While we’re on the topic of doughnuts and “Best of…” lists, any roundup of Los Angeles’ best would be remiss to exclude Primo’s Westdale Donuts. Celia and Ralph Primo purchased this failing doughnut shop on a whim for $2,000 back in 1956. The impulsive decision turned out to be a perfect fit for the couple, who nursed the shop back to health and transformed it into a doughnut destination.
Today, deep-fried dough seekers, like me and my girl Stassi, descend upon this homey mom and pop shop to fill up on the city’s best buttermilk bars and cake doughnuts. Thank goodness for serendipitous business ventures!
Though Primo’s hours aren’t as limited as those of Chicago’s Doughnut Vault, it’s important to show up on the early side to avoid any disappointment. Doughnuts are only made once a day—once they’re gone, you’re out of luck.
When The Astronomer, Stassi, and I arrived at the shop sometime before noon, the selection was still intact. Whew! Cake Donuts are priced at $0.80 each, while “Fancy” doughnuts go for $0.95.
After a lot of hemming and hawing, we finally settled on a crumb-dusted cinnamon roll (The Astronomer’s pick), a maple bar (my pick), a maple-glazed cake doughnut (a unanimous must), and an old-fashioned buttermilk bar (another unanimous must). While the yeast-risen specimens weren’t light and airy enough for our liking and were a touch too oily, the cake doughnut and buttermilk bar really kicked some serious butt.
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Even though I hardly ever agree with “Best of…” round-ups, I must admit that I cannot resist reading each and every one that comes across my radar. What can I say? Lists are fun!
Take for instance the list of America’s 50 Best Donuts that appeared in last month’s Saveur magazine. The authors’ omission of deep-fried paradises Dough in Brooklyn and Frost in Washington state caused me to question the soundness of the research and the overall validity, but I still couldn’t help devouring the entire issue. Twice.
Los Angeles made an excellent showing with a total of four shops making the cut. Joining well-known doughnut powerhouses Stan’s Doughnuts in Westwood Village and The Donut Man in Glendora were Doughnut Hut in Burbank and Earl’s Donuts in Chatsworth. The Astronomer and I hit up both dark horse contenders one Saturday afternoon when family commitments took us to Thousand Oaks. Both shops were on the way, sort of…
Due to its close proximity to home, we swung by Doughnut Hut first. According to the list, the shop’s orange glaze with “bits of zest” was a real treat, as was the “eggy Frenchie” (a.k.a. cruller).
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My first-ever visit to Birmingham was during the summer of 2004. On that inaugural trip down South, The Astronomer introduced me to pulled pork with all the fixings at Jim N’ Nicks and the best ribs in town at Dreamland.
We’ve explored much of Birmingham’s barbecue scene since then, but one place has always eluded us due to its out-of-the-way location: Bob Sykes Bar-B-Q. The Astronomer and I, along with the entire Chaplin clan, made the long drive to Bessemer on a cold and cloudy December day for lunch. Barbecue warms the soul and spirit.
Opened in 1957 by Bob and Maxine Sykes, Bob Sykes Bar-B-Q is considered by many to be one of the best barbecue establishments in town. These days, the restaurant is run by the couple’s son Van, who is one of the founding members of the Southern Foodways Alliance.
We caught a glimpse of piggy parts being cooked slow and low as we walked up to the ordering counter. Mmm…
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The Astronomer has become quite the foodist these days and I gotta say, I could not be prouder. He points his barber to the best Thai spots in Hollywood and his fellow physicists to the choicest food finds near campus. In addition to mastering the local food scene here in L.A., The Astronomer has become an expert on the culinary developments in his adopted hometown of Birmingham. During our trip down South for the holidays, Saw’s Soul Kitchen was high on his list of new spots to try.
Mike Wilson, a Johnson & Wales grad and former Cooking Light test kitchen cook, opened Saw’s Soul Kitchen last May following the success of his first restaurant Saw’s BBQ. Brandon Cain, the former chef de cuisine at swanky seafood joint Ocean, is Soul Kitchen’s executive chef and part-owner. The vibe here is similar to its sister restaurant—laid back, lived in, and full of piggy paraphernalia.
The Astronomer and I arrived during the peak of the lunchtime rush and took our place in the long line snaking through the dining room. Once we reached the cash register, orders were finalized, placed, and paid for. A table opened up as soon as the food was ready—I love it when that happens.
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While visiting Birmingham this past winter, The Astronomer and I were tipped off to a sweets shop specializing in gourmet Mexican paletas (popsicles). I’ve come to expect really terrific soul food, fine dining, and of course, barbecue in this town, but never considered anything like Steel City Pops.
Inspired by Nashville’s Las Paletas, Jim Watkins opened Steel City Pops last May in a Homewood strip mall that fittingly includes a gourmet taqueria. Steel City Pops recently opened a second location at The Summit (a magnificent and enormous suburban shopping complex) and have a third location planned in Tuscaloosa. I love that paletas are taking over ‘Bama.
Since we visited the shop during the Christmas holiday, many of the flavors were inspired by the season. Steel City Pops makes paletas de aguas (water-and-juice-based pops), as well as paletas de crema (milk- or cream-based pops). We selected one of each on our first visit.
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