I recently had a craving for a doughnut. But I was not looking for the kind of generic, mass-produced doughnut that you usually get in a supermarket, a convenience store, or even one of the national doughnut shop chains. I wanted a fresh specialty gourmet doughnut. The kind you can only get in a local bakery or restaurant. During its recent “Dozen Weeks of Doughnuts Contest,” The Washington Post named the Crème Brûlée doughnut, the signature treat at Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken, the best in the city. Astro actually had two of the top three doughnuts in D.C., with its Peanut Butter and Jelly version coming in third place. So with two of the top three doughnuts in the city, Astro seemed like the place to go to satisfy my craving. It also seemed like a good choice for my traditional end-of-the-month restaurant review for the month of October.
Part of Metro Center in northwest D.C.’s Downtown neighborhood, Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken is conveniently located at 1308 G Street (MAP), across the street from the Church of the Epiphany, and just a little over a block away from the White House. Opened just last year by longtime friends and native Washingtonians Elliot Spaisman and Jeff Halpern, they were inspired to open the shop by their longstanding tradition of enjoying a doughnut after playing hockey together.
Halpern went on to become a professional hockey player, and was the first native Washingtonian to play for the Washington Capitals of the National Hockey League (NHL). Currently an unrestricted free agent, Halpern has also played in the NHL for the Dallas Stars, Tampa Bay Lightning, Los Angeles Kings, New York Rangers, Montreal Canadiens and most recently, the Phoenix Coyotes. However, despite a successful career in sports, he may be better known in the long run for doughnuts if the ones I’ve tried are an indicator.
The creative force behind the doughnuts at Astro is Chef Jason Gehring, who has cooked in kitchens ranging from D.C.’s own Fiola and Poste to Baltimore’s Charleston and New York City’s famous Payard Bakery. Utilizing seasonal fruit and produce from local farmers, and high-end ingredients, the standard flavors each day include the Crème Brûlée and PB&J, along with Maple Bacon and Vanilla Bean Glaze. There are also various flavors that rotate onto the menu, depending on the season and availability of fresh ingredients. They include Piña Colada, Carrot Cake, Pink Grapefruit, Creamsicle, Banana Nut, Applesauce, Coconut Cake, Passionfruit Berry, Salted Caramel, Pistachio, Pumpkin Latte, and one called Brooklyn Blackout, which is devil’s food cake with chocolate glaze and cookie crumbs.
My favorite by far, however, is the one I had on this bike ride, the Key Lime Pie doughnut. It was actually the best doughnut I’ve ever eaten. Dense and moist, it was deliciously tart, with a strip of candied lime to top it off. The taste was spot on to the legendary dessert, making it easy to imagine being transported to southern Florida and having breakfast with the Key West locals, or as they’re called there, “conchs.”
And the chicken at Astro is almost as good as the doughnuts, which is saying a lot. The classic fried chicken is tender, succulent and flavorful, with just the right amount of crunchiness and seasoning. They also offer a variety of flavors and different kinds of chicken, from the Sriracha or spicy garlic chicken wings, to the Old Bay or Buffalo chicken sandwiches, they are all good enough to cause making a decision to be difficult.
Like several other restaurants I have reviewed here on this blog in the past, Astro has no seating and are a business only. And if I had to come up with a criticism of Astro, it would be that different doughnuts and kinds of chicken are only available on certain days. Also, there is a potential for them to run out of certain menu items, particularly the most popular choices. But these are first-world problems which are easily remedied if you follow my advice, which is, “Definitely go there, know what you want, and the earlier you get there the better.”