An Israeli-owned car wash on the West Side Highway has become the unlikely source of what may be New York’s most delicious donuts.
No, the guys scrubbing cars aren’t baking in their spare time; former chef Scott Levine, whose resume includes bygone New York foodie temple Chanterelle, where he was executive sous chef, opened Underwest Donuts in December with his wife, fashion stylist Orlee Winer.
The car wash’s proprietor, Moshe Winer, happens to be Orlee’s father and Scott’s father-in-law. And in a happy coincidence, Levine started searching for space just when room opened up inside the gigantic West 46th Street facility. “But it’s a business relationship,” Scott Levine laughs. “We pay rent.”
The treats may soon eclipse the automotive service. In deep, lush flavors like maple-waffle, brown butter, cocoa raspberry and espresso bean, Levine’s beautifully rendered donuts have become a bona fide phenomenon in the Big Apple: Today Show host Hoda Kotb swooned over them, Fox News anchor Rosanna Scotto rhapsodized over them, and some blogs have already anointed Underwest the best donut shop in New York. Levine’s halva donut — which drew on Moshe Winer’s favorite snack — even inspired an entire post on New York Magazine’s Grub Street blog “deconstructing” the flavor.
“I just wanted to make donuts that were a little more unique,” says Levine, whose days often start with a 2 a.m. baking session. Levine’s donuts are cake-based, as opposed to their airier yeast-based counterparts; all of Underwest’s production — shaping, frying, cooling, serving — takes place behind the counter of the narrow, closet-sized space at the southern end of the block-wide car wash. Levine and Winer also serve kicking Brooklyn Roasting Company coffee, pulling shots from a diminutive La Marzocco espresso machine in one corner.
Wholesale operations, and different pastries, may become part of Underwest’s future. But for now, Levine’s just focused on keeping up with voracious demand. “No matter what, we’re always going to think outside the box,” he says. In the meantime, we have a feeling many more New Yorkers will be finding excuses to get their cars cleaned.
Michael Kaminer is a frequent contributor to the Forward.