2014 was the year of the ice cream-stuffed donut (and thank you for that, Afters). Two years later, donuts might still be a thing—at least that’s what the U Jelly folks want you to believe.
If you follow a good amount of Orange County’s food-scene influencers, you know that the social support for U Jelly—the latest venture of Afters Ice Cream’s Scott Nghiem and Andy Nguyen and Fusion Tea Bar’s LysaThuy Pham—was huge. Local restaurant PR folks and Yelpers raved about the new donut shop on Instagram and Facebook, posting pictures of the shop’s unique-looking treats before, during, and after its grand opening on January 9.
But here’s the twist: even if the success of Afters Ice Cream was because of an ice-cream stuffed donut, the truth is it succeeded because of its ice cream, which is luxuriously thick and came in flavors like cookie monster, jasmine milk tea, and milk and cereal. Their donuts alone, however, are pretty normal. Now that U Jelly is trying to make donuts the focal point, there’s a chance it might not get the same response that Afters Ice Cream did—even if their donuts come in unique flavors (as expected) like coconut flan and pandan.
There’s no denying that U Jelly has the Afters Ice Cream touch. Like the ice cream shop’s original store in Fountain Valley, U Jelly is simple: enter and you’ll see a glass window display of donuts, wall decals abundant with puns, and a menu mounted on the wall. Plus, it even smells like Afters.
If you’ve seen any photos of these donuts on Instagram, you already know the donuts here are aesthetically captivating. Furthermore, that point becomes more apparent when you see them in person. Based on a cashier’s recommendation, I tried the taro, pandan, and coconut flan donuts. Right away, you’ll notice their vibrant hues and unusual design. The pandan donut, for instance, has Baymax from Disney’s Big Hero 6 printed on the icing. The coconut flan has a tiny, wobbly piece of flan in the middle. The taro looks like a deep purple version of Homer Simpson’s donuts, except with three roasted marshmallows added on the center.
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The taste of the taro donut was hardest to place because the combination of taro and icing was awkward. In addition, inside of the donut is a taro filling that’s watery, light, and thin. The dough itself is thick and has a texture reminiscent of cake rather than a typical donut. Likewise, the coconut flan is an interesting concept—and, at that, potential—but the coconut flakes and flan never fully merge to create one cohesive flavor. Of all the three donuts, the pandan donut was the most delightful—and not just because of the Baymax print on the icing. Unlike the taro donut, the icing on the pandan donut works. Once you get to the pandan filling, the donut starts tasting like a Vietnamese dessert you’d find in Little Saigon. Though subtle, its taste is harmonious.
No matter how U Jelly ends up doing in the long-run, it probably won’t deter Scott Nghiem and Andy Nguyen’s reign. After all, Afters Ice Cream itself has opened five locations since it debuted and has two more in the works. Not to mention, they’re still working on Nudo Nudo and GD Bro Burger, too. This just goes to tell ya: U Jelly is only one piece of a larger plan to build on their empire, through which there’ll be both large successes and smaller ones that have an equally important role in expanding their influence.
U Jelly is located at 16051 Brookhurst St., Fountain Valley.