My last post was one of the more serious ones I’ve ever done. You might expect me to say that this one is not… but I don’t mess around with my junk food. See, I try to eat healthy most of the time. My normal diet is pretty clean, I actually pay attention to which nutrients I need and get, and I almost never eat fast food or drink anything other than water. So when I do indulge, it had sure better be good. I ain’t wastin’ my junk food eating on junk.
With that said, there is always an exploration vs exploitation tradeoff. In my quest to find the best, there must be some experiments along the way. If that experiment doesn’t result in something absolutely superb, then I will never waste my time or calories on it again. Mediocrity doesn’t cut it. Only the best.
The traditional KrispyBo
The early years
A few years ago an idea entered a young dreamer’s head (I’m talking about me here people… important topics require important-sounding writing). I’m not sure how or why exactly this idea came to me. Maybe it was because I was in the midst of training for my first Ironman and my mind subconsciously longed for simpler times, when my diet consisted of Cook Out, Krispy Kreme, Bojangles’, and those 24 packs of State Fair frozen corn dogs I could buy at Food Lion for $5. Or maybe it was because I went by the Dupont Circle Krispy Kreme nearly every day and got tired of seeing the same flavors every time.
But in any case, the idea was simple: take the filet out of a Bojangles’ cajun filet biscuit and put it between two Krispy Kreme doughnuts. The idea rooted itself deeply in my head. It was the grand reward for after the race (certainly a better prize than the backpacks Ironman gives, or the dinky little plaques given out as awards). When the race was delayed for two weeks due to a nor’easter, one of the first thoughts in my head was that that was two more weeks before I could create the KrispyBo.
But then the day came. October 19, 2015. The KrispyBo was born, with a traditional hot now doughnut on bottom and a salted caramel on top. It was everything I had imagined. The second one, a glazed raspberry filled with powdered sugar on top? Meh, gonna have to say it just wasn’t as good. And as mentioned earlier, mediocrity just won’t cut it.
So I had my first datapoint, and immediately began calculating my next creation, which would come after the 2016 Barkley Marathons. I of course first went back to the original: hot now with salted caramel. As mentioned earlier, this is exploration vs. exploitation, and I’m gonna exploit the heck out of that combo. The 2nd combo was white iced chocolate with glazed lemon filled. This one was a big win for research – the white iced chocolate was a solid base (but it’s not always available) while the lemon left something to be desired. My conclusion here was that the kreme / custard / syrup-like flavors were much better for KrispyBos than the fruit flavors. Exploration could now continue, but with a significantly reduced search space! I also developed the vegetarian-friendly BoKrispy, because clearly we don’t want to waste that delicious Bojangles’ biscuit that’s left over from the KrispyBos. It used a cinnamon apple filled doughnut in the biscuit. It was a solid choice, not a definite winner but I’d do it again if I had a taste for apple-filled that day.
A rise in popularity
The pattern continued for the two major races on my calendar each year: Barkley in the spring and an Ironman in the fall. I even introduced officemates to the culinary masterpiece, and used their feedback to further refine my exploration of the many possible flavor combinations. Now, exploration could be done with a distributed approach!
But I decided that if I really wanted to spread the news of the KrispyBo that I would have to really focus and get serious about finishing Barkley. So in 2017 I was able to use Barkley to build the social media presence that could get the message of the KrispyBo out there. The media hype was instantaneous, with not only the KrispyBo making its way onto youtube but also the lesser known BoKrispy making an appearance (skip forward to 2:17).
Since Ethan actually is vegetarian, his BoKrispy was created with a separate biscuit rather than what was left over from the cajun filet biscuit. The maple glazed has definitely become a mainstay of KrispyBos, with it and the hot now (and the white iced chocolate when available) being used pretty interchangeably.
The latest iteration
The newest KrispyBo involved another seasonal favorite: pumpkin spice cake topped with maple glazed. This was another solid one, but one I likely won’t revisit. The pumpkin spices and cajun spices were actually really smoothed out by the maple flavor and blended pretty nicely. It’s just that better combos exist. The monster batter BoKrispy was definitely a win, though.
Recently, I’ve realized KrispyBos need better accessibility. Bojangles’ is really only in the southeast, and the KrispyBo is really a reflection of the regional cuisine that I loved during my formative years. The ability to shove fried chicken between two delicious desserts should be available to everyone! And moreover, those creations should reflect the fine dining unique to that area. This realization largely came from being inspired by my friend Matt’s inspiration (and I must say, I know what I’ll be doing afterwards if I ever have a race near Minneapolis). So I began scheming. I had Kona coming up, and then immediately had a business trip to New York. Two chances for new creations!
Inspired by my friend @RndmForestRunnr and his KrispyBo post-race creation, I was inspired to create a local version. Presenting: The Mel-o-Revival, a sandwich made of two @meloglaze doughnuts (from just up 28th Ave) surrounding a crispy fried chicken thigh from @RevivalFriedChx
The Hawaiian model – Malakat
First up, Kona. I knew that the outer part had to be a malasada, and that I could get them from Holy Donuts. For the inner piece I stopped by L&L for some chicken katsu (technically Japanese but quite popular in Hawaii).
And so the malakat was born. 10/10, would definitely do again. The bottom was a jelly-filled malasada, which seems to go against some of my KrispyBo findings, but with the milder chicken it worked really well.
The New York prototype – JuniorShack
But then came what I had really been looking towards: my trip to New York. I had a lot of options here. There are a lot of great doughnut shops and all kinds of chicken options. Even a New York bagel variety is a possibility (although then it would kind of lose the Dionysian quality that is the essence of the KrispyBo). I wanted something that would be recognized as distinctly from New York. I considered street cart chicken kebab for the middle, but ended up going with a Shake Shack Chicken Shack. The outer layer was less of a question for me. For nearly 5 years I’ve had an insatiable appetite for Junior’s cheesecakes, and I couldn’t wait to make the JuniorShack.
You might be saying, “oh no, he’s gone too far!” Well, if you are, you’re absolutely right. Not only did it fall below expectations, it just wasn’t even good. If I had it to do over again (which I won’t) I wouldn’t have gone with chocolate for one of the cheesecakes. It was far too powerful for the chicken shack, which I’ll admit I should have seen coming. I was over-eager and it clouded my judgment. The chicken shack doesn’t have the strong Bojangles’ cajun spices, and chocolate is strong enough that it can even hold its own one-on-one with peanut butter without getting smothered. The other major issue is that the Little Fellas versions of the cheesecake are crustless. The crust is an absolute critical piece of any great cheesecake.
So it turns out that these items, while delicious individually, don’t mix well. But that’s ok; now I know. And I will continue to dream big, not be afraid of failure, and set goals that push the limits. This creation also really opens up the possibilities. It was the first KrispyBo derivative eaten with silverware (I could have added maple syrup!). It also demonstrates further that these should be personal creations, unrestrained by what others think would be good. I happened to know and love Shake Shack and Junior’s.
Not to be deterred, I decided to give one of my other ideas a try: the Black and White Shack. I went by Amy’s Bread to grab a couple black and white cookies, but they only had one left. So I did what anyone would do and got that one to eat while searching for two more (they had to match!). After refusing to settle for plastic-wrapped convenience store ones, I settled on Carlo’s Bakery, which turned out to be quite good. For the first time in my many trips to New York I actually headed to Times Square instead of walking across Broadway and through it as fast as I could. It was a fitting place to enjoy what turned out to be a delicious creation. But a normal Chicken Shack is delicious too, and we want the whole to be greater than the sum of its parts. I can’t say with certainty that that’s the case here.
Like the KrispyBo, the quality of this one depends a lot on the black and white cookie selection. Too much lemon flavor or too strong of a chocolate fondant (or frosting, if you prefer it that way) could again overpower everything. I took it upon myself the next day to route my run by a couple of other locations of known great black and whites: Joyce Bakeshop and Russ and Daughters. Out of all of them, the one from Joyce Bakeshop was my favorite: it used frosting instead of fondant and had more of a cookie than a cake texture. The Russ and Daughters I think is the best match for the black and white shack: it’s the right size and consistency, without an overpowering sweetness or lemon taste to it.
But I know there’s even better out there in New York. And I would love to see someone come up with a masterpiece worthy of representing the big apple. With the marathon this weekend, the timing is right.
Beyond the KrispyBo
Yes, there are plenty of things I feast on post-race other than KrispyBo and KrispyBo-like concoctions. My immediate go-tos are usually pizza and ice cream. One of the other things I get my hands on whenever I’m near one is Cook Out. When I was a freshman in college I set a goal to try all of their 50 shake flavors (which never actually use “flavoring”… if you get a strawberry cheesecake shake they take an actual slice of strawberry cheesecake and shove it in the blender). I met that goal first semester sophomore year.
It doesn’t end there, though. You can get any combination of flavors you want. So I set off on my first collegiate research project to find the best combinations. My key finding was that any shake flavor is always improved by adding Oreo. Always. My next clear finding has actually only emerged recently, nearly 15 years into this intensive study: orange push up is a solid base for any shake. Most shakes have a vanilla or chocolate base, and then other ingredients are just added. But orange push up, a great flavor choice on its own, actually provides an incredibly good base for a diverse variety of flavors. My most recent creation: orange push up, banana, toffee, cherry cheesecake, and of course Oreo. I know there will be doubters out there, but it was delicious. Even my wife agreed, which should be 100% convincing for any of these creations.
Now I have gone too far in this area too. One time on one of those reckless, impulsive teenage nights, after a killer game of ultimate frisbee, I ordered a slush at Sonic with all of their flavors. All 17 flavors. All these years later I still can’t describe it. There were pockets of individual, unmixed flavors, but then occasionally it was like a bomb just went off in my mouth. But, you know, dream big. Dream big.
How am I still alive?
As mentioned at the beginning of this post, I actually very rarely have these types of “treats.” These come out about twice a year. They’re magical times of year, but short. Most of the time I view food as fuel rather than pleasure, and I actually really avoid sugar in general (except maybe maple syrup, but that’s “natural” so it’s ok right?). I mostly gorge on baked vegetables and apples – I for real eat 4-5 apples a day and have been known to pound entire one pound bags of carrot sticks in a single sitting. As anyone who follows me probably knows, my lunches are usually at Chopt. Sure, you can make a pretty unhealthy salad if you want, but one thing I love about it is I can use my culinary creativity to customize it to get exactly what I need / want. And they’re actually really filling and delicious, something I honestly thought I’d never hear myself saying about a salad.
That spills over into my race fuel, where I avoid simple sugars as much as I can. They’re delicious, but they absolutely put my stomach on lockdown. Some of my friends in college created the Krispy Kreme Challenge, and let’s just say that when I attempted it myself it was not my most pleasant racing experience. Trying to survive off nothing but gels and Power Bars is also what brought my first Barkley attempt to an end and left me hunched over a trash can. So that’s the main reason I use Hammer products during races: there are no simple sugars and I can continue getting fuel down and keeping steady energy levels much more reliably. During an ultra there absolutely comes a point where I have to start adding “real” food, but the strategy and the foundation for my fueling remains the same.
But, then the post race comes, when my mind is trying desperately to repay my body for everything it put it through. 🙂 The best way I can summarize these two seemingly conflicting dietary styles: everything in moderation, even moderation.
Note: I have relationships with Chopt and Hammer, as listed on my Partners page. I do not have relationships with Krispy Kreme, Bojangles’, Cook Out, Junior’s, or Shake Shack, sadly. Or State Fair frozen corn dogs. But my kids would love those.
Appendix: Here’s to you, Pittsburgh
I joked at the beginning of this post that it was going to be serious. Admittedly, nothing I post about is serious. Not racing, not drafting, certainly not KrispyBos. All of these things are diversions – fun things that can make life more enjoyable or teach us lessons that we can apply to more important things. I try to keep my posts on topic with these fun things so that they truly can be a diversion / momentary escape, but every now and then something more important hits close enough to home that I can’t compartmentalize it myself. And if you’d rather keep things compartmentalized for now, that’s fine, just skip the rest of this post.
I lived in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh for 5 years, regularly running right past Tree of Life. This is a predominantly Jewish neighborhood in a city that took in a skeptical Bengals fan and quickly won me over with people who are incredibly friendly and welcoming, yet straight forward, no non-sense, and hard-working. A true blue-collar town in the finest sense of the term. I do still cheer for the Bengals and hope that the Steelers go 0-16 every year, though.
So when I heard about the shooting at Tree of Life, which happened after I initially wrote this post (thus this being an “appendix”), my immediate reaction was disbelief. Who would want to do this? To those people? Whenever someone does something horrible I try my absolute hardest to understand why, whatever twisted reason it might be… why? Only by understanding why can we try to eliminate the root cause and prevent it from happening again.
But sometimes it utterly escapes me. I cannot comprehend why someone would do something like that to such wonderful people. The only possibility is a void created by ignorance, which was filled by hateful misinformation from someone else. But where did that 2nd person get the idea from? It’s a disease. I don’t know where it started, but the spread of it can only stop by vaccinations – filling that void of ignorance before hate does.
And no, I won’t be able to fill that void with KrispyBos or anything else I post about, but even a drop in the bucket is better than complete emptiness. So take the time to learn about other people: what are their interesting stories, what great things do they offer the world, what makes them unique but at the same time what makes them just like you? Then, how can you share those things with other people to shine light into that void?
Sticking with the original topic of this post, here is my tiny, tiny contribution to Pittsburgh and its awesome people. There is so much more beyond this and beyond Pittsburgh that I hope I can share through other outlets. If we actually take the time to look, we can find awesome in people everywhere. And if each of us can spread that to even two other people then that exponential growth can lead to a massive impact sooner than most would think (Pittsburgh also taught me how to do super complicated math like that).
The Pittsburgh concept – PeaceManti
To get started, I don’t think it would be right for the chicken to come from anywhere other than a Primanti’s Ragin’ Cajun Chicken Breast sandwich. The bonus here is that Primanti’s sandwiches are so awesome and stuffed with so many other things (ok, it’s cole slaw, french fries, cheese, and tomatoes if you’re in to those… so 4 things) that you’re still left with a great sandwich after removing the chicken.
For the outer layer, though, there are a lot more options. My first thought is to go with another one of my favorite lunch spots, with a fitting name: Peace, Love, and Little Donuts. No, of course I didn’t have lunches that were only donuts when I was in grad school; I made sure to balance out those meals with some spicy sweet chili Doritos. With all the creative flavors here, there are some amazing possibilities for the PeaceManti.
The Squirrel Hill duo – PamSam and WafUncle
For this one, though, I want to get hyper-local. Just a half a mile away from Tree of Life, the options are abundant. For the chicken I’ll have to go with a Sam’s Buffalo Chicken Sub from Uncle Sam’s, another fine Pittsburgh institution. Just around the corner from Uncle Sam’s is Pamela’s Diner and Waffalonia, both more than worthy of contributing to a KrispyBo variation. From Pamela’s their famous hotcakes would be perfect: the PamSam. From Waffalonia, you probably guessed right: a delicious Belgian waffle to create the WafUncle.
Generally, I like to keep these ingredients high-class. These are gourmet, custom creations after all. But if you’re really in a hurry, you can find an Eat’n Park just across the street, and help yourself to a SmileySam. I must admit that no where that I’ve ever looked has ever had such a concentration of great options there on one block.
And if you’re in Pittsburgh, I’ll be looking for a report on these (Craig or Alan if you’re reading this, I’m lookin’ at you).