RECOMMENDED: Best doughnuts in Chicago
GUIDE Fork and the Road
LENGTH 12 miles, 4.5 hours
STARTS AT Intelligentsia (53 E Randolph St)
TOC EXCLUSIVE TOUR June 12 at 10am; $40. Bring your own bicycle and helmet. Future tours TBD.
“This is not a calorie-negative ride,” cautions Sharon Bautista, co-owner of culinary bike tour operator Fork and the Road, and guide on the Global Doughnuts tour I’m taking on a chilly Sunday morning. Not that I had any hope that a 12-mile bike ride could possibly burn off the pounds of fried dough I am about to put in my face: Bautista says it’s a goal of hers and fellow owner Dimitra Tasiouras to never, ever let a rider on a Fork and the Road tour pedal home hungry. Before we saddle up, Bautista explains that most cultures’ cuisines have some version of sweet fried dough (it’s cheap and easy to make, not to mention awesome). Mexican, Polish and German cultures have a particularly long history and influence in Chicago, so we’ll be inhaling their versions of doughnuts today.
STICK IT From Randolph Street and Wabash Avenue, we hit the road, pedaling south under the rumbling El tracks and zigzagging west until we spy the crowds swarming Polk Street and Desplaines Avenue for the Sunday-only Maxwell Street Market. Leaving our bikes locked to a rack, we stroll past countless vendors selling everything from shoelaces to chain saws, and food stands hawking birreria, tacos and pupusas, until the unmistakable smell of fried dough guides us to Xoco-Churro’s bright blue truck. The churros—fried and filled to order with chocolate, vanilla or strawberry cream—are still warm when the truck’s owner, Ramon Covarrubias, hands them to us. As I chew on the sugar-dusted sticks, Bautista explains that churros, popular in Mexico and Latin America, are often eaten for breakfast (sure beats Wheaties), and that the treat originally hails from Spain (via Portugal and China).
PLUM JOB Back on our bikes, we cruise north through the Loop and River North (interestingly, right past heavily hyped new spot Doughnut Vault) and pick up a bike lane on Wells Street until we arrive at Delightful Pastries (1710 N Wells St, 773-545-7215), a cute café in Old Town. Loquacious owner and Poland native Dobra Bielinski (she rattles off sound bites like “Most healthy food is not edible” and “You could save the world with chocolate”) plies us with a delicious spinach, Gruyère and leek quiche before bringing out a plate of paczki. The traditional Polish doughnuts—light, round puffs of dough drizzled with a thin glaze—come filled with either a subtle rose-petal or sour-plum jelly. The second is my favorite, though I manage to scarf down both varieties.
CUSTARD'S LAST STAND We pick up Wells again, then head northwest on Lincoln Avenue to Dinkel’s (3329 N Lincoln Ave, 773-281-7300), a Lakeview bakery that’s been in business since 1922. Here, we try a bismarck (also called a berliner), a German yeast doughnut engorged with custard and dusted with powdered sugar. It’s rich, it’s delicious, but after consuming four doughnuts already that day, it’s too much. I feel as if I’m on the fast track to a diabetes diagnosis and, true to Bautista’s word, I can’t ingest another morsel. Well, okay…maybe just one more bite for the road.