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Federal Donuts Fried chicken

Before getting ready to fly back to France after the recent holiday, friends invited me to join them on a trip to Havana. I couldn’t make it, but the next best thing is taking the bus to Philadelphia, I’m also juggling urgings to go to Los Angeles, New Caledonia, Mexico City, Vietnam, Florence, Honolulu, Miami, Florence, Oaxaca, Bulgaria, Iran, Gascony, Lyon, Rome, Chicago, Chiang Mai, Sicily, Toronto, and to a house in the countryside near Barcelona that has a pool – I want to go everywhere, but who will write my blog, and my book? Not to mention tackled the backlog of l’administration?

Amaro cocktails

I think Romain was itching to go back. It was pretty challenging explaining this whole “Fahrenheit” thing, as well as why a football player is reading the news, and how come brisket doesn’t exist in France.

Until those questions get answered, I took a brief, overnight trip to Philadelphia. And while the above destinations suggest that I might be leading some jet-set life-style, you’ll be happy to know that I found myself on a very cold Saturday morning, standing in a line on the sidewalk by the Hudson Yards construction site, on the the edge of Manhattan, waiting for a bus. The pictures of the bus interior that I saw online beforehand were like those real estate photos taken with wide-angle lenses: I’m not super-wide, and neither were the seats on the bus. Still, it had electrical outlets, the an occasional tease of Wi-Fi, and a restroom. Which the driver asked me if I could replace the toilet paper in, handing me a roll when I passed her on my way to it.

Abe Fisher cocktail

Last time I was in Philadelphia, we arrived at Federal Donuts too late in the day, and they were sold out of glazed and hot donuts. I know…right? We were happy to have their stellar za’atar fried chicken, although since I was staying with friends, we had to share it with their kids. Which is why I’ve never had kids.

Federal Donuts

This time, I arrived around lunchtime and headed straight over there. I ended up with a big box of donuts, because I wanted to see what the fuss was all about. Turns out, everyone had been right – these are great donuts. And that’s coming from someone that likes donuts just fine, but doesn’t crave them. Thanks for FedNuts, as it’s called, now I do.

Favorites were the Tres Leches and Churro donuts, with the T.L. coming squarely in first, although the Blueberry Pancake donuts surprised me by tasting just like a stack of fresh-from-the-skillet blueberry pancakes. If you can’t make it to Philadelphia, they’ve got a cookbook in the works.

Federal donuts fried chicken

I know you’re not supposed to have dessert first, or so they say, but it was hard not to bite into the donuts which came out before we got our fried chicken. I’ve probably said this before, but I’ll say it again (which is more than I can say about defending the Fahrenheit system) – Fried chicken is my favorite food in the world.

Yes, I like raspberries, espresso, pink grapefruit, plums, dark chocolate, butternut squash, and arugula, all foods in the “healthy” category. So until someone moves fried chicken there, I only reserve it for special occasions. And a trip to Federal Donuts was one of them.

Their fried chicken come in different varieties. The best, imho, is the za’atar fried chicken, generously seasoned with the Middle Eastern herb/spice blend. I still remembered it from last year, it was that good. Coconut curry was a close second, but the glazed chilli-garlic, a take on the Korean fried chicken that we all know and love, gets fried to a crisp, then is slathered with a sticky, spicy glaze. It was a treat, for sure, and I am glad – and concerned – that this place is only a $14 bus ride away. Because now I know that it’s too easy to get to from New York. Zut.

Amaro cocktail

The other reason I came down, in addition to getting my fill of donuts and poulet pané – although with all the other Anglo food trends that have hit Paris in the last few years, from fish & chips and hamburgers, to meatballs (where the staff wear shirts that say “eat my balls,” in English), caramel corn and Texas bbq, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a fried chicken joint spring up in one of the trendy neighborhoods – was to attend an Amaro tasting led by Brad Thomas Parsons. I’d made the Black Manhattan from his new book, Amaro: The Spirited World of Bittersweet, Herbal Liqueurs, and he was doing a talk and tasting just across the street, at Abe Fisher restaurant.

Amaro Tasting

It was the last stop on his Amaro Never Knows tour and I arrived with my friend Lani to find a dozen different amari lined up to taste. Each one was distinctly different, some were luscious and herbaceous, others were medicinal (which was likely their intended purpose; to aid digestion) and tougher to sip.

Abe Fisher cocktail

But like the big swig I took from my the bottle of Jack Daniel’s I found in my parent’s liquor cabinet when I was eleven years old, which my pre-teen esophagus wasn’t used to, some of these amari are best appreciated diluted, in cocktails.

Abe Fisher cocktails

My favorite was the first one I tasted, Yesterday, Today, and Amaro, a suave blend of Cynar, averna, and rye, which was shaken and stirred up under the guidance of beverage manager Brian Kane. It’s appearance was similar to the Toronto cocktail, and it packed the same wallop.

There were amari from Italy, of course, as well as Switzerland, the most forceful of all that we tasted, Germany, and even three from the United States, made in the Napa Valley, Brooklyn, and South Carolina.

Me and Brad Parsons

A nap was needed, so I went back to my friend’s house, ticking one of the places that I’ve been urged to visit, off my list. But before I left, I got a shot of me with Brad. Unfortunately the button under my sweater popped out, making me look like I was 8 1/2 months pregnant. Or was that the donuts? (I thought I cropped it out but looking at it now, I still see a little bump.) And my ill-fitting $19.60 sweater that was 30% off from Old Navy bunched up, so it looked like I had a dislocated shoulder. Still, it’s proof that we were both still standing after the guided amaro and cocktail tasting.

An amaro-fueled dinner was planned at Abe Fisher later that night, a restaurant owned by Michael Solomonov of Zahav, one of my favorite restaurants anywhere, with food by Yehuda Sichel, who was the chef at Zahav before taking the helm here, creating what they call “pays homage to centuries of tradition” of Jewish cooking, spanning from France and Spain, to Hungarian, Chinatown-style duck accompanied by pretzel buns, schmaltz rice, and lekvar hoisin sauce.

Chef Yehuda Sichel of Abe Fisher

My extra-wide collar seemed to be the butt of jokes around the dinner table, and I had my picture taken with chef Sichel earlier in the day (Note to self: If you’re going to be photographed alongside someone who does CrossFit, make sure it’s just from the neck up), the conversation around the table quickly turned to the food – and drinks – once the plates started landing on the table. (But not before turning up my collar and doing a Mr. Spock impersonation.)

Chopped liver

Chef Sichel was kind enough to send out a platter of ‘Jewshi,” cured salmon and fish tartar packed into leaves of Belgian endive and chicken liver mousse with pastrami-onion ham and housemade Jewish rye (I also had to explain caraway seeds to Romain the week before), along with a stellar plate of sweet potatoes with Boursin and smoked walnuts.

sweet potatoes

Foie Gras and raisin bagel

There was also a riff on the French classic, foie gras torchon (even though foie gras is technically Egyptian) served with homemade mini cinnamon-raisin bagels. It was the best use for the much-maligned cinnamon-raisin bagel I’ve ever had.


The runner-up for the best dish of the night was the veal schnitzel tacos with anchovy mayonnaise and health salad, sometimes called Kosher coleslaw. (Abe Fisher isn’t a kosher restaurant, as evidenced by the corned pork belly reuben sandwich, a witty take on the non-kosher classic.)

smoked meat

The centerpiece came out, and it was a doozy: Montreal smoked short ribs, which we’d ordered for the table. Out came a giant bone-in rack of ribs, which was first presented to us on a platter, then brought back to the kitchen to be cut into slices, so we could eat it most politely. Although to be honest, my tablemates and I would have been happy to chow down on the extremely tender, pepper-spiced beef, right off the giant bones.

smoked meat

Thankfully a few sips of amaro did the trick and I slept soundly. The next morning my friend Lani and her husband Paul, friends who own Context Travel (who’ve been around the world twice on a sailboat with their daughters, each trip a several year journey – and yes, I’ve been urged to join them for part of it, which was another very difficult invitation to turn down), took me to South Philadelphia, the Italian-American quarter known as the 9th Street Italian Market. Last time I was in town, they took me to the Reading Terminal Market, but it was fun to stroll down 9th Street and see some of the shops and food stalls.


There’s a lot to see, and eat, on that street, including Italian cheese shops, a great kitchenware emporium, the famed pork sandwiches with provolone and broccoli raab, tomato pie, and even an excellent Mexican restaurant, Blue Corn, where we finished the morning with pork pibil tacos. They offer a Belly of Philly tour, if you’re in town and want a guided visit. We made little video there, which didn’t feature tomato pie (there was a ten minute wait, which is a long time to fill on live video) but the pork sandwich made an appearance, then was quickly gone afterward.


Related Links

Federal Donuts

Abe Fischer

Context Travel

French Fried Chicken recipe

Federal Donuts Fried Chicken (Good Morning America)

Zahav Cookbook (Amazon)

Chile Garlic Fried Chicken (Tasting Table)

How Federal Donuts Turned Philly into a Fried Chicken Destination (Eater)


Note: We were guests of Abe Fisher restaurant. I paid for the pork sandwich shown in the video, even though it looks like my friend Paul did because I gave him the money before we shot the video, which I didn’t realize looked funny until an astute viewer remarked, “You took his change!”


    • nadia@maisontravers

    OMG! That za’atar fried chicken sounds like heaven. I am waiting for you to post a recipe as it is unlikely I will find that kind of goodness in rural France.

    • Lani Bevacqua

    Love all of this, David. It was such fun to have you visit. (Except for when the kids ate our fried chicken.) That was horrid.

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      Yes, I couldn’t believe they did that.

      On the other hand, how could you (or we) blame them?

    • Cindy G.

    There’s a lot of amazing food crammed into this post; I feel a little woozy. From your tasting, what would be a luscious, herbaceous amaro to buy?

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      It was hard to say (we tasted 13!) but I did like the Cappelletti Amaro Sfumato Rabararo which was a medium-bodied one. Some amari are quite light and others are very (very) strong and even a bit funky, as Brad says. Ramazzotti is a good all-around amaro that’s usually widely available, as is Averna.

      (For those not used to drinking Amaro, it can be drunk over ice with or without a twist, as a before or after dinner drink.)

    • MD Smith

    Ha! What a surprise it would be to step onto a Bolt Bus and sit next to YOU!

    • Beth

    FedNuts is one of our faves, I get za’atar chicken every. single. time. Last time I had a lavender doughnut that was insane. The chicken sandwich is also good (my 12-year-old son’s favorite – he’s not allowed to eat my chicken ;).

    • Laura

    Snort. “…we had to share it with their kids. Which is why I’ve never had kids.”

    Us people with kids, maybe sometimes hide the good stuff down under the frozen chickens or behind the lentils and prunes. We also maybe secretly eat it behind locked doors, furtively hovering over the deepfreeze with a sneaked spoonful. Maybe.

    • jana

    Don’t you think it’s time to do an event in Philly? Would love to meet you, even fleetingly.

    • sacha

    I live in philly, or just outside, and it’s still hard to get there in time for a donut! You do live a charmed life (by your own design, and it’s marvelous)

    • Jake Sterling

    Okay, clearly there is no reason to live in Boston.

    • Esmee

    I’ve got to tell you, throughout the miserable last year that I spent engulfed by the US elections, Lee Camp and you were my only sources of a smile. But to add further insult to injury, cannot believe I spent 5 damned days in Philadelphia at the July hideous convention and missed every one of these gems. Well, I really did need a reason to go back to Philly. Thanks always for your humor and your appetite and your wonderful inspirational blog. I’m still working on Chestnut honey for biscotti (today!). v

    • Emilie

    Heading toward health(ier) fried chicken. History: Husband and father who had to limit fatty foods (gall bladder, not weight) and a crazy local cookbook author named George Herter (Bull Cook Book). Much chicken fat is between the skin and meat, AND skin seems to absorb fat when it’s fried. Herter: Because of the men in my life, I just removed all skin from every chicken dish and as long as they didn’t over indulge, my guys were indigestion- and burp-free. Kick it around a bit and I think you’ll convert.

    • theWinesketcher

    Love it, however you left Seattle off that list at the beginning, come on out and visit.

    • Bricktop

    I would kill lesser members of my family for an Italian Pork sub right now!

    • Les

    Toronto?? Seriously? Montreal I could understand….

      • marilyndietitian

      Yes…another vote for David to come to Montreal!

      • Dena

      Hey! Toronto has a lot to recommend it. Pleeease come to Toronto Daveeed!!! I want to see my home town immortalized on your blog. Also, I know I live here, but something tells me after you come here I will know better where to eat.

    • m. mast

    Just laughed so hard about your quips on being photographed. Love that you don’t take yourself so seriously. You look great, by the way. The zatar chicken sounds amazing. I never miss your blog. It’s the best.

    • italian girl cooks

    A lot going on in this post…Zatar, yum, cake donuts, my favorite.

    • Lisa Barr

    The next time you are in Philadelphia, I would encourage you to try Philly Bread, Pete’s mom is a friend, and she is so proud of her son’s success.

    • Katy

    David, you crack me up. You look just fine, rumpled sweater and all. Merry Christmas.

    • Daria

    The sweet potato dish sounds wonderful. Are they just roasted? Any spices on them?

    • Naomi

    I’m reconsidering doughnuts now, even fried chicken despite my pescatarian bent. I have one quibble: New Orleans is not among your urges? Get down here! You’ll love it, really! I think the Southern Food and Beverage Museum (with the Museum of the Cocktail inside) should arrange a talk by you. Or maybe Tales of the Cocktails next year. Please?

    • Philly Food Lover

    Next time you are in Philly, you must try Capogiro gelato. Even better than any gelato I have ever had in Italy, seriously. Also, go to Cannuli Brothers in the 9th St Italian Market and have Mr. Charlie cut some amazing veal for you.

    • Lisa

    David, You always look fabulous. Love every observation you make. The mind of one great chef~. Thank you!

    • Brad Wilson

    David, I saw a photo of you at George’s sandwich stand on 9th St. Did you have the tripe sandwich?

    • Thor Iverson

    It was great (and unexpected) to see you, David. Glad you enjoyed yourself.

    • Estelle

    So glad to read you had a great time in Philadelphia, I took my mom to Federal Donuts last week and we both enjoyed the strawberry cheesecake donut (which we split!)

    Next time you are in Philly, I recommend you try PS & Co off Rittenhouse Square, which is a vegan, gluten-free bakery whose nut-based cakes are seriously better tasting than most cakes I have had. And since you like chocolate, a cup of bean-to-cup drinking chocolate is in order at Sazon, the city’s only Venezuelan restaurant. I recently wrote about the drink for Edible Philly magazine ( and I hope more people will check out this unassuming place in the Northern Liberties.

    Happy holidays!

    • Nickyroo

    If you ever do go to Bulgaria, Wild Thyme Farm is a great place to stay. In fact it would be a great place to write a book. ( Be warned though, the last people I recommended this place to ended up buying a house just round the corner!

    • Kim B.

    I hope this comes across correctly — I had been away from your blog for a while (for no good reason!) and came back today spurred by your newsletter (so kind of you to send it on New Year’s Day to give us something to enjoy on this slow day!) . . and realized I had forgotten how great and funny your writing is, and how excellent your photography. You really do have exceptional talent! Congrats on turning in your book manuscript, and here’s to a wonderful 2017.


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