My wife’s friend, Jen, the new queen of cagey, lives in California, but she sent my wife – with me tagging along – to an address in a northern suburb of Philadelphia to collect her birthday gift. We had no idea what that gift would be.
But the address was for the Whole Foods supermarket in Spring House, Pennsylvania. When we arrived in the parking lot, as instructed, my wife called Jen, who said we should go into the store and gave a vague clue on what to do when we got in there: “Allow your curiosity to guide you.” She apparently emphasized the word, “curiosity.”
Ever eager to find out what the pot of gold at the end of our food rainbow would be, we entered Whole Foods and proceeded to aimlessly walk around the store. I stopped to gaze admiringly at their beautiful display of dry-aged beef, but I snapped out of that momentary distraction from the business at hand and caught up to my wife. After doing nearly an entire lap around the store, we spotted what had to be our desired destination.
Jen is in and follows the food industry and was aware of Curiosity Doughnuts via their web site. She was pleasantly surprised to discover on a map that they aren’t that far of a drive from where we live – maybe 30-40 minutes. So she arranged and pre-paid for the lovely gift of a dozen of these dazzling-looking doughnuts. In fact, it turned out to be 14. They always make it a baker’s dozen, and they had a damaged pineapple fritter that they insisted on throwing in free of charge.
The doughnuts are not what you’d typically find at a Krispy Kreme, Dunkin Donuts, or old-fashioned doughnut shops in general. But the flavors were still fairly classic, with added twists to make them a bit more interesting.
Curiosity Doughnuts isn’t actually part of Whole Foods. They are an independent business that occupies space in two of their stores – the other one being in Princeton, New Jersey. They specialize in using a variety of doughs to prepare their doughnuts. Here is the list. Each dough gives the eater a different texture and is available in various forms and with an array of toppings. There were so many choices that we had trouble keeping track of everything in our dozen-plus, let alone all of the stand’s available flavors. Jen asked them to give us a nice sampling of the doughs, and we were afforded the option of making substitutions. We only switched two. The traditionalist in me wanted a second basic cruller.
My wife and I were admittedly a little concerned about how we were going to handle eating all those doughnuts. But that was a question for later. In the meantime, we had lunch plans across the street from the Whole Foods, at the three-century old Spring House Tavern.
I felt the need to deviate from my cheesesteak-Italian-Chinese food pattern, and there are several very old inns and taverns within a few miles of where we were that I had known about for years, but never tried. The Spring House Tavern looked good online and since it was literally within view, that was our obvious choice.
They were fairly empty. When my wife asked about that, our server said they are normally busier on weekend afternoons, but the fact that it was the weekend of Memorial Day was probably resulting in a lot of people being away from home or at family barbecues. Many in the Philly region spend time at the South Jersey Shore during the summer, and Memorial Day weekend is always the unofficial start of the season. In any case, the fact that the dining room was nearly empty made it easier to take photos. They also had a dining area near the bar and outdoor seating. It’s a large place. I wouldn’t be surprised if they have additional facilities I didn’t catch a glimpse of.
As was the case with Anthony’s, which I wrote about last week, the lunch menu at the Tavern is relatively limited in comparison to what one can order for dinner. But something at least a little on the light side seemed appropriate after my outing to Da Vinci’s the previous day, so I had no problem with the available options.
We both started with a cup of soup. My wife had chicken-corn chowder – the soup of the day, which she enjoyed – while I went the Tavern’s snapper soup.
While there are a number of foods that Philadelphia and its surrounding area are known for – including a certain sandwich about which I frequently post – one of the lesser-known ones is snapper soup. Yet it’s been a fixture on the menus of local seafood houses, taverns, and inns since at least the middle of the 18th century.
It’s traditionally served with sherry on the side for adding to taste, and that’s how mine arrived. You can see from the streak on the soup’s surface in the photo below that I added some to my cup.
I’ve only had snapper soup a handful of times. It’s something I’ve started to eat a bit more often in recent years. And I would have to say this was probably the most enjoyable cup of it that I can recall having. The flavor was excellent. I thought I may have detected just a hint of sweetness, which is always a good thing, given my tendencies in that direction. While there weren’t a lot of vegetables or shreds of meat in with the thick liquid, I came across more as I neared the bottom of the cup.
For a main course, my wife ordered what I only half-jokingly referred to as a plate of life-extension; the arugula-apple salad, which included mixed berries, feta cheese, candied-walnuts, and a raspberry vinaigrette. My regular readers know I’m not a salad guy, but I have to admit it was an impressive-looking plate of food.
I felt the need to order something that fell outside of the red meat family for what should be obvious reasons. I like seafood, and there was a decent amount of it on the menu, so that was the direction I was thinking.
I’ve probably written about my fondness for lobster rolls in a past post about one of our trips to New England. The Tavern has one on their menu – as do the several very old inns that I alluded to previously and which are in the general vicinity of Spring House. I’d like to eat my way around that circuit.
Given that I hadn’t had a lobster roll in a fairly long time and it came with fries, which I was also in the mood for, I ordered one.
It was served Maine style, meaning the roll was filled with cold lobster salad. While I wouldn’t say it’s one of the best lobster rolls I’ve ever had, it was good and really hit the spot.
The potato hot dog bun was buttered and lightly toasted. I don’t like mayo in general, but I can take it in a few dishes; one of those being a lobster roll. Thankfully, it wasn’t used too heavily. And there was a pretty good amount of lobster meat stuffed into the relatively small bun.
I gave the cole slaw that came with it to my wife, but the above average fries and the lobster roll left me full and in a state of contentment.
I would have to work past that feeling, because our afternoon of eating wasn’t finished. We still had 14 doughnuts in our car and were heading home to sample them.
Rather than limit ourselves to having just one doughnut each while they were still super-fresh, we cut off small pieces from several to get a good sampling.
I’m a traditionalist in most things, including doughnuts. I go for the basic flavors you find at old-school doughnut shops and Dunkin Donuts, and tend to be turned off by unusual flavors with exotic or savory ingredients. But while the doughnuts from Curiosity were kicked up in terms of imagination and presentation, they were not what I’d call exotic flavors for the most part. They use classic ingredients, but in a fairly spectacular way.
Here is a look at the insides of a few of the doughnuts after we cut off our pieces.
It’s not often that I say something is the best ever of its kind after trying it just once. But I’m doing that in this case. These were the greatest doughnuts I’ve ever had. Both their textures and flavors were incredibly good. Yes; they were extremely sweet. But I somehow managed to get past that.
And I hope to return to do so again. These doughnuts were simply too good to never eat again. Return visits after trying out those nearby inns seems like a good plan.
I’d like to recommend another food-themed blog. Some of you may have noticed that John Tanner posts comments beneath some of my offerings. His Barbecue Blog is a valuable research tool, especially for those living in or traveling through the Virginia, Washington D.C., and North Carolina regions. And while his specialty is barbecue, there is a nice array of food genres on there. Here is his guide to the best places to eat near I-95 between Washington and southern Florida.