Pandan waffles are a fairly common sight in Vietnamese bakeries, where it's hard to overlook the waffles' bright green hue among the comparatively bland-looking sesame balls and baguettes. The color is imparted by Pandanus amaryllifolius leaves, the juice of which is a light green thanks to chlorophyll and has a tropical, slightly nutty, slightly grassy flavor, almost like a softer version of coconut. As you can imagine, it tastes great in pastry form. But while those pandan waffles are a common sight across Houston, I'd never seen one coated in a Shipley Do-Nuts-like glaze until I visited The Grove Do-Nutz & Deli.
In a tribute to how far-reaching Vietnamese culture and influence has become in Houston, The Grove is located just west of the middle of nowhere (i.e., next door to the Jester State Prison Farm) in an unincorporated part of Fort Bend County, though The Grove's address is technically in Richmond. To be fair, it's really just a short drive from Richmond proper and bustling suburbs like Telfair and Sugar Land, though to anyone inside the Loop, getting to The Grove feels a bit like taking a relaxing drive into the country.
Don't let the rural feel fool you, though; Fort Bend County—as recently heralded by no less an authority than the New York Times—is the most ethnically diverse county in the nation. This accomplishment is on ample display at The Grove, whose diverse menu of various cultural influences (from Vietnamese to Cajun to Mexican) is devoured daily by an equally diverse clientele.
Though most people flock to The Grove for its gourmet donuts—think Austin's Gourdough's or Portland's Voodoo Donuts—the menu contains more treasures than simply banana-and-Nutella-topped donuts. The boudin kolache here (served only on the weekends) succeeds at topping the once-definitive version at Shipley's, with an entire link of livery boudin—still in its casing—inside flaky pastry dough. Banh mi, served for both breakfast and lunch, come in iterations that include a Hawaiian version topped with pork and pineapple. You can also get breakfast tacos (though I wouldn't recommend them; they're a bit flabby and uninspired) and a Viet-Mex blend called Cha-Mango that tops a frozen mango slush with that salty-sweet-sour-spicy Mexican condiment called chamoy.
Of course, you'd be remiss to miss the donuts themselves. The Grove doesn't just supercede Shipley's when it comes to boudin kolaches; The Grove also bests Gourdough's and other such gourmet donutteries when it comes to the fancy donut fare it offers. The trick here is that the donuts are light as air, meaning the toppings—whether they be cookie butter, marshmallow fluff, and pretzel sticks, or jalapeños, bacon, and cheddar—aren't battling the donut itself. The toppings are the star, with the donut (still hot from the fryer most days) in the perfect supporting role.
The Grove is celebrating its one-year anniversary today and only gets more popular with each passing month. When I visited this past Sunday morning, the line was nearly out the door for the duration of my stay. My buddy and I didn't linger at our table after our donuts were finished, as we could see the antsy eyes of other customers waiting for a perch of their own. If the pace keeps up, The Grove might need to expand—or perhaps that's just my wishful thinking that they'd open a spot closer to town.
In honor of its first successful year, The Grove is offering its gourmet donuts for $1.50 each all day (with a limit of four per person), though you'll need to hurry: the shop is only open until 2 p.m. Even if you miss out on today's special, I promise the donuts are well worth the typical $1.85 to $3.25 price. And certainly well worth the drive.