There are numerous food pairings in this world that are just meant to be: bacon and eggs, spaghetti and meatballs, milk and cookies — iconic classics that just live harmoniously together. So when the notable East Coast eatery Astro Doughnuts and Fried Chicken brought its slightly unorthodox coupling to Los Angeles for the opening of its first West Coast store, it turned more than just the sophisticated noses of classy Californian diners.
Heading into its newly opened store on Sixth and Olive in Downtown Los Angeles, I was a little skeptical as to how this unusual pairing of foods would work. The physical store itself is modest in its setup, and with seating for only around 20 diners, tends to cater to more of a carry-out crowd. Upon walking through the front doors though, I was violently smacked in the face by an incredible aroma. The mouth-wateringly salty and fatty smell of fried chicken combined with the sweet, sugary scents of freshly fried doughnuts invaded my nostrils in a teasingly seductive manner. It was from this moment that I saw the possibility of becoming a believer in this unexpected food team.
Co-founder Elliot Spaisman explains the logic behind bringing these two classic comfort foods together. “Jeff [Halpern, Astro's other co-founder] and I were inspired by a fond childhood memory to offer a fun interpretation on our two comfort food favorites,” Spaisman says. “Astro is a childhood dream realized for us. Customers love our food because we take two all-American classics and put a creative spin on them, using fresh, locally-sourced ingredients.”
It’s this dedication to serving true childhood comfort food in a creative, grown up way that defines the Astro experience. The menu here is simple. Fried chicken is served in numerous forms, and while chicken sandwiches and fingers are offered, it’s the bone-in chicken that comes through as the clear winner. The chicken is brined for 24 hours and is tender and juicy as a result. Sinking your teeth into the golden crispy pieces, you’re given that wonderfully firm crunch you hope for, but it’s then also followed by a wonderfully moist and flavorful bite. It’s pleasantly surprising in its assuaging flavor, which results in tearing off every inch of that satisfyingly salty meat from the bone, not wanting to leave any behind.
Accompanying sides of crispy tater tots, a surprisingly flavorsome Cheddar biscuit, and kimchi coleslaw are available, with the latter, while technically capable, not really providing the refreshing relief from the heaviness of the fried items that I would have appreciated. It’s an unusual menu choice. It’s easy to get bogged down in the expected greasiness of fried foods, so a lighter, more contrasting side, such as a more traditional coleslaw would have been welcomed.
But DTLA #foodies will be the ones ridiculously overjoyed at the sight of the sweeter half of Astro’s pairing. It’s the doughnuts that have drawn nationwide acclaim, topping the “Best Doughnuts” lists of many publications. Its famous Crème Brûlée doughnut, freshly flame torched, presents all the satisfying elements of the desert: the audible crunch of shattering a shiny caramelized topping, and a beautifully silky smooth vanilla custard. Its PB&J continues the childhood theme. “We source the finest strawberries and simmer them at peak ripeness to make our homemade strawberry jelly, so the fruit filling always tastes fresh,” Spaisman explains. The doughnuts aren’t heavy at all, despite being loaded with such intense flavors. “In all of our doughnuts, we use a proprietary recipe that we’ve honed over time to get the right balance of yeast in our dough that makes the doughnuts light and fluffy.”
Additional seasonal flavored doughnuts are also added to the menu each month, based upon the fresh fruit and produce available from local sources. For example, May’s flavors include Apricot Lavender, with a fresh apricot compote filling and lavender glaze; Fruity Berry, a strawberry and raspberry glaze with Froot Loops cereal crumble; and Orange Creamsicle Pistachio, with orange vanilla cream filling and a tart orange glaze dusted with toasted chopped pistachios. The standout for me, though, was the Black Forest Cake — the rich dark chocolate cake doughnut contrasted delightfully with the tartness of the cherry glaze and morello cherry compote for a satisfyingly decadent bite.
It’s easy to understand the hype surrounding Astro, and after biting into its creative doughnut concoctions, I can also see how they can sell one thousand doughnuts a day. It’s a scarily addictive comfort food escape, and its rotating menu will have you wanting to come back for more, all in the name of doughnut discovery. I confess, I was a cynic at first, but this unconventional marriage of doughnuts and fried chicken has converted me — and I’m all for the celebration of the return to childhood bliss that Astro brings.