Nickel Diner – Gourmet Doughnuts Extraordaire

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Nickel Diner in downtown Los Angeles is now legendary. But in a way, I can say I knew about it when it was just a glimmer in one of its owners’, Monica May’s, eyes. Monica and I frequented the same foodie chat list when she started talking about the renovation of the location and the fight to bring wholesome, home cooking to a derelict neighborhood more known for its homeless and crack addicts. In two short years, she and her partner, Kristen, have been instrumental in changing the neighborhood.

After my excessive fried dough excursion the night before, I thought I wouldn’t be up for another heavy round, but the reputation of Nickel Diner’s doughnuts prevailed and I knew there was no way I was leaving without trying every available flavor. We also ordered some savory cuisine as well, as reported on Feast. The Nutella and the Orange Popcycle were sold out when we arrived, but I was more than thrilled with the four flavors which were available.

The most lauded and talked about seems to be their Maple Bacon Doughnut. Easily the best Bacon Fried Dough to date, far surpassing Voodoo’s and Frances bacon beignets, Nickel’s offering has a tight, rich crumb of a ring, topped with Applewood-smoked bacon bits which have been delicately suspended in a lightly authentic, not overpowering maple glaze. In speaking with Monica, she confirmed a suspicion that the bacon was fried to the point where absolutely no uncooked fat is left, assuring maximum crunch factor of this savory component. And the bacon bits were fully laden across the top of the plate-sized fried dough goodness; rich and satisfying with a great balance between the salt of the bacon and the sweetness in the glaze, without being overhwhelming in any one of its ingredients.

The oddity of the four doughnuts we consumed was the Strawberry Crunch. This simple, plain cake doughnut is heavily and decadently coated with tiny bits of freeze-dried strawberry bits. Upon first bite – without remembering exactly what our waitress told us its flavor – we were tasting the pungent, tanginess which hearkened to fresh citrus. It was only later, after we confirmed its flavor, did we realize exactly what flavor it really was. While trying to recall its flavor before knowing, one in the party reminisced back to Trix cereal and the crispy, almost concentrated flavor. It makes sense, though. Freeze drying the fresh strawberries would concentrate those flavors, producing forth a bright, tangy and envigorating flavor.

When we arrived at the diner, I saw a young boy consuming the Red Velvet Doughnut and I knew I had to have one of those. Differing from the classic Red Velvet cake in that the actual cake of the doughnut was plain and the Red Velvet flavor was a crumble topping which completely encased the rich doughnut, then split and filled with cream cheese whipped filling. I am still trying to decipher exactly what ingredients would have been combined to create that classic Red Velvet taste; a bit of cocoa and vinegar, yes. But the slight tang of cream cheese played off the delicate crumble to incite childhood memories of the classically moist and playful Red Velvet Chocolate Cake. As attested by the photos, it was hard to not stick our fingers in the filling.

The piece de resistance, however, was a new creation not yet on the t-shirt (which I acquired, of course), or the menu; an Irish Car Bomb doughnut with Guinness crumble and Jameson-infused cream filing. Had I thought the previous, unctuous presentations were exceptional, in this we had a show-stopper, Hall of Fame doughnut. Rich without being cloying, the Guinness crunch was at first undiscernable exactly what flavor profile it was profiling; sweet, yes – but with umami and a touch of earthiness. In this creation, we were experiencing doughnut perfection known only a few times before, most memorably at The French Laundry. Yes, ladies and gentleman, for doughnut nirvana in the Los Angeles area, it does not get any better than Nickel Diner and the creation of the Irish Car Bomb doughnut goes beyond inspiration to the level of epiphany. Without kitsch or the gimmick of a children’s cereal topping, a truly exceptional taste has been created and while one might expect to experience such flavors in a cupcake or a plated dessert, it is brought forth in the form of the humble doughnut; elevating the doughnut beyond the realm of mere breakfast pastry and into a religious experience.

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