One of the presents that our kids received from Santa this past Christmas was an annual pass to Walt Disney World for 2014. Although neither I nor the missus are big fans of the giant mouse and its far-reaching tentacles, we reckoned that we couldn't move to Florida without acquiring the passes at some point, if for no other reason than to get the whole Disney thing out of our system while the children were in their prime Magic Kingdom years. For those of you who haven't done the math on your own, we determined that we'd need to visit the park a minimum of 4 times in the calendar year in order to recoup our investment (and, make no mistake, it WAS an investment), which we've now done twice and had scheduled a third time over Memorial Day when we regained our senses and realized just how patently moronic it would be to show up there on a holiday weekend (perfect if you like waiting in lines all day). With our Saturday schedule suddenly free of fairy dust, we made alternate plans to spend some quality time at the off-brand amusement park Dinosaur World in Plant City (which was probably a thousand times less crowded than that other place) and stop in beforehand at the downtown farmer's market in nearby Lakeland.
There are two things that the small city of Lakeland (located about halfway between Tampa and Orlando) is known for - it's the corporate headquarters of the Publix supermarket chain and the Spring Training home of the Detroit Tigers; however, my interest in going there was purely culinary as the downtown farmer's market hosts what appears to be the Southeast's only artisanal maker of beignets, the Poor Porker (PP). I had first read about PP in one of the local magazines (Southern Living, maybe) in an article referencing their beignets, but quickly discovered that the two-person collective behind PP (Jarred Massie and Robyn Wilson) purports to be about much more than just fried dough; rather, they're preaching an entire hipster lifestyle of art, fashion, farming, and DIY ethos (their motto, in fact, is "for the swanky, rugged, and self-reliant"). When I went to their website, I found little to no mention of food and actually had a difficult time distinguishing it from J. Crew or Pottery Barn both in look and in content. The two founders are just so darn photogenic (as evidenced by numerous, caerfully-arranged photos) and have such a perfect backstory (musicians! circus! modeling! Hawaii! California! tv show! welding!) that the cynic in me found the whole thing to be, well, way too crafted and contrived for my liking, the kind of thing today's young and cool media outlets are falling all over themselves to feature. At the end of the day, I wanted to see if there was any substance behind the abundant style, that is, are the beignets any good?
The four of us arrived in downtown Lakeland close to high noon, at which point the thermometer had already surpassed 90 (not the ideal environment for keeping kids happy). As far as farmer's markets go, this one was a little smaller than I had anticipated, with an interesting mix of craft and food vendors.
It didn't take us long to locate PP's trailer, which appeared just as if it had been transported from the website, all cobbled together in just the right places.
There were 3 varieties of beignet on the menu - the traditional (simply dusted with powdered sugar), one with applewood-smoked bacon and maple syrup on top, and the "Aztec" (topped with a dark chocolate sauce, cayenne pepper, and cinnamon). Unable to decide, we ended up purchasing all 3 types for a total of about $17. I will give the proprietors credit - they were working very hard in a cramped, humid space (one person taking orders, one rolling fresh dough, one manning the fryer, and one finishing/wrapping orders, all of them wearing jean overalls) striving to meet the sizable demand of their customers. They appeared to have by far the longest line of all of the vendors and, had we arrived 15 minutes later, we may have been out of luck as they were starting to exhaust their daily allotment.
We wandered over to a nearby park bench to consume our quarry under the gaze of a stone Civil War soldier glaring down at us from a tall pedestal in the center of the square. The beignets were very hot (just out of the fryer, you know) and a little sloppy (we made good use of the moist towelettes that came with the order).
Well? I would say they were good, but probably not worth a special trip. My favorite was the beignet topped with bacon and syrup, although I suspect that's largely due to the toppings and not the dough, which, frankly, was a little on the bland side. I reckon I liked them as much as what you'd get at Cafe du Monde in New Orleans (my only other memorable beignet experience), a most un-artisanal experience if there ever was one. Maybe the hipster press and presentation set the expectation bar so high that disappointment was inevitable, I don't know. In any case, I wish them continued success and hope that they won't be insulted if I stay closer to home to get my fried pastries next time (Nicola's anyone?)...