I have one class on Tuesdays. This week, my professor was out of town, so my roommate Mike and I had ourselves a little food adventure.
Our first stop was Union Square Donuts. I love donuts of all kinds, and after hearing rave reviews from Emily, I decided we needed to go. I needed good donuts, and I needed them ASAP. So we trekked over to Somerville, a healthy journey that we hoped would build an appetite and pre-burn some calories so that we could replace them with donut goodness.
I was surprised at how low-key it was for such being such a prominent figure in the Boston baking canon. The sign is easy to miss, all light, pastel colors. It was modest from the outside, tucked in between unassuming and forgettable stores on the same street. Walking in, though, we found ourselves in a well-composed space, small but inviting. Lots of wood grains and endearing memorabilia. You could probably call it hipster (but not in a bad way).
You could see the donut racks filled with sheet tray behind the counter. No attempt at glorifying their storage. Instead, there was a display case upfront where martyr donuts modeled themselves for close-up viewing. Everything looked like something I’d endure severe gastrointestinal pain to eat.
We got three donuts: Maple Bacon, Blackberry Basil Lime, and Orange Cardamom Poppy. Along with a small cold-brew iced coffee, it was $13. Each donut ranges from three to four dollars, but they’re easily three or four times better than a one you’d get for 99 cents.
I have to confess something now: by the time it occurred to me to take pictures for your viewing pleasure, we had devoured all the donuts. Their website (unionsquaredonuts.com) does justice to how they look, I contend. I am sorry for this.
All three donuts seemed to be of a brioche-like dough. Rather than the solid crust you might see on normal donuts, the outsides of these donuts were a deep Maillard brown, soft and flecked with buttery bubble freckles. The maple bacon (check out the website) did what you’d think it would do: a 2:1 balance of sweet to salty with what appeared to be really high quality bacon with proper saltiness and enough give not to fall off with every bite. The orange cardamom poppy was much more subtle, like a classier, gentler version of that orange frosting you’d find on Pillsbury cinnamon rolls. Only the frosting was still white, and you could see the real orange zest suspended in the sugar white.
But the real surprise was the blackberry basil lime. Somehow, the donut was refreshing. A bright magenta hue, the frosting released each of the three flavors in staggering order. First, you get the blackberry, then you get strong basil, then you get the acidity of the lime. Chewing them, you get them to come together in your mouth. Try it if you’re there.
After Union Square Donuts, we walked to Dave’s Fresh Pasta. The sign for this place is a practice in irony. For such a well-established, serious place, the sign is bright red with white comic sans (!) letters.
But go inside, and every nook and cranny is filled with something neat or Italian or both. Refrigerators full of pre-made pastas and sauces, baskets full of olive oil and bread, shelves full of small-batch hot sauces. There are only two tables and a stool seating area crammed behind a few of the fridges. Mike tells me that our coming to this place is the fruit of years of his older brother’s Boston/Cambridge/Somerville exploration. It doesn’t get any better than this, he says. It’s all downhill from here.
I ordered a Beef and Boursin sandwich on Pane Rustica. I have a picture of this one, luckily.
The Pane Rustica had a significant crunch but didn’t, importantly, cut the roof of my mouth, which is a huge pet peeve of mine. The shaved flank steak was juicy and warm. The caramelized onions were soft and gentle, the greens were tender but retained a slight crunch and contained hints of garlic. But the star was the Boursin, which doubled as cheese and sauce, oozing out with each bite. I had to wipe my face with a napkin after every one. I decided that, despite my hunger, it would be more worth it to save a half for later just so I could experience it again.
Reheated in the oven, it was just as good, giving me a taste of the adventure even after I came home.