For all the Detroit foodies hungry for a food adventure, try as many Dilla’s Delights doughnut flavors as you can in a single day. These doughnuts are a common denominator that tie together some of Detroit’s neighborhoods.
In Midtown, home to the erudite Detroit Institute of Arts and Wayne State University, doughnuts are found at Alley Taco, part convenience store and Mexican food stand, and Goodwell’s Market, the local organic grocery store where live music and chess games are played for those who arrive at the right time. Make the trip to Corktown, named one of the Best Food Neighborhoods in America by Thrillist.com, and buy a doughnut from Rubbed, where sandwiches and charcuterie are equally delicious. End the journey with doughnuts from 1515 Broadway, part cafe and theater, located in the heart of downtown Detroit.
Their broccoli-cheddar doughnuts change the game. Each bite into the brioche dough shows what a doughnut can be. The best part is the cheddar clustered in the doughnut’s middle. When Dilla’s Delights opens its storefront, around spring-summer 2015, downtown on 242 John R. Street, the CEO and head baker Herman Hayes plans to expand his line of savory doughnuts to include Rosemary-Potato and Fennel-Leek-and-Basil. Herman’s gift for flavor profiles was honed when he worked at Detroit’s Avalon Bakery, where everyone loved his quiche cups.
Avalon Bakery influenced Herman’s approach by teaching him the importance of using organic flour and the danger of preservatives, which are believed to be cancer-causing agents. He also uses rice bran oil, which has great flavor, a high smoke point and is the reason his cake doughnuts are as soft as pillows.
Herman’s culinary mind comes into play in subtle ways. Part of being a chef is eliminating food waste and getting the most out of every ingredient. His Fantastic Fritter, flavored with dried cranberries, orange zest and cinnamon, is made of scrap dough that cannot make a donut ring. His whiskey-glaze bread pudding is made from day-old donuts.
As the uncle of J.Dilla, Herman is known around Detroit as Herm or Uncle Herm. And J.Dilla is the legendary record producer and rapper who created beats for the likes of The Roots, A Tribe Called Quest and Erykah Badu. Herman named his company Dilla’s Delights because he considers Dilla’s daughters, now ages 13 and 14, to be the delights of J.Dilla’s life.
“Making doughnuts is something I can do for the rest of my life,” said Herman. “It is something my kids, grandkids and Dilla’s kids have to build their life on. Naturally, you go into business for profit, but at the same time, this is spiritual because we have to protect J.Dilla’s legacy in a positive manner. I was surprised his last album was called Donuts. It was an honor. This guy was dying of lupus and he wanted to finish this album on his deathbed. Who wants to make an album when you are in that much pain? My sister had to massage his hands for two hours so he could work that player for 30 minutes.”
Herman names his creations based on hip-hop and Detroit locations. He wants to create jobs and teach the artisan way of doughnut making.
“I’ve done my research and went to Portland and Seattle,” Herman said. “They are selling doughnuts for $4. It will take Detroit a minute to accept a $2 doughnut. This is a 50 cent doughnut town and it always has been. They have to accept. I can almost guarantee there is another specialty doughnut shop coming behind me. I will be happy because I will be a trendsetter and I will keep my game up.”
All photos by Nick Hagen.