Clockwise from top left: Steven and Sara Loevy; Carl and Lewis Segal; Nate Loevy; Ben and Lucy Segal
Do you love doughnuts? Of course you do. You have waited in line at the Doughnut Vault—or you’ve been meaning to, anyway. But do you approach a doughnut intellectually? Analyze its properties with toothpicks and straws and paper towels for no reason other than curiosity? Do you excavate it like a paleontologist searching for clues that will reveal truths about not only the doughnut but also its place in the universe? Or do you just eat the damn thing and reach for another?
Even if you’re psyched about Chicago’s doughnut resurgence, you don’t really love doughnuts. At least not with the passion of the Segal-Loevy family, a multigenerational crew dispersed from Highland Park to Hyde Park that has spent years in search of the perfect fried dough, debating such things as “mouth coating” and “springback.” The biggest rift dividing the family involves napoleons versus éclairs. Don’t get them started on bismarcks.
But Sara Segal Loevy and her husband, Steven, along with their son, Nate, and Sara’s brother, Lewis Segal, his son, Carl, and Carl’s kids, Ben and Lucy, share common (and stringent) standards for an acceptable cake doughnut: a ganache-type coating, a slightly crispy brown exterior, a tender interior, no greasy aftermath on your palate, and, of course, a pleasant taste. In the Segal-Loevy universe, sprinkles are Beelzebub’s souvenirs, and the gold standard for cake doughnuts is the chocolate frosted from Leonard’s in Northbrook (“right frosting-to-doughnut ratio”. . . “beautiful crumb”). Close behind is the chocolate frosted at Weber’s Bakery in Garfield Ridge. On the yeast side, the group favors the buttermilk glazed from Dat Donut on Cottage Grove Avenue and Nightwood’s occasional glazed butterscotch with bacon crumbles. Some members of the family admit—through gritted teeth after paying $36 for a dozen—that the Doughnut Vault’s glazed is a powerhouse. All agree that the hulking apple fritter from Old Fashioned Donuts in Roseland is perhaps the best way to spend $2 in Chicago.
The Segal-Loevys habitually break their doughnuts in half and search near the bottom for a dark grease reservoir that they call the “cambium layer,” an indication that the pastry has been fried in old oil. If a doughnut carries that tragic flaw, they will eat it, but they will not respect it. In fact, they lobotomize each specimen so ruthlessly that you begin to feel sorry for them. The doughnuts, that is. One might be tempted to say this family has too much time on their hands, if not for the fact that each member is ridiculously accomplished. Lewis is a radiologist at Northwestern Memorial. Carl: a senior VP at Potbelly Sandwich Works. Sara and Steve run their own consulting group, and Nate is a general contractor. Even Lucy, at ten, is so dedicated to pastry that Mindy Segal (no relation) has promised the youngster a position at her dessert nirvana, HotChocolate. You know, once they change the child labor laws.
The doughnut fixation did not happen by accident. During his travels around the Rust Belt, Lucy’s great-grandfather, a used-machinery dealer named Carl F. Segal, learned that the first place open in the morning was the bakery. A love affair began to sizzle. On car trips, he instructed his kids to keep their eyes peeled for signs advertising Spudnuts, hallowed doughnuts made with potato flour. In Chicago, he ate breakfast every morning in a gas station on the corner of Clinton and Monroe Streets, a spot where doughnuts were stacked under a greasy glass cover. Sara and Lewis were never allowed to tell Mom they’d eaten there.
If, in fact, Chicago is having a doughnut moment in 2011, you’d think the Segal-Loevys would be in heaven. But their whole lives have been one big doughnut moment, and they’ve always been happy to discuss the subject with anyone willing to listen. Finally, we’re all ears.
Photography: Lisa Predko; Photo Assistants: Sarah Crump and Joanna Patterson