Swap the Mormon Bible for a spatula and the short-sleeve shirt for chef’s whites, and you could call them gastronomic missionaries. In the years since Michael Cesari tapped Corey Cova to helm Lilliputian palace of excess Earl’s Beer & Cheese, the Vinyl Wine owner and his partners have helped to herald a sort of rallying cry for East Harlem dining that now includes ABV Wine Bar and petite cocktail haven the Guthrie Inn. Last week, the team opened their neighborhood doughnut and coffee shop, Dough Loco.
As with their other establishments, Cova sees Dough Loco as filling a niche for his neighbors (until recently, the chef lived in the building that houses ABV). “There really isn’t a place to get a decent cup of coffee around here,” he says, adding that the seed for Dough Loco was planted after Cesari returned from a trip to South America with a newfound passion for the stimulating beans. Doughnuts were a natural pairing, made even more alluring when compounded with Cova’s knack for clever flavor combinations. This is, after all, the man who created the foie gras fluffernutter and used to end meals at ABV with a scoop of asparagus ice cream.
As it turns out, the California native has a history with the deep-fried dessert. “My uncle owned a coffee shop, so I would eat them there, and my grandfather would get them for me and my brothers every time we saw him,” he says. “I always ate a maple bar.” That love affair has stood the test of time. The shop is launching with a miso-maple glazed number dotted with pebbles of maple sugar; blueberry-lime and pineapple with brown butter also showcase the whimsy at play. The standard glazed and chocolate-glazed doughnuts are on offer, but the CIA grad called on fellow alumnus Bryan Graham to supply 70 percent dark Peruvian chocolate slabs from his company, Fruition Chocolate, after meeting at the West Village salt, bitters, and chocolate emporium The Meadow. Fruition chocolate bars will also be available for purchase in the shop.
Cesari and Cova turned to Kickstarter, raising $7,606 (more than their $7,000 goal) to purchase equipment, enticing backers with doughnuts, T-shirts, and the opportunity to create a flavor. The result of that cooperative effort is a blood orange glazed doughnut that was spun off backer Janet McKechnie’s suggestion of an Italian-inspired doughnut—talk about sweet rewards.
For now, Dough Loco is launching with yeast-raised doughnuts, and true to form, these are airy and slightly chewy rounds, the exterior still a little moist. Cake and old-fashioned doughnuts will come at “some point down the line,” and a taste of the custard-filled doughnuts from London’s St. John restaurant has the chef aching to produce his own spin on the style. The crew’s immediate obstacle is to get things running smoothly, but as with at Earl’s and ABV, just when Cova gets in his comfort zone, he intentionally mixes things up. Although they’re a few months behind schedule and several dollars over budget, eventually patrons can expect to see ice cream, and possibly baked doughnuts. “It won’t be super-healthy, but maybe it’s not fried,” he says.
Aside from ABV on Lexington Avenue, the rest of the group’s establishments all occupy hole-in-the-wall spaces on a stretch of Park Avenue between 97th and 98th streets, and like its neighbors, Dough Loco won’t seat very many people (nine), though in the future it may offer that bane of corporate coffee shop culture, Wi-Fi. They’ve gone in a decidedly non-corporate direction in choosing to brew beans from persnickety roasters Blue Bottle Coffee. Cova and his staff learned the many intricate steps required to make coffee to Blue Bottle’s specifications during an orientation at the company’s Brooklyn atelier. Is Spanish Harlem ready for artisanal café con leche?
With ABV set to undergo a menu revamp, Cova has a lot on his plate, but if he seems particularly invested in Dough Loco, it’s because he is. Of the four ventures he’s opened with Cesari, this is the first time he’ll be an investor. And it gets more personal: The chef’s girlfriend, Kelly Sudol, will be a barista, and Cova has hung some of his artwork in the shop. “That’s the first thing I’ve ever painted,” he said. Well, aside from glazing doughnuts.