“Do you want to play Connect Four?” I asked my boyfriend, while we waited for a friend to meet us at doughnut shop Dirty Betty’s (2475 N. Lincoln Avenue) one Saturday morning in June. A pile of games sat in a corner of the small shop, across the room from where we sat in the large, orange, hand-shaped chairs, in front of the Anita Ward and Beegees record covers and the disco-era movie posters.
It was one of many decisions we had to make that morning. Since Dirty Betty’s is a new pop-up shop inside Lincoln Park’s Cookie Bar, we had to choose, first of all, doughnuts or cookies (doughnuts now, cookies for later). Then, the more difficult decision: which of the doughnut flavors—cinnamon sugar? Nutella-glazed? Ginger with key-lime glaze? Peanut butter cup? Pomegranate-glazed?—did we want?
Customers don’t always understand, says co-owner Jeff Steinberg, “ Is it Dirty Betty’s or is it Cookie Bar?’ We do doughnuts in the morning and cookies in the evening,” except on Saturdays, when they serve the two simultaneously from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Steinberg, co-owner Joe Bova, and their staff bake 25–30 cookie and 10–12 doughnut flavors per day. “It’s more edited,” Steinberg says.
All baked, most of the doughnuts are 200 calories or fewer. The health element is important to Steinberg and Bova: “Everything we do is all-natural,” Steinberg says. “We use local eggs, get butter from Whole Foods, so we have a commitment to a healthier product. We have to use pans to bake them in—no one makes commercial doughnut pans.” It has to do with a the type of steel, “non-stick but not aluminum,” Steinberg explains, the same alloy that’s used in cookie sheets, so they had the doughnut baking pans custom made for Dirty Betty’s.
The doughnuts are more like cake than a traditional fried doughnut, which appeals to some customers. “The doughnuts are very light and airy in flavor,” says regular customer Denise Nathan. “I enjoyed the frosting on the doughnuts and were not too sweet and sugary in taste.”
My boyfriend, who chose the lemon-glazed blueberry, agrees: “It was obvious that they actually used real fresh blueberries in the doughnut. I also like that the lemon glaze wasn’t too sweet and focused on actually being tart like a lemon should be. Overly sweet and lacking tartness is all too common for a lemon glaze.”
Another Dirty Betty’s patron, Lisa Brown-Coleman, tried the chocolate peanut butter doughnut and wasn’t sure what to expect: “Honestly, I wanted to try it because they mentioned they weren’t fried. I guess I was a little disappointed when I realized that all this really means is that it’s cake shaped like a doughnut.”
Steinberg is fatherly when discussing his cookies and doughnuts: “I like both of them. They both have their place. It’s like saying which child is better—they’re different. We’re open late for Cookie Bar, so we do have people eating cookies later in the evening. Doughnuts are really big in the morning.”
The cookies and doughnuts at Cookie Bar/Dirty Betty’s clearly play for the same team, but I was curious about how Chicagoans felt about the two desserts in general. I asked, “In a battle between cookies and doughnuts, which would win?” I got some very thoughtful answers:
“Cookies tend to be denser… I think they would slice through your average doughnut.”
“This is a deceptively complex question. The best doughnut beats the best cookie unless we’re talking about a macaron (there’s always an exception, right?), BUT a decent cookie beats a mediocre doughnut. Conversely, a bad doughnut most likely beats a bad cookie.”
“The cookie v. doughnut battle will ultimately go in the favor of cookies. Doughnuts, much more so than cookies, depend on freshness to be their best. Cookies can be boxed up, shipped, reheated, and even crumbled over ice cream. When they’re fresh, I’ll take doughnuts over cookies any day of the week and twice on Sunday but, in the long run, cookies are a better bet for gastronomic satisfaction.”
“Cookies always win. There are so many different varieties of cookies, and they are smaller so you can snack on them at any time of the day!”
“Doughnuts from the Doughnut Vault.”
“Doughnuts doughnuts doughnuts. That counts as three votes.”
“Cookie is the winner! I cannot stress how much I love cookies. Cookies go so much better with ice cream, and if I’m looking for a dessert, I would have to pick a cookie. I consider doughnuts a morning treat, and I don’t eat them too often.”
“Doughnuts fight dirty, so yeah my money’s on that doughnut.”
“Cookies > doughnuts except between the hours of 2–10 a.m.”
“Cookie is better! I go in first and make tummy sweet and happy! Doughnut is better… I go in second and make tummy full and sticky! Well, they both make compelling arguments… But I’m gonna have to go with cookie. Besides, who ever heard of the ‘doughnut monster?’”
“Clearly whoopie pies!”
Dirty Betty’s and Cookie Bar
2475 N. Lincoln Ave.
Hours: Mon.-Fri., 7-10 a.m.; Sat., 10 a.m.-10 p.m.
By Ruthie Kott