Tiny dogs, shiny Beemer’s, yoga pants, ballroom dancing, something called Zumba–fat guy fried dough and to-the-thighs icing might seem out of context in the pummeling, snowballing yuppification of the Old Third Ward. But donuts are the new cupcakes. Literally, as Joe Sorge replaces the Milwaukee Cupcake Company with the now-vanguarding nuggets of Homer-approved first meal. His Hospitality Democracy group (AJ Bombers, Water Buffalo) took a break from opening Onesto, a nearby ode to Sorge’s grandparents’ Italian restaurant, and some inspiration from cities like Portland (of course), to plot a little shop and part in a big trend.
We paid a visit to the place where The Wicked Hop and Cafe Benelux pass for ‘it’ spots and culture (the ‘Lux is “Lowland Europe”-inspired, okay?), and the Milwaukee Public Market remains the unparalleled bastion of stuff white people like, to give our early morning low blood sugar to the classically American idea that is equal parts breakfast and dessert.
The space: The early buzz–especially based on conversation overheard on MCTS’ Route 15–might have you thinking it’s more than a kiosk in the Landmark building. With the slick signage, hashtag-ready handle, unique reliance on Stone Creek ex-pat Hawthorne Roasters, and donuts presented majestically on individual raised beds, like newborns through the looking glass, there are certainly grandiose ambitions. It’s also next-door neighbors with Frenchie and foodie Coquette Cafe, which would seem to advance gastrointestinal validity. But essentially this is just a kiosk in the Landmark Building. One indicating the former warehouse district’s further movement from industry and mild seediness toward the likes of “Fashion Angels,” Sorge’s own Smoke Shack and all its conceptualized down-home dinginess, and establishments that charge $24 an hour to play ping pong.
The service: Met by the typical glasses/piercing/alternative friendliness of your every-urban-corner java-slinger, we noted at least special attention and treatment evident in the now-percolating “pour-over” method coffee service. It is the best way to make coffee at home, but out we’re not sure if it’s just a way to charge $1.20 more ($3 vs. $1.80), or to present the barista with a chance to ask an aloof question like: “is the Ethiopian blend okay?” Like maybe we’d scoff and refuse it like a bottle of fucking merlot. It also affords said barista to genuflect over the Melitta cone and steaming water like it’s a holy chalice, while you wait around for steeping and feel superior to the plebians ordering “brewed” joe.
Milwaukee Record’s food: Like bacon, like decent bourbon in a superbly over-manicured “craft” cocktail, you can fetishize all you want, but some things are just plain good by their very essence. Donuts are like that: basically un-fuck-withable. By existing in their natural state they will provide caloric satisfaction. Pick ‘n Save donuts deserve 1,000-word reviews. And Entenmann’s? Well the powdered varietal warrants the Proust treatment. So with this new spot, let’s not get nuts. (Remember when everybody went gaga for the ‘Cronut’? They were just combining two things, both great, that were basically cousins anyway.)
Sure, Holey Moley bakes fresh daily (so does Krispy Kreme), are practicing locavores (eating a “locally-sourced” donut is like smoking a “locally-additive-ed” cigarette), and have an offering that is gluten-free (don’t get us started). But are any of the following “Fancy-Schmancy” offerings (those that are “filled, glazed, sometimes topped”) worth $2.25?
We started with the Peanut Butter. There didn’t seem enough of our eponymous center stuff, the PB coming on more like a concentrated pipeline than a bursting, all over your fingers “filling.” It was good, like “Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup” good. But with an artisanal edge–which basically means fewer chemicals. Also, less chocolate. The Boston Cream was indeed creamier and, somehow, Boston-y. Not in the icy Tom Brady/dick-you-hated-in-high-school way. Rather it was generous with goopy, yogurty insides that spurted and spooled in pie-like flow. The Violet Beauregard had enough toothsome blueberry center to make our hemoglobin buckle.
So? If you drive a Range Rover HSE ($68,525), or Audi S7 ($82,500), both parked in front on a recent workday morn, that $2.25 question is probably negligible. Especially considering each ‘nut is presented like, and yearning toward, the state of a high-end panini–individually bagged and secured shut with a neat, donut-shaped sticker decal. But you could get a flavor equivalent, or close, from any local grocer for 75 cents. And, if they really cared enough not to want any chocolate to smudge, and necessitate the socially unacceptable licking of tissue paper, they would offer each donut in a little box. (See: neighbor and cheese whiz-purveyor The Philly Way for proper inspiration on how to not let a to-go topping get goopy and ruined.)
Then there is the matter of donut holes ($2 for 5 here), which we think exist primarily to maintain friendly inter-office relationships. On our visit the offerings were the “Lemon Old Fashioned” and the “Raspberry Lemonade” – both hugely citrus-ed, one over-red dyed, and each offering a perennial rampart of sugar coating that was good for 30 minutes of extra-bounce in the step and a collective workspace brightening from mid-week a.m. doldrums.
Likewise, the “glazed” varietal exist for that certain office type that will stand around the water cooler and attempt jokes about who lacquered on the donuts. Our sample of the ‘simple glazed’ ($1.75) was the “Vanilla Cake.” About as exciting as it sounds, here they extended the thick-gloss mentality, with saccharine sheen covering all of the perimeter, and probably most of the days glucose needs. Moist, resistant to crumbling, it was rightly suggestive of Ethiopian blend-dunking and inspiration for plenty of break room “that’s what she said”‘s.
At the end of the day, or, at the end of the nap that such a donut-binge necessitates, dough is dough, chocolate is chocolate, and icing is going right to our hips. Donuts make your coffee better, sure, or vice versa, like an Egg McMuffin, and sugary orange juice. And so goes the American morning.
The verdict: Jim Gaffigan jokes about the expectation-lowering nature of pancakes for breakfast–“well, looks like I’m not showering today.” Donuts are close to the same. Which in today’s Third Ward would beg the question: will the land of high rents and hot moms support a single-minded foodstuff-slinger of such puffy decadence?