Two days after arriving back in Cincinnati after two years away, I climbed Mount Adams for a coffee between (teaching) classes and a sign caught my eye: “We Have Cronuts and Crookies!”
A block away, again, “Croughnuts are Here!”
I’ve not had one of Dominiques Ansel’s in New York City, but I’m well aware of the controversy around them. Nibblers line up for hours outside the tiny shop, in hopes of getting (up to) two of the only 300 made daily. Dominique himself, who starts at 3:30 am with his staff on all their pastries, often comes out with bites for those lined up and to allow a few photos. It’s a craze. People have started scalping them on the internet for eight to forty times their original price. Many New Yorkers and those of us in the food media field roll our eyes a bit; not at the pastries, which are undoubtedly masterly made, but at the hysteria that goes beyond all points of logic.
And here I was, 655 miles and five days away from New York. And there they were. Cronuts.
In an uncharacteristic move I approached Serious Eats to do a story on them. I have little interest in food itself if I don’t know who’s making it, if I don’t share an experience over it or if it hasn’t come from my own hands. And since I’d never had nor can even eat a cronut back in New York, the pastry as a thing does nothing for me.
But… who was making these cronuts?
At Bow Tie Cafe, where I grabbed my decaf Americano and a salad, the barista gave me the card of Savor Catering and Events that supplies their cronuts. Down the street at The Sweetest Things, owner Heather gave me hers as well, and we arranged a time for me to come in. And with a SE stamp of approval, I had opened myself up to what would be a beautiful experience.
I forget how much easier it is to live outside of New York City. I love my city, obviously, and think we are a very friendly, supportive and welcoming population. But the drag of subways and walking and shlepping and the overwhelming sound and movement makes it harder on the body. In Cincinnati there’s just more space and quiet. And it walloped me once again how truly welcoming and warm locals are.
I spent my first Saturday back over the river at the Covington Farmer’s Market to meet Savor owner Mary, and then nearby at the Left Bank Coffeehouse, where I chatted with two who worked there and an extremely welcoming patron. Then I hopped back up to Mount Adams to shoot Heather’s cronut. Then I shot up to Loveland, where Holtman’s Donuts are popping out four variations of their flaky donut version.
Honestly, none of the bakers are a Dominique Ansel. I could see that. But everything I smelled and touched and shared with friends was delicious and warm and well-crafted and made with passion in earnest. And on top of that, I had fun everywhere I went to explore them. At every location, conversation flowed naturally – from patrons and baristas and owners and diners. Whereas at home we have so much to do and say and be, here there seemed to be no rush to do anything or be anywhere else than in the present, on a steamy Saturday with something sweet. At home, there’s the if you can make it there you can make it anywhere push and a look at what I’m doing! sense of energy. In Cincinnati, that push is playful, and gentle.
I hadn’t quite realized it, but I’d come back slightly disenchanted by my recent work. I started writing about food here, actually, when my level of interest in and skill at making food was a bit abnormal, and enough people suggested I start penning recipes and sharing tips. But recently I’d felt overwhelmed by my Twitter and Instagram and Facebook feeds full of pictures of everyone’s lunches and how seriously people converse about food when, I’m sorry, there’s some serious shit happening in the world that I’d rather talk about most of the time.
And here I was, remembering why I love food in the first place. I love food because it brings friends and loved ones together over a table. Because it teaches us patience, and training to trust in our senses, and how to stay present in the moment. Because it connects us with the earth and whatever we believe to be god. Because it nourishes. Because it brings us joy.
Here’s some of the pretty things I got to snap away at while I smiled and laughed with strangers. That I then shared with friends over coffee and catching up. Made by those who I hope, if you live in Cincinnati, you’ll patron. And, for the official piece, head over today to Serious Eats: Sweets.