I like donuts. I like fried chicken. Shocking, I know. So when I heard about Federal Donuts: a donut and fried chicken joint in Pennsport in South Philly, I was intrigued. But then I heard about the massive lines and the early sellouts, so I figured I would wait a little while and then check it out. My friends, that day was the other day. And now, I shall share it with you.
Federal Donuts isn’t actually at 2nd and Federal, it’s on the smaller street right after Washington Ave. but before Federal. Look for the red rooster! Parking could suck for you if you come a little later on in the day, but I popped in with my friend Michael around 11, so it wasn’t too bad. You can’t really see it, but there is also a red bench you can sit on outside to enjoy the weather while stuffing your face with awesome donuts. That’s some thinking right there. Lady with baby carriage that won’t move out of the picture frame not included.
This place is not really big. Keep this in mind because it can get crowded. Luckily, everyone is usually very excited about the food so everyone is in a pretty good mood. When we visited, Cristal was manning the counter. She had to repeat herself a thousand times to a bunch of people and never once did she roll her eyes or take a swing at them when they whined about chicken not being sold until 11:45. In fact, she was making jokes with the customers and chatting while taking orders and being awesome.
If you look at the top of the picture, you will see the menu hanging over Cristal’s head. The first board lists the beverages: hot and cold coffee, hot and iced tea, water and a variety of sodas, including the very awesome Doc Brown’s line of sodas. I am partial to the Black Cherry (and yeah they have the Diet version too if you want to even out the calories you are gonna pack in…what do you mean it doesn’t work that way?…).
The second board is very important. These are the donuts they make all day long, what they call the “hot donuts, fried fresh all day”. These donuts are delicious & are lightly flavored in 3 varieties: Indian Cinnamon, Appolonia Spice, and Vanilla Lavender. The flavor isn’t overpowering and they go really well with a beverage of your choice. These donuts are cake based, which are usually heavy and chewy, but these are light as a feather. More on that below.
The third board lists the fancy donuts. These go on sale when the place opens and are usually gone by 10-ish. If you want them, I would suggest crawling out of your snuggie and getting down there early. They change varieties a lot and this is what they have now. Check the website to see what is going on when you read this. At that time they had: Halvah Pistachio, Strawberry Rhubarb Pie, Mandarin Coffee, Root Beer Float, Chocolate Banana and Ginger Snap. I didn’t get to try those because they were all gone by the time I got over there. Next time FedNuts! Next time!! *angry fist shake*
This brings up the 4th board. It outlines the chicken. You can get a whole chicken or a half (or do what me and Michael did and get a whole with a different flavor on each half. We may be gluttons, but we are crafty gluttons.). The flavors they offer include dry selections and 2 glazes. The dry includes: Za’atar, Coconut Curry and Buttermilk Ranch. The glaze includes: Chili-Garlic and Honey Ginger.
We ordered a half of the Buttermilk Ranch & half Za’atar along with some Honey Ginger wings. At 11:45, Cristal asked all the people who had already been there how many orders of chicken they wanted and we all got numbered red cards. Did we do a little dance like we found golden tickets? Maybe. We did clutch them and look around to make sure no one was eyeing up our tickets. You get one for each order of chicken you put in. Notice the tickets are numbered? They only go up to a certain number and then you gotta come back the next day.
A few minutes later, our chicken was served up in red baskets. The chicken comes with a honey dipped donut. Now, if you quick looked at this donut, you’d notice it looks kind of like the Dunkin’ Donuts Plain Old Fashioned Donut. That is where the resemblance ends. This donut is honey dipped and warm, which means it is automatically probably the best warm thing you will ever have in your mouth (ahem).
The thing about these donuts is that they are cake donuts, as opposed to yeast donuts. Yeast donuts are the ones you might be used to, light and fluffy, especially right out of the fryer. Most people prefer those because they go down so easily.
Cake donuts are usually denser and chewier (Have you ever had a Polish Packzi? That is a great example of a cake donut. Also, my favorite donut.). The donuts at Federal are cake donuts but they are super light, spitting in the face of conventional thoughts on cake donuts. Can you tell I love it? The flavor is so subtle but coats your tongue with happiness. Out of all the things I ate at Federal Donuts, I loved this donut the most. Did I mention you get one every time you order chicken? You also get these little japanese cucumber pickles but, unfortunately, I didn’t really care for those (weirdly too sour for me), nor did my friend Michael (or my mom when I brought her an order home). But hey, in the grand scheme of things, who cares. Not everything can be jaw dropping and I have not even gotten to the amazing chicken yet.
Moving onto the chicken! This is not your usual KFC-style fried chicken that is coated in egg and flour, fried and then tossed onto your plate (or into your bucket or whatever). This is Korean Style Fried Chicken: the chicken is dipped in a cornstarch based batter and fried once, rested and then fried again when you order it to crisp it up. Look closely at the picture and you can see the chicken sitting on pans and racks (so they aren’t sitting a puddle of grease) just waiting for 11:45.
The first batch that I tried was the buttermilk ranch fried chicken. I wasn’t sure what to expect. Was the batter infused with buttermilk ranch flavoring? Would it be white? As I have said many times before, I am not that bright. The chicken was the fried chicken that they do, and they cover it with a dry coating of buttermilk ranch flavoring. As it’s called “dry seasoning”, that makes sense. And it was deeelicious! As you can see, they are not stingy with the seasoning and I am A-ok with that. The flavor of the buttermilk ranch powder soaked up the little bit of grease along with the juiciness of the chicken to create a festival of happiness in my mouth. (and I thought only whiskey could do that).
The second kind of dry seasoning we had was Za’atar. What is Za’atar? It is a Moroccan flavoring and the Federal website describes it as “sesame seeds blended with wild savory and sumac, so it has a very green and lemony flavor”. That is a spot on description, and I know Michael loved it the most. When you look at it, it looks like someone sprinkled grass clippings and sesame seeds on your chicken, but dig in! The flavor balances nicely with the mild taste of the chicken and the slight bit of grease. We had a bit of fork stabbing going on for the last piece (I’m a quick healer).
Finally, we started in on the Honey Ginger wings. It took us forever to figure out what flavor to pick (chili-garlic being the other flavor (glaze actually) we were considering). They sat there patiently while we buzzsawed thru the fried chicken and the hot donut. They looked delicious and smelled delicious.
The ginger is subtle and the honey made them slightly sweet. We both didn’t particularly like them at first. I took them home and the key is to let them sit for a little while, then they become amazing! I almost got you Federal Donuts, but you pulled it out again!
I cannot wait to go back and try the Chili-Garlic!
So, to sum it up: you have to get up super early to get the good special donuts. You have to get there early to get a ticket(s) for chicken that doesn’t go on sale until 11:45. Is it worth the hassle? Michael and I both agreed the answer was a resounding YES. Obviously, donuts and fried chicken are not things you can eat everyday without seriously hurting yourself (I read about that in a book…), so checking this place out and stuffing your face with some chicken and donut goodness is not only a good idea, it’s an excellent idea! Go there and check it out! And don’t forget your Doc Brown’s soda while you are at it!