By: Kae Lani Kennedy
When it comes to food, Philadelphia is known for the infamous Philly Cheesesteak, thin slices of steak swimming in cheese served on a roll. But ever since October of 2011, when a tiny establishment by the name of Federal Donuts opened its doors, Philadelphia has been dishing out something new; gourmet doughnuts with fried chicken. What began as a small shop at the corner of 2nd and Manton Street in South Philadelphia has now become a phenomenon that has swept the city by a deliciously fried storm. Everyday from 7 a.m. until they sell out, Federal Doughnuts serves up artisan doughnuts along with vibrantly spiced Korean-style fried chicken.
But what exactly has Philadelphian’s going nuts for these doughnuts? Perhaps its the entourage of crazy recipes including S’mores, Halvah Pistachio, Blueberry Lemon Pie and a variety of other wacky combinations, alternated daily so everyday brings a new delight. Or maybe it’s the chicken, fried to succulent perfection. It could also be the five famous owners, described as a restaurant super group, known around the city for being titans in the Philadelphia restaurant circuit. Nevertheless, this chicken and doughnut joint has customers coming, sometimes as a part of their weekly routines.
I’m not a weekly routine customer, but I will stop by on special occasions. In fact, my first time going was New Years Day before I headed out to see the Mummer’s Parade, an annual gathering in Philadelphia. Since then, my Federal Donuts schedule is whenever there is a cause for a celebration, such as birthdays, Easter and even a few paydays here and there.
I sat at the counter of the quaint shop and perused their fancy yet simplistic menu of warm doughnuts. The menu is never too long, nor too short, only displaying three types of “Hot Fresh” doughnuts, a handful of “Fancy” doughnuts and fried chicken. To my delight, I realized that the S’mores Fancy doughnut, my personal favorite, was on the menu. What luck! I ordered from Blake, who has been working at Federal Donuts since day one, and before I knew it, I had a coffee in one hand and my S’mores in the other.
As I sank my teeth into the cake-like doughnut, Blake gave me the inside scoop of what Federal Donuts is all about. It was kind of embarrassing asking questions while crumbs of graham cracker tried to escape from my mouth, but Blake didn’t seem to mind. I guess she’s used to watching customers as they try to tackle these glazed, moist doughnuts.
Each day, Federal Donuts makes only a few dozen of each type of doughnut. Their doughnut recipes have a modern take on this traditional treat and are made with only the freshest and purest ingredients. When these ingredients are combined, they create wild combinations such as Mandarin Coffee or Vanilla-Lavender. “Fancy” doughnuts are on sale throughout the morning until they run out while “Hot Fresh” doughnuts are made to order, and are consistently featured on the menu each day, unlike the Fancies.
But it’s not just the doughnuts that have customers flooding into Federal Donuts. By 11:45 a.m., they begin selling their uniquely spiced chicken served with Japanese cucumber pickles and a honey doughnut. Inspired by Korean-style fried chicken, chefs dip the chicken in a cornstarch-based batter and fry the meat twice before serving. Customers can order legs, wings, or even the whole chicken seasoned or glazed in a variety of flavors including Coconut-Curry, Honey-Ginger and even Buttermilk Ranch. This style of cooking guarantees each piece of chicken to be served with a crunchy seasoned skin with succulent, tender chicken meat underneath.
Federal Donuts has been known to sell out of both chicken and doughnuts by 2:30 p.m. and sometimes as early as 1:30, so it’s imperative to stake one’s claim early on in the day. Because of the popularity of the chicken, customers rush to get a red ticket, securing their coveted spot in line and ensuring that their orders will be fulfilled. Blake explains to me that on weekends they try to stay open until at least 7 p.m., frying chicken and doughnuts in overdrive to fulfill the ever-growing demand, but they can’t seem to get past 5:30 p.m. “Everyday it varies,” says Blake, “but most of the time we do sell out.”
Photo via: La Mia Vita Dolce
About the Writer:
Kae Lani Kennedy is a freelance travel writer based out of Philadelphia (for now). A self proclaimed Renaissance woman, she funds her vagrant lifestyle through a myriad of skills and trades that she’s picked up over the years. You can follow her travel antics, destination discoveries, and tips at her travel website, A Travel Broad.