NYC Shop Turns Classic Restaurant Dishes into Doughnuts

By David Jenison on January 20, 2017

The Doughnut Project is a culinary lab that sells seasonal small-batch doughnuts limited only by the imagination. The small West Village shop adorned with psychedelic murals currently offers innovative options like Those Beetz Are Dope (ricotta whip-filled with a beet glaze), The Bronx (Italian olive oil and black pepper) and the Saturday-only Bone Marrow (bone marrow/chocolate pastry cream-filled with a clementine glaze), but founders Troy Neal and Leslie Polizzotto just introduced a new six-week doughnut series that debuts this weekend. Inspired by top NYC culinary destinations, the Restaurant Series will recreate different classic dishes as weekend-only specials. The series starts Friday with a Quality Eats-inspired doughnut filled with a jalapeño and apple jelly and topped with a peanut butter glaze and Nueske bacon pieces. A Gramercy Tavern-inspired doughnut filled with squash and topped with grilled green grape glaze and fried capers is next in line, followed by a Lupa pasta-inspired doughnut filled with tomato jam and topped with pecorino cheese, guanciale and an olive oil glaze. PRØHBTD spoke with Leslie Polizzotto to learn more. 

Was there a particular dish at a restaurant that first inspired the idea, and at what point did you decide to turn the idea into a reality?

Our flavors are inspired by food and cocktails. I was at Gramercy Tavern having lunch with my husband, and I had the Kabocha Squash, Grilled Grapes, Arugula and Capers dish. It was beautiful and delicious, and I immediately thought I would like to do a doughnut inspired by the dish. I sent a picture of it to my business partner Troy Neal and indicated I wanted to do a doughnut based on the dish. He told me he also had recently had a dish from Quality Eats that he thought would make a great doughnut. We came up with the idea about doing a Restaurant Series of doughnuts inspired by particular dishes we have enjoyed.  We decided to do it during late January when it is usually slower so we could focus on these specialty doughnuts.

The first three doughnuts were inspired by dishes at Quality Eats, Gramercy Tavern and Lupa. Do you know what the following three dishes will get the doughnut treatment, and any chance you push the series beyond six weeks?

We are actually in the process of selecting and testing the final three doughnuts. The Restaurant Series will last the six weeks, and then we will be doing a Cocktail Series in the spring. That series will be doughnuts based on delicious cocktails we have enjoyed in NYC.

In preparing for the series, were there any dishes you tried to turn into doughnuts that came out way too weird? 

We have tried purple cabbage and could not get it to work as an ingredient for a doughnut.

What savory ingredients work surprisingly well with doughnuts and what ingredients tend to clash too much with the sweetness?

Our flavor profiles are usually sweet and salty, sweet and savory or sweet and spicy. Meats work surprisingly well with sweetness because they offer a salty counterbalance 

To what extent do you collaborate with the restaurant chefs on the doughnuts?

It has been different for each doughnut. Most chefs and restaurants deferred to us, but Lupa was really excited about the doughnut, and Chef Rob Zwirz and Lupa’s press people came to the shop when we were testing the doughnut and contributed to the discussion on the flavors and tweaks we could make. Lupa is co-owned by Mario Batali, who was so excited about the doughnut that they will be putting a mini version on their dessert menu while we run that doughnut. Quality Eats has also been very supportive of their doughnut and has their own press people involved. I dined at Gramercy Tavern again and spoke with a sous chef regarding our Restaurant Series and that we would be doing a doughnut inspired by their squash dish, and he was very nice and supportive.

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