Satirist John Oliver put it best in his recent rant on the pumpkin spice gimmick: Come autumn, we look at pumpkins and go "I don't know why, but I simply have to drink that."
There are plenty of valid (and delicious) applications for pumpkin, don't get us wrong, but there are a myriad of other fall flavors that get neglected by pumpkin-crazed consumers. Thankfully, Orange County hasn't entirely forgotten about autumn specialties like spiced apples and gingerbread. Here are five non-pumpkin autumn treats to devour in Orange County.
1. Apple Crumble Pie at SusieCakes Bakery
Too often, apple pies are little more than a vehicle for ice cream. They're prone to dryness, mushiness, flavorlessness (and in the worst cases, all of the above), and you tolerate them on a Thanksgiving spread out of tradition. Not so at SusieCakes, a California bakery chain with locations in Newport Beach and Costa Mesa. Their apple crumble pie, a seasonal special, is more aptly named apple nugget pie: The "crumbles" are thumb-tip-sized chunks with a texture and flavor reminiscent of a butter cookie. Their subtle sweetness is offset by a bit of salt and cinnamon. Layers upon layers of thinly sliced granny smith apples rest under the "crumble" topping, providing a tangy, tart contrast to the buttery sweetness. The pie comes in a smaller and larger size, with the small easily satisfying three people. Don't be fooled by the picture–those apples are piled high!
2. Honey Cinnamon Latte at Euro Caffé
Euro Caffé, the Costa Mesa coffee shop that attempts to recreate the European café experience, isn't immune to the pumpkin gimmick: they've got pumpkin spice and pumpkin pie lattes on their seasonal menu–but don't waste your time with those.
Instead, order the seasonal honey cinnamon latte. Like Starbucks' pumpkin spice latte, it contains autumnal spice and sweetness, but avoids the weird gloopy texture and shitty coffee. The scent of cinnamon reaches you before the drink is in your hands. The spice forms a pretty swirl with the frothed milk, like the classy version of the milk remaining after a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch. The honey provides a hint of sweetness without overpowering the rich Illy espresso. Every time you take a sip, your nose delights in whiffs of cinnamon–a marked improvement from pumpkin gloop.
3. Champurrado at Pan American Donuts
You can get champurrado, a thick Mexican chocolate drink made with masa, year-round at many panaderías and Mexican restaurants in the county. But the hot, lightly spiced chocolate version of atole (a sweet masa beverage) is popular during the holiday season, and the stuff at Lake Forest's Pan American Donuts gets the job done. With its thick, creamy texture and rich chocolate flavor, the beverage constitutes a drinkable breakfast on its own. It's perfect for those elusive chilly mornings and evenings characteristic of an Orange County Fall.
4. Pink Lady Apple Doughnut at Sidecar Doughnuts
Sidecar takes its autumn offerings seriously: there's a host of different Fall-inspired doughnut flavors rolled out every month of the season. This October, Sidecar stuffed pink-lady-apple-compote into a perfectly fluffy raised doughnut. Layered with flavors from a quince glaze (a fruit that tastes like a floral apple), slightly nutty whipped cream, honey, and mildly sweet pink lady apples, it's a farmers market stuffed into one doughnut. Finished off with a pie-crust crumble, the treat plays with your palate, offering a different flavor with each bite.
5. Gingerbread Waffle at Anastasia Café
Located in a Laguna Beach shopping village, Anastasia Café's outdoor dining patio is perfect for enjoying the (slightly) cooler autumn air. Their gingerbread waffle is another indulgence that can be enjoyed year-round, though gingerbread is pretty strongly associated with the holiday season.
Indulgence is the operative word here: with added fruit, the waffle is fairly pricey, but it's worth it with its warm, slightly nutty flavor, complemented by real maple syrup and tangy berries. Unlike a gingersnap, it won't hit you over the head with spicy ginger, but the distinct flavor of the root peeks through each bite. The side of Chantilly cream (fancy speak for whipped cream) is tinged with vanilla and plays well with the waffle, as it should: You did pay $13 for them to call it "Chantilly cream."