A t 2:30 a.m., when most of the Elm City is fast asleep, a “secret blend” of ingredients begins churning in a pair of 30- and 40-quart stand mixers in the kitchen at Orangeside Luncheonette.
At the helm is owner Tony Poleshek, who’s been making his own old-fashioned, hand-cut, square-shaped donuts daily inside this dependable downtown breakfast-and-lunch spot for the past year-and-a-half. Orangeside currently offers 16 varieties every day.
Few people start their workday at such wee hours. “I see taxi cabs, police officers and garbage trucks. That’s what goes by, up until about 6:30,” says Poleshek. It’s a lonely start to the day. “I wind up talking to myself.” And as you might suspect, he also winds up talking to his donuts. “Yes, I do,” he laughs. “They’re like plants: you talk to them. You gotta make them happy!”
But the early hours don’t faze Poleshek—he’s driven by sweet passion. When he and his wife Michelle tried to add fresh donuts to their already fine, diner-style menu, they couldn’t find anyone in the area who could supply them wholesale. So he started making his own.
Poleshek had done donut time in the past. As a teenager, he learned his craft at Mister Donut in Foxon with his mentor, Dave Simone. He took a donut detour after high school, serving in the military and working in the sales industry. He grew “tired of corporate America,” and bought Orangeside Luncheonette four years ago.
The restaurant biz, it turns out, is in his blood: Poleshek’s grandparents, Edward and Julia Torello, ran a soda fountain called Palace of Sweets on Grand Avenue back in the mid-40s. He credits his culinary skills to them as well as to his own mother (Marianne, a “brilliant baker,” who can be spotted behind the counter at Orangeside from time to time) and both his mother-in-law Christine (“my other mom,” who helps out on the business side) and grandmother-in-law Rose (who used a tea cup to measure
135 Orange St., New Haven (map)
Mon-Fri 6:30am-4pm, Sat 7:30am-3pm, Sun 8am-2pm
everything, making her famous recipes especially hard to duplicate). Gorgeous black-and-white photos of his family’s proud tradition hang on the walls at Orangeside next to a historical map of New Haven’s Ninth Square neighborhood (home base for Orangeside), which served as an inspiration for the unique square shape of Orangeside’s donuts.
Poleshek chose the square shape not only to honor Ninth Square (and because they were easier to cut), but also to produce a higher quality product while producing less waste. Dough scraps left behind after the more ubiquitous circle cutouts would elsewhere be re-rolled into “second-cut” dough, which produces tougher donuts. Orangeside donuts are made from first-cut dough only. Meanwhile, “‘Fresh daily’ is our motto,” notes Poleshek. “It’s imperative. Day-old donuts are no good.”
Further investigation reveals just how wonderfully nuts Poleshek is about the quality of Orangeside’s donuts: He uses double-refined vegetable oil in a fryer that gets drained, steamed and re-filled weekly. “A good donut you can always tell,” Poleshek explains, pointing to the side of one of his fluffy, 4-inch-plus, raised, glazed varieties. “See that white line around the side? That tells you it’s only frying on the surface. When it hits the oil, it immediately puffs. The oil is only touching the bottom; it’s not submerged. When you flip it, you’re cooking just the top. The residual heat cooks ’em all the way through. It makes it lighter, and with less oil. And the less oil, the better.”
In the summertime, you’re likely to find more of the seven fruit-topped varieties (made from a purée of real fruit that’s mixed in-house daily) in rotation: banana, strawberry, orange, lemon, raspberry, cherry and pineapple. From those come popular
Among customer favorites are an almond butter crunch, plain honey-dipped and the candy bar-inspired Snickers (generously encrusted with nuts, caramel and chocolate). You’ll also find varieties filled with jelly or coconut custard (ingeniously injected on all four sides for even distribution, so it won’t gush out when you take a bite), alongside a delightfully endless array of both cake-style (also known as “old-fashioned”) and raised (the fluffier kind, made with yeast) flavors, ranging everywhere from good ol’ glazed to chocolate, blueberry, red velvet, carrot cake and the new Raisinet-Goobers (loaded with chocolate-covered raisins and peanuts). As for Poleshek’s personal favorite, he cites, “I’m a purist — a plain old-fashioned.” (Word to the wise: these doughy delights are sold out by 2-3 p.m. on weekdays, and by 11 a.m. on weekends.)
In addition to finding them at Orangeside, you’ll also see these square beauties on the shelves around the corner at Elm City Market, next to “fancy” donuts (apple fritters, cinnamon rolls), cookies and cornbread also supplied by Orangeside. Look for even more to come: Soon Orangeside will supply pies and a new line of frozen donuts that can be taken home, thawed and devoured without even leaving your own kitchen.
Poleshek attributes much of his success and growth to supportive neighbors like Elm City Market, as well as the nearby Devil’s Gear Bike Shop, whose owner (and loyal customer) Matt Feiner has helped spread the word about these hip squares from the get-go. “Feiner should be mayor someday,” says Poleshek. “He’s just an honorable, straightforward, community-based guy.”
Also supportive have been the New Haven Police, including Chief Essermen, who Poleshek says pops in “once or twice a week just to say hello.” Other loyal local customers include the staff at Sarah Aldrich Pilates studio (proving you can enjoy everything in moderation!) and “most of the Channel 8 staff.”
Poleshek is loyal to his customers in return. For example, just last week, a new red-, white- and blue-frosted donut was dubbed the “Gil Simmons” after the WTNH meteorologist, as Poleshek’s way of thanking him for his patriotism and patronage.
Written and photographed by Kathleen Cei.