If you step into 606 R&D on Vanderbilt Avenue at the right time of morning—around 11:30, just as the restaurant opens its doors—you'll immediately notice the tantalizing aroma of fried dough hanging in the air. That's because the Donut Robot is in action, turning out dozens of fresh, hot cake doughnuts ready to be rolled in powdered or cinnamon sugar, or even left unadorned.
606 R&D opened in Prospect Heights early last year, and has been serving up seasonal dishes such as garlic scape pesto-filled omelets and rosé-steamed mussels ever since. But the real draw for many of the restaurant's customers are those doughnuts, made daily in an electric, automatic doughnut-making machine that 606 R&D's owners, Ilene Rosen and Sara Dima, secured the money for using a Kickstarter campaign that raised over $10,000.
And though the fundraising for them was conducted in an ultra-modern way, the doughnuts themselves are as old-fashioned as can be. Owner Rosen said she first encountered the small, tender-on-the-inside and crispy-on-the-outside fritters about 20 years ago at Dreesen's Excelsior Market in East Hampton, New York.
"We were visiting friends out there, and we noticed this butcher and grocery store with a line of people outside, gazing in the window. When we got closer, we could see why," she recalled.
Dreesen's, which closed in 2004 after 84 years of service, was a neighborhood institution beloved, in part, for its homemade Donut Robot-produced doughnuts. The store placed the doughnut machine right in the window, tantalizing passers-by for decades. Rosen said she took her young daughters to the store for doughnuts on several occasions; those daughters are now almost 19 years old.
As she and Dima prepared to open the restaurant back in 2011, those doughnuts were on Rosen's mind. She contacted Rudy DiSanti, Dreesen's former owner, and, with the money from the Kickstarter campaign, purchased his entire doughnut program—the Donut Robot as well as the dry mix Dreesen's used to whip up its doughnuts for all those years. Rosen said the restaurant even buys its doughnut sugar from DiSanti.
"I have a sense memory of those doughnuts," she said. "I wanted them to taste exactly the same."
So the Dreesen's doughnut lives on at 606 R&D, and locals can't get enough of it.
"On Saturdays and Sundays, we crank through about 200 a day," Rosen said. "People order a plate with brunch, or just get a bag to go."
Recently, we spent a morning at 606 R&D and its Donut Robot. Click through the slideshow above to see the process from start to finish.
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