The Doughnut Vault is one of Chicago’s better kept (speciality coffee) secrets. Put onto it by my friend Phillip, it was touted as the source of the best doughnuts in Chicago, Phillip recommended the Franklin Street location, a small (almost) hole-in-the-wall operation in River North around the corner from my hotel, which Amanda and I visited during our “polar vortex” trip to Chicago. It was only while we were there that the server pointed us towards the Canal Street branch across the river.
Given the aforementioned polar vortex, we didn’t venture out much, so couldn’t get to Canal Street on that visit. However, I returned the next time I was in Chicago, first with Amanda on Monday morning and again on my own on Wednesday lunchtime. As we discovered, Canal Street is somewhat bigger, best described as a “proper coffee shop”, serving, espresso, batch-brew and, of course, the aforementioned doughnuts.
A word of warning, though: the doughnuts sell out quickly. Best be there before nine o’clock if you want to be sure of getting one!
You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.
The Doughnut Vault is inside the River Center, a squat, rectangular tower block/office building occupying the block between Randolph and Washington Streets, opposite the Ogilvie Transport Center, one of Metra’s four terminus stations. Despite an address of 111 Canal Street, the best entrance is on Randolph Street, although you can get to the Doughnut Vault through any of the three main street entrances (Randolph/Canal/Washington), each leading to a long corridor which converge in the centre of the building. The Doughnut Vault is on the eastern side of the northern corridor (on the left, entering from Randolph Street).
It’s a pretty simple set-up, an open-fronted, roughly square windowless space with a gorgeous chandelier hanging down from the centre of the ceiling. Four armchairs cluster under this around a small, round coffee table, while there are two octagonal two-person tables between them and the counter and two more against the left-hand wall. This also contains a large, painted menu, while the right-hand wall has a takeaway station and what looks like massive, sliding steel doors. Finally, at the back, there’s the counter, with the doughnuts (when there are any) in the centre, an old-fashioned till to the left, and the La Marzocco GB5 espresso machine to the right. You can also take your coffee and sit at one of the handful of octagonal tables out in the corridor or in the central lobby to the left.
The Doughnut Vault is part of the same restaurant group as Sawada Coffee, home of renowned barista Hiroshi Sawada, located six blocks over in the West Loop. They both share the same roaster, Metropolis, the Doughnut Vault using Sawada’s Project X blend on espresso and batch-brew (conversely, you can get Doughnut Vault doughnuts at Sawada).
Doughnut Vault serves a cut-down espresso-based menu which Amanda and I tried on our Monday visit, Amanda opting for a cappuccino, while I had a cortado. Project X is a strong, rich coffee, with classic chocolate notes, which goes really well with milk. In the cappuccino, it came across as milder, the balance of coffee/milk tipped towards milk, which is much more Amanda’s preference, so we both chose well! Intrigued by the coffee, I had an espresso on my return on Wednesday lunchtime, finding it to be an old school espresso (in a good way), well balanced, with plenty of body and a lovely, syrupy mouthfeel.
If you’re curious about the doughnuts, Amanda and I tried them at the Franklin Street Doughnut Vault in January. Check it out to see what we made of them.
|111 NORTH CANAL STREET • CHICAGO • IL 60606 • USA|
|Monday||07:00 – 15:00||Roaster||Metropolis (espresso + batch-brew)|
|Tuesday||07:00 – 15:00||Seating||Tables|
|Wednesday||07:00 – 15:00||Food||Doughnuts!|
|Thursday||07:00 – 15:00||Service||Counter|
|Friday||07:00 – 15:00||Payment||Cards + Cash|
|Chain||Local||Visits||6th, 8th May 2019|
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