye. It was their eating out page and it pictured Isabella Rossellini. She was talking about her favorite ice cream place. Right next to this feature there was a tiny little paragraph on a place called the Doughnut Plant. This little place in the Lower East Side was taking something as common as fried dough and making it a fine food item. The promise of a doughnut with fresh raspberry glaze, Valrhona chocolate or vanilla bean glaze was the motivation I needed to plan my first expedition into the city.
Doughnuts are not my favorite thing. They are delicious, but they have never been an item I sought out. So far, my favorite doughnut experiences consisted of a few early Fall Sunday mornings when my dad would drive us to an apple farm in upstate New York to get fresh apple cider and apple cider doughnuts. Oh, and then there were those times when my grandma would take me shopping with her to K-mart. The K-mart in Ponce, Puerto Rico had one of those cool doughnut fryers that would mechanically drop rings of dough into hot oil. I loved watching the frying dough get golden as it was carried through the oil and onto a conveyor belt cooling rack – all without the aid of a human being. This machine was truly amazing and the hot doughnuts in a little paper bag were such a treat.
I started planning my trip to the Doughnut Plant by consulting city maps, transit maps and writing the directions, phone numbers, etc. on my notebook. I found a bus that would take me fairly close to it and that Saturday morning, I gathered up all my courage, enlisted Angelica as my expedition partner and we embarked on the quest of the perfect doughnut. Of course Angelica and I got lost. It was an adventure. We walked through Sarah Roosevelt Park on the edge of Chinatown where young men played a fierce game of basketball, the aging practiced tai chi, men played chess, birds were kept in cages and children ran, screamed and laughed in the playground. There was a great concentration of activity for such a small space. We eventually found the Doughnut Plant. Thankfully they still had some doughnuts left! They were the best I ever tasted and well worth the trip.
This was my introduction to the city. A very simple challenge: to taste the city’s best doughnuts. Most days I still want to hide in my apartment, draw all the blinds and ignore the noise, the energy, the people, but only in New York City can something so simple and ordinary be made into an extraordinary food experience. That is what keeps me coming back for more.