If ever there was a modern day equivalent to Eve’s apple it is the doughnut. Plump, perfectly round with a lofty sheen, sinfully delicious. One bite and it’s all over, in more ways than one. Because in the end the doughnut—the saturated fat! the sugar! the empty calories!—like Eve’s apple, bites you back.
Or does it?
Not if the ladies at Fonuts have anything to say about it. Former Bazaar by Jose Andres pastry chef Waylynn Lucas and freelance baker Nancy Truman have conspired to deliver a healthy, modern take on the doughnut. They steam and bake instead of fry and “use farmer’s market produce, go light on the sugar, and employ top quality dry ingredients to create a fun, modern interpretation on something that always makes people smile,” as Lucas says.
Fonuts is near the corner of the Crescent Heights and West Third Street intersection. The pewter colored aesthetic is sparse and open, furnished only with one communal bar-height table and anchored by a vintage stove. It’s sort of like hanging out in someone’s kitchen before they’ve completed an IKEA run. But it works. The flavors change daily and always include one or two savory (ne “fun” and “modern”) and wheat/gluten free vegan varieties.
On my visit, alongside a wheat/gluten free vegan lemon and a strawberry buttermilk was a rich coconut custard filled, plum sugar dusted “Hawaiiaan” fonut. Since the fruity renditions seemed an obvious choice, it was the savories, rosemary olive oil, chorizo cheddar and maple bacon that drew me in.
“Put bacon on anything and people come running” Lucas says matter of factly, then gamely adds that one customer recently ordered a box of rosemary olive oil fonuts to serve at a dinner alongside a smoked salmon and veggie plate.
So it was in the spirit of breakfast for dinner that I dove into a rosemary olive oil fonut. The fresh rosemary fragrance was the first thing to hit me, and I couldn’t help but notice the oil that seeped first through the paper sleeve then from the fonut itself the moment I touched it. The oil does create density, but it’s mollified by a satisfyingly earthy taste and a texture that mimics a doughnut’s aerated, spring-like sponginess.
I wouldn’t, however, mistake it for a doughnut. More like a doughnut’s first cousin, maybe a brother or sister depending on the day.
That’s the whole point, Truman explains. “We’re not making doughnuts. We’re taking the concept and doing something new. If you come in expecting a doughnut you’re going to be disappointed.”
It’s tough to be disappointed in light of such incipient creativity and skill not to mention the sheer courage to run the whole fonut concept up the flagpole and see if anyone salutes. That Lucas and Truman, both bon vivants, bounce between the kitchen and front end with an irrepressible zeal only makes you want to be a fonut fan all the more—regardless if your expectations were met. True that on the sweet side, as evidenced by the strawberry buttermilk and the lemon, if you’re going for standard sugar shock levels you’re going to be left groping in the dark. If you’re going for enjoyment without the back bite, it’s hard to think a smile will be out of reach.
A steady crowd streamed through the door on this Saturday morning, perhaps proof there are plenty of people in L.A. who are ready for a less guilty take on the familiar two punch breakfast combo. More than a few lingered over cups of steaming LAMILL coffee, and not a laptop huncher/muncher was in site. Here, much like R.J. Milano's Shaky Alibi on Beverly and Martel, it’s about one item singularly expressed and incomparably executed in an atmosphere that encourages community rather than disengagement.
Lucas and Truman like the simplicity of it all. They’re not on a mission to change people’s morning eating habits, they say, as much as they are to provide a new approach. It’s doubtful Dunkin Donuts will see a dip in business, but given what’s going on here, they may yet see a dent.