It was a productive summer for Adam Young, renowned pastry chef and owner, along with his wife Ebbie, of Sift Bake Shop in downtown Mystic. In June he transformed the rooftop area above his mammoth first-floor kitchen into Mix at Sift, “a cocktail bar that just happens to have a great food menu.” A month later he opened the cleverly eponymous Young Buns Doughnuts right around the corner.
The area that would eventually become Mix started out as overflow seating for Sift, until Young realized the potential for the sweet piece of real estate with views of the Mystic River. “It was such a cool spot,” Young says. “I’m like, we should do something up here.” What he did was add a pergola, corner bar, U-shaped couch and long, narrow, custom-made fire pit that seats about a dozen in white rocking chairs. Young also added a little kitchen on the second floor to handle the menu of “larger-size appetizers.” He says Mix is meant to be a “comfortable, casual setting where you can get some relatively upscale food and really cool craft cocktails.”
And while you could hit Young Buns from Sift with a well-thrown scone, the vibe is a bit different on the other side of Route 1. “We’re having a lot of fun with the doughnut shop,” Young says. “We call it the anti-Sift. Sift is very high-end and we accommodate every request and it’s very over the top. Young Buns is meant to be the edgy little sister that’s like, ‘Here’s your coffee and doughnut. That’s what we got.’ And the person handing it to you has a neck tattoo.”
I don’t see any neck tattoos when I step into the cozy, yellow-walled corner shop, but I don’t see any doughnuts either. You see, it’s a little after 2 p.m. on a picture-perfect Friday afternoon in a building where the sign in the window reads “Hours: 7 a.m.-sell out.” Around here, the early birds get the Young Buns.
Luckily, I had made plans for this after hearing about the line that starts forming outside the door every morning before they open. Head baker Brenda Maerkle set aside a dozen doughnuts for me to pick up on my way to a 3 p.m. reservation at Mix. On the walk over I feel envious stares from pedestrians on the crowded sidewalks, eyes locked on me and my two large boxes adorned with Young Buns stickers.
There are 13-15 types of doughnuts on the menu, with nine traditional styles always available (sprinkles, jelly, vanilla glaze, etc.) in addition to a handful of monthly specials. The August offerings included piña colada, s’mores and a Key lime pie that has me counting down the days till next August. “I hate gimmicks,” Young says. “Nobody needs a double bacon cheeseburger doughnut. That does nothing for me. If we’re gonna do a doughnut shop I want to celebrate the technique and the pastry, and make as quality of a blueberry cake doughnut as we possibly can. I have nothing to prove by putting all this crap on top. I’m not trying to mask the doughnut. I want to showcase the doughnut.”
Young somehow manages to also celebrate the pastry on a predominantly seafood-focused Mix menu. His favorite dish is the tuna ribbons with avocado panna cotta. “It’s a lot of pastry-forward techniques that we’ve kind of converted over with savory flavors,” Young says. “You don’t necessarily see a lot of panna cotta served with raw tuna. It’s an out-of-the-ordinary combination, but it works relatively nicely.”
Some of the extraordinary combinations at Mix are the brainchild of Andrea Piscetello, the manager and a level one sommelier. “She’s young, super ambitious, super creative, and she’s got a better palate than any friggin’ chef I’ve ever worked with,” Young says. “Her food and wine pairings are just awesome and she does a great job with the cocktail menu.” The Lemonade Stand (housemade lemonade, mint, blueberry-infused vodka) is gorgeous to look at and better to drink, and the refreshing Mystic Mojito features candied kumquats and mint rum. Some of the other ingredients you’ll find on this top-notch cocktail list are cream cheese espuma, coconut water and egg whites.
There are seven items on a diverse and elegant food menu including the tuna ribbons, Seacoast mushroom tart, Stonington scallop ceviche and a cheese and charcuterie board that makes others I’ve had seem like deli platters. (Pate and foie gras lollipops can do that.) The chocolate hazelnut praline with popcorn ice cream exceeds the high expectations that come with any dessert made on these premises. Bread made downstairs at Sift, accompanied by a tapenade flight, started the meal and two doughnut holes from Young Buns arrive with the check.
Young has nothing left to prove. He’s been named the best baker in the state by the Connecticut Restaurant Association and the best baker in America by the Food Network. Counting Sift in Watch Hill, Rhode Island, his four locations now employ 150 people. Young feels if you’re fortunate enough to have a successful business, it’s an obligation to give back and create as much economic impact as you can. “The most rewarding part of it for me,” he says, “is to see payroll increase every year.”
Mix at Sift
5 Water St., Mystic
Open daily 3-10 p.m.
Not wheelchair accessible, but full service available at lower-level deck
Young Buns Doughnuts
46 W. Main St., Mystic
Open Tue.-Sun. 7 a.m.-sell out