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North Side restaurant’s Fall Donut offers autumnal flavors year-round

Chef at Sweet Virginia’s Kitchen makes the pillowy, cinnamon sugar treat from her grandma’s recipe — and serves it complete with the hole.

The Fall Donut at Sweet Virginia’s Kitchen is served with the hole.
Tyler LaRiviere/For the Sun-Times

As soon as trees begin changing color and temperatures dip to flannel levels, our palates seemingly flip a switch and start to crave cozy fall flavors.

The city’s doughnut makers are happy to oblige with seasonal offerings like apple cider, maple and pumpkin, with or without the ubiquitous “spice.”

But at Sweet Virginia’s Kitchen, a year-old restaurant, chef-owner Angie Wines’ signature cinnamon-sugar-dusted Fall Donuts are on the menu year-round.

“A lot of people ask what the Spring Donut’s going to be,” said Wines, who admitted she didn’t quite think through the pastry’s name when she opened, you guessed it, last fall. “I’ve tried other ways and it’s just not the same. Really the cinnamon sugar is the classic way to do it.”

Wines’ approach to her doughnuts is almost retro in its minimalism, running counter to the trend that prioritizes Instagrammability over taste. But what her doughnuts lack in bells and whistles they more than make up for in nostalgia.

Angie Wines, chef and owner of Sweet Virginia’s Kitchen.
Tyler LaRiviere/For the Sun-Times

“There’s definitely sentimental value,” said Wines, a self-taught cook. “I hear very frequently, ‘Oh these remind me so much of the doughnuts I used to make with my mom or my grandma growing up.’ ”

In fact, Wines’ doughnuts are exactly that — just like grandma’s.

The motto at Sweet Virginia’s, which serves a full breakfast, lunch and soon-to-be dinner menu, is “We’ll feed you like family,” and Wines means it. She grew up on her grandparents’ farm, northwest of Detroit, and the doughnuts were a common homemade treat on weekends. The recipe comes straight from Wines’ grandmother, Virginia Shields, who’s also the restaurant’s namesake.

“It doesn’t get better than being a kid and you’re on a stool next to your grandma in the kitchen and she’s letting you help fry a doughnut, and you know what you’re doing is kind of dangerous, but she’s letting you participate anyway,” Wines recalled.

Sweet Virginia’s Kitchen straddles Lincoln Square and Andersonville at 5131 N. Damen Ave.
Tyler LaRiviere/For the Sun-Times

Aside from using a commercial fryer instead of an oil-filled stovetop pot, Wines has stayed true to everything she learned at her grandma’s elbow.

To re-create the fresh-from-the-fryer experience of her youth, Wines and her kitchen staff cook every doughnut, and its hole, to order.

“If I had a dollar for every time I heard somebody say, ‘Oh my gosh, you get the holes too!’ ” Wines said. “That’s been really entertaining. People get really excited that they get the doughnut holes.”

After leaving the fryer, each doughnut and hole is individually shaken in a bag of cinnamon sugar to achieve the perfect all-around coating. The process is not only time-consuming but exacting.

The interior at Sweet Virginia’s Kitchen.
Tyler LaRiviere/For the Sun-Times

“If you let [the doughnut] cool for too long, the cinnamon and sugar won’t stick. But if you put it in the bag too soon, it will be so hot, it’ll steam it and you won’t get that nice beautiful coverage,” said Wines.

The result is crispy on the outside and pillowy on the inside, with a pull-apart texture that’s otherwise hard to define.

“I’ve heard people say ‘Is this kind of like a cronut?’ and I don’t know that that’s accurate. And I’ve heard people say, ‘Is this a bonut, more like a biscuit doughnut?’ And then I’ve also heard people say ‘These are better than beignets,’ not that they’re like beignets either,” said Wines.

All she’ll divulge of the secret family recipe is: “There’s definitely lots of butter and lots of layers.”

Sweet Virginia’s Kitchen is at 5131 N. Damen Ave. (www.sweetvirginiaskitchen.com).