Joe Dough review

Dan McGuirt's Joe Dough pop-up has graduated into a diner in Darlinghurst.
Dan McGuirt's Joe Dough pop-up has graduated into a diner in Darlinghurst.  Photo: Will Reichelt

4 106-110 Darlinghurst Rd Darlinghurst, NSW 2010

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Opening hours Tue-Fri 1pm-9pm; Sat 10am-9pm
Features Breakfast-brunch
Payments eftpos, Cash, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 0402 183 134

Dan McGuirt used to wake up shockingly early to make doughnuts. For his Joe Dough pop-up at the Queen Victoria Building's Jet Cafe last year, he was prepping and baking from 1am to ensure just-glazed doughnuts would be ready for the morning rush. But, unlike in the US, where eating doughnuts for breakfast really is a thing, Australians preferred to stick to muesli and Vegemite on toast. Turns out, we don't start eating doughnuts until much later in the day. A lot later. McGuirt didn't need to get up so crushingly early after all.

It's a lesson he's learnt for the permanent Joe Dough shop, which opened recently in Darlinghurst. He now starts at 10am, ensuring the first choc-coated or strawberry-filled pastries are ready by 1pm, when Joe Dough opens. (Unfortunately, he still battles the alarm clock on Saturdays, when the shop opens at 8am.)

It took Dan McGuirt months of practising to make doughnuts he considered were the real deal.
It took Dan McGuirt months of practising to make doughnuts he considered were the real deal. Photo: Will Reichelt

For McGuirt – who previously ran Jazz City Diner and Jazz City Barbecue – perfecting doughnuts has been a long experiment. It began in 2015, when he considered opening a coffee cart at Jazz City Barbecue in Surry Hills. To go with the caffeine hit, McGuirt thought he could easily recreate the American-style doughnuts he enjoyed as a kid in Michigan.

"I thought, me being a chef, 'how difficult could it be to make a doughnut?' It's just flour, sugar and yeast. But I'd make a batch, take one bite and then just throw the whole batch away, because it just wasn't right." They weren't like the ones from home. His experimenting went on for four months.

One day, he hit the jackpot, and successfully proofed and fried a doughnut that channelled the ones he'd trudge through snow to get in his home town. "But once I got it, I couldn't do it again." It took another three months of variations before he consistently had success. "That was the process of learning to make a doughnut that is a proper yeast-raised doughnut."

Glossy chocolate doughnuts.
Glossy chocolate doughnuts. Photo: Will Reichelt

The pay-off is in each bite of Joe Dough's doughnuts. They're dangerously light and airy – so they're almost too easy to eat. They're not at all like those cakey extravaganzas you see, with their crazy pile-on of toppings. A vanilla-glazed version has that just-right balance of keeping its flavours understated while still sneaking in an undeniable junk-food hit.

The strawberry one is a highlight and full of sweet, fruity intensity – it's like a jam jar reincarnated in doughnut form.

The range varies from a roasted chestnut special to chocolate and pistachio. There are "doughpucks", smaller versions that are like inverted doughnut holes, as well as Long Johns – eclair-like doughnuts that McGuirt grew up with.

The "it" treat of cookie dough is made and ready to go.
The "it" treat of cookie dough is made and ready to go.  Photo: Will Reichelt

In case you missed the memo about Joe Dough's specialty, there are doughnut-shaped seats inside and plush doughnuts lining the walls. And McGuirt is often wearing doughnut-patterned clothing when behind the counter.

But Joe Dough also riffs on other dough products – and happens to sell the "it" food of the moment: cookie dough. In New York, one outlet – Dō – attracted two-hour-long lines when it opened. The website, Eater, declared recently that, "2017 is set to be the breakout year for edible cookie dough".

The dough is egg-free and the flour pasteurised, and the flavours evoke the best things you'd want to line a biscuit tray with: Oreo cookies and cream, a peanut butter version resembling Reese's Pieces and even a s'mores edition.

Joe Dough serves square-shaped burgers.
Joe Dough serves square-shaped burgers. Photo: Will Reichelt

Most people are drawn to Joe Dough's front counter – with its rainbow rows of doughnuts and tubs of confectionery-topped cookie dough – but it's worth exploring the rest of the store's dough-related menu.

The dining area is tiny – there are only a handful of tables, surrounded by red bar stools or doughnut-themed seating – but McGuirt's American dishes are a good showcase of his memories and past CV.

The burgers have the novelty of being square-shaped – just like the ones the chef ate from fast-food chains Wendy's and White Castle while growing up ­– but they trade on classic, pared-back flavours: each one is neatly packed with an angular stack of tomato, raw onion, American cheddar and lightly seasoned beef patty. (They're experimenting with a vegetarian version, too.)

Chicken is fried in leftover doughnut oil and served alongside biscuits and gravy.
Chicken is fried in leftover doughnut oil and served alongside biscuits and gravy. Photo: Will Reichelt

The fried chicken also trades on comfort and simplicity: served with home-style buttermilk biscuits and gravy, the chicken is cooked in leftover doughnut oil, which gives it a crisp lightness and subtle flavour boost. After something spicier? Try the chuck steak tamales cooked in a tomato-cumin broth.

Most dine-in visitors seem unaware of the savoury dishes, though – they're more preoccupied with the staff prepping doughnuts in the open kitchen, the massive replica of The Donut Chef book cover on the wall or their own plates of doughnuts. Perhaps it's because these hot dishes play a support role to the headlining desserts.

Of course, Joe Dough is a multitasking pun – and Joe refers to coffee ("cup of Joe"). In keeping with the theme, McGuirt serves American filter coffee. And while Australia has long held bragging rights on how great our espresso game is, the US has often been dismissed for its apparently bad coffee. But Joe Dough's version is good. And in demand.

American-style filter outsells espresso-based coffee at Joe Dough.
American-style filter outsells espresso-based coffee at Joe Dough. Photo: Will Reichelt

"We sell about four to one, American coffee to espresso," McGuirt says. "You get a bottomless cup, so you get free refills."

Unlike the dodgy kind that has been sitting around for hours, Joe Dough's is freshly made. And perfect for doughnuts. "There's nothing better than the aroma of the coffee when they pour it in the cup in front of you," McGuirt says. "That's just a unique experience."

Main Attraction: Classic American doughnuts (the kind you could imagine Chief Wiggum enjoying on The Simpsons) if you want something timeless, or cookie dough if you're seeking out 2017's "it" dessert.

Pro Tip: Ask for a selection of cookie dough, served in photogenic mini cones, for an Insta-worthy dish.

Go-to Dish: The strawberry doughnut – it has the right level of fruit-dense sweetness and still allows the yeasted doughnut to shine.