We’ve reached that time of year again when my colleagues and I strap on our pedometers, spend a week or so calibrating them (does this pedometer work better than that one? Do I get more points with my pedometer attached to my pocket or my waistband? How about my bra?), and then begin our adventures with the Global Corporate Challenge.
For me, these adventures largely consist of the rather depressing need to get up half an hour earlier each day so that I can take a long walk before work – being in a sedentary job, it’ts extremely difficult to rack up the 12,000 steps per day that is my goal most years. But every four weeks or so, the GCC has a challenge weekend, during which teams try to get extra steps in order to earn trophies, and that is where my team comes into its own, because we do Excursions.
I’ve been a sorry excuse for a Team Captain this year, mostly because I’ve been a sorry excuse for a Catherine, with a cold that has been lingering for several weeks, leaving me disinclined to extra effort. So I was a bit alarmed when I saw that a challenge weekend was approaching, as I had absolutely no notion of what to do this time around. Fortunately for me, Facebook intervened, in the form of a post about a little family-owned milk bar in Fawkner – Jimmy’s Place – which has recently risen from obscurity to extreme popularity through the sale of its Italian-style doughnuts.
Now, I find the very idea of this delightful. Milkbars are a dying breed in Australia – the GST knocked out most of the ones in our area – and I miss the local shopping strip of my childhood. And while the Inner Northern Suburbs are these days the habitat of the Greenie Lefty Hipster Yuppy (and I say this with love, because I share a number of these traits myself), Fawkner, being beyond the boundaries of Melbourne’s tram system, is far more working class. Proudly so, in fact – Fawkner and the suburbs around it have been keeping Wills a safe Labor seat for decades, and will probably continue to do so for a good number of years yet.
Fawkner, in short, is not a trendy suburb. It’s not posh. It’s not cool. And yet, people are coming from all over Melbourne for these doughnuts. This fills my Northern Suburbs heart with patriotic pride. Go, Northern suburbs!
Anyway, I looked on the map, and Fawkner really is not all that far from my corner of the Kingdom of Greenie Lefty Hipster Yuppies, which is great news for personal doughnut consumption purposes, but less good news when one actually wants to get a lot of steps on one’s pedometer, and decided that going from home was way too easy, but if we walked up Sydney Rd from Parkville, then went down Harding Street and followed the Merri Creek Bike Path to Fawkner, that would be a comfortable 12km, an easy walk for my group.
Then, of course, my group pointed out that since six of us actually live north of Parkville, we would all be backtracking, so we amended this plan to converge on lower Brunswick from our respective homes, with different members of the group joining us at different points on the trip.
All that remained, then, was to pre-order our doughnuts, because the other thing you need to know about Jimmy’s Place and their doughnuts is that they have now become so popular that they are selling out by early afternoon every day. This, after only a month or so in the doughnut business. I collected orders from my team, and rang them in on Friday afternoon, explaining that we weren’t quite sure of our planned arrival time, because we were doing a 12km walk. The store owners seemed amused and taken aback, but duly noted our orders and planned arrival time.
Yesterday dawned bright and beautiful, but I did not, because of the aforementioned cold which has disgusting timing. Still, Codral reanimated me sufficiently that I could walk down and meet the team halfway up Sydney Rd, and we then walked up to Zaatar for a quick but delicious lunch that left me feeling less like a zombie. Then we walked down Harding St to the bike path along Merri Creek.
I’ve explored bits of this park, but I’ve never been as far north as Fawkner before. It really is lovely – the creek itself is beautiful, there are ducks and black swans, and the plants are a mixture of Australian natives and introduced species, like willows, all turning gold for autumn.
It was quite fun collecting team mates along the way – one at Moreland Rd, one at Zaatar, one at Murray Rd, and the last one, who cycled up from work to meet us after an Italian class, at the northern end of Coburg Lake. After that, we were into new territory for most of us, though one of my team mates had grown up in the area.
We were on target to arrive at our destination around 3pm, but at about ten to three one of my team mates got an alarming phone call – she had ordered some extra doughnuts, and Jimmy’s Place was calling to check whether she already been in to collect them, because they were sold out of non-pre-ordered doughnuts, and there was someone at the counter ogling my team-mate’s doughnuts in a hopeful fashion. We gaped at each other in horror – were our doughnuts under threat?! My team-mate replied firmly that no, these were still her doughnuts and we were nearly there, and we forged onward, now slightly worried about our doughnut security! Fortunately, we really were only five minutes away, and our doughnuts had been kept aside, as promised. Phew! (Apparently, some people pre-order, but forget to mention it when they come in to pick the doughnuts up, hence the phone call to check whether these doughnuts were in fact now available. Our doughnuts were never actually in danger, but that phone call certainly added a frisson of suspense to our journey!)
At first sight, Jimmy’s Place looks like what it is – a little milk bar in a quiet suburban shopping strip that’s on the verge of turning into a ghost strip – the shops on either side are closed and look as though they have been for some time. They only had two tables and four chairs out the front, but they were delighted to see us and quickly brought out more chairs from the back so that we could all sit down. Very welcoming. The customer service was great, actually – we paid all together, though they were willing to organise us separately if we needed it, and they were very happy to box up everyone’s doughnuts individually (good, practical boxes, too, I might add, at least for the larger orders). And once we were sitting out the front, they brought us serviettes and a big bottle of water and offered to heat up the doughnuts we were going to eat on the spot. We felt very special.
We got the distinct impression that we were the highlight of their day, actually. A little boy came out and asked us if we were the ones who had ‘walked all the way here’, and we said yes, and then one of the owners asked if she could take a photo of us, which was fun. I suspect we have just become The Women Who Walked 12 Kilometers Just To Eat Our Doughnuts, but I’m OK with that, because we kind of did. And we would again. And it is fun to improve someone’s day just by showing up…
As for the doughnuts themselves, well. They currently come in four flavours – nutella, jam, custard and lemon meringue – and they cost $3 each, which is a steal for gourmet doughnuts. They are made to order and to specifications by an Italian bakery, and they are very much in the Italian style – much lighter and less doughy than standard doughnuts, not too sweet, and a bit reminiscent of my Nonna’s fritelle. Also a little bit reminiscent of croissant or brioche, perhaps, because the texture on the inside looks more like flakey layers than like breadish sponge. They are very soft, very moist, and surprisingly light – though the fillings are heavy, rich and delicious. Those with food allergies may wish to be aware that the doughnuts themselves are vegan, though obviously, the nutella, custard and lemon meringue fillings are not.
I had a warm Nutella doughnut on the spot, and it was a revelation – I am really not a Nutella fan, but to have it warm and gooey and spilling out of this lovely, soft, not too sweet doughnut was quite something. I think I finally see the point of Nutella.
Also, the whole time we were sitting there eating our doughnuts, people were arriving, going in to buy doughnuts, and coming out looking disappointed. We tried not to feel too smug. I made a mental note to always, always pre-order. Because I will be going back, oh yes. Often.
I bought lemon meringue, custard and jam doughnuts to take home. I’m not a fan of custard, but Andrew made that doughnut disappear in record time and then tried to look all sad and like someone who had not had a doughnut yet, which is hard to do convincingly when you have custard on your moustache.
The jam doughnut is, of course, your classic ‘control’ doughnut in any scientific study of doughnuts. I heated this one up in my microwave at home for 15 seconds, and it was just lovely – warm and soft and full of hot (but not burning) jam. Also, I got jam on my chin, my hands, my wrist, my phone, the plate and my handbag, the mark of a proper doughnut. This is partly because I am a great big klutz, but is also because they are very generous with their fillings. I’ve had jam doughnuts which have left me sadly wondering where the jam was. This was not a problem with the Jimmy’s Place jam doughnut.
We saved the lemon meringue doughnuts for dessert, which was very hard to do, because I was ready to go with the whole ‘doughnuts for dinner’ idea, but Andrew had some strange idea about this not being a sensible meal option. It’s really hard to judge this doughnut, because while it was delicious and I would definitely eat it again, it had the potential to be one of the perfect doughnuts of this world – a potential which we saw fulfilled in the Nutella doughnut – and it didn’t quite get there.
The meringue on top of the doughnut was lovely – it had a certain gritty sugariness that is usually something one tries not to do with meringues, but which was, in fact, a really nice textural contrast in this context. Once again, the filling was generous, but rather than being a proper lemon curd, it tasted and looked more like that standard lemon filling one gets in lemon tarts – not the posh kind, but the kind that alternates with jam tarts on your local bakery shelf. A cornflour-thickened filling, I think, with a good, strong lemon flavour, but not quite a true one. This was a little disappointing, and also a little surprising to me – I mean, if you’ve already gone to the trouble of separating eggs for the meringue, why not make a proper lemon curd filling? It’s even odder when you consider that they can make an excellent vanilla custard filling. Perhaps there were concerns about storage – lemon curd needs a fridge, but meringue generally prefers room temperature? (On the other hand, I know a number of people with egg allergies who can cope with white but not yolk, and this doughnut would be fine for them, so that’s definitely a plus.)
Interestingly, the texture and sweetness of the doughnut itself really rescued this combination – I think in a more traditionally sweetened doughnut dough, the overall effect would have been too sweet, but in the context of Italian-style doughnut, the sweetness of the lemon filling was just fine. And I’m really not trying to make a mountain of a molehill – it was a great doughnut, I really like it, and frankly, you are never in this life going to get a better dessert pastry for $3. I’m simply sighing after a lost opportunity for perfection…
Incidentally, Jimmy’s Place apparently sold 2,800 doughnuts yesterday (our group was responsible for 48 of these sales). Given that they started off selling 75 doughnuts a day back in May, and were selling 1,000 per day a couple of weeks ago when I first suggested this trip, it looks like Jimmy’s Place is really going places with their doughnuts. I certainly hope so – the doughnuts really are exceptionally good, and the customer service was excellent. Good food, from good people, and supporting a local business – who could ask for more?
(Well, me, perhaps, but I have had it already – it’s called a warm Nutella Doughnut for breakfast, and it was glorious…)
Jimmy’s Place can be found at 38 Argyle Street Fawkner. It’s a short walk from Merlynston Station, but if you have time, walk up the Merri Creek Trail from Coburg Lake or so – you won’t regret it.
To pre-0rder your doughnuts – and you really should pre-order if you want to be sure of getting some – call them on 9359 0151.