one man's ceiling
Friday, October 06, 2006
  donuts (& doughnuts)
when i was a kid the place to go for donuts was winchell's. despite being a chain, all donuts were made on the premises by the franchise-owning family of fat, happy donut makers. they were a round bunch, pasty white faces with rosy-red apple cheeks and a jolly attitude. honestly, they looked like a family right out of a rankin-bass holiday TV special.

they made the best donuts, in flavors i really haven't seen in a long time. vanila and chocolate cake donuts with cherry, strawberry, chocolate, vanilla, maple, banana, pumpkin, orange and lemon icing, some with sprinkles, some with nuts, some with coconut, some with crumb topping, some dusted with sugar and cinnamon. along with the raised donuts, glazed or frosted, round or twisted, you could order two-dozen assorted donuts and never get a duplicate. i don't recall a time where i did show up to their little pass-through order window when i couldn't get a flavor that wasn't still warm.

in high school i had a job in westwood right across the street from an institution, stan's donut shop. stan himself was still there every night, him and his assistant (or partner, i was never sure) making fresh donuts for the next day. unlike the winchell's family who served up large batches of perfectly identical donuts, stan was a donut artisan whose specialties included a blueberry cake donut and what was called (probably in violation of trademark) the reese's peanut butter pocket donut. cradled inside the center of a hole-less donut was a core of real peanut butter topped with chocolate chips melted into a crown of fudgey icing. steep for a donut at the time -- nearly double the price of a regular donut -- it was rich enough too keep me feed for an entire night, which is saying something when you consider i was a teenage boy at the time.

years pass, and suddenly it occurs to me that i haven't really had a good, fresh, enjoyable donut in a long time. was it because i had grown a more sophisticated palate, or did something else happen along the way?

jump ahead to the present, relocated to new england. on the west cost you can stand on any corner of any metropolitan area and see half a dozen starbucks in either direction, but on this side of the country those starbucks are easily outnumbered by dunkin donuts. you can imagine how amused i was to hear the claim "america runs on dunkin" when i know from having traveled across this great land that there are entire time zones who would ask "runs on dunkin what?" ah, that quaint east coast hubris i'd heard about, that sense that nothing real exists outside its sphere of influence. and as proof, when anything from the outside world threatens that cozy little bubble -- say, krispy kreme fresh-made donuts -- it's circle the wagons time, boys, these usurpers mean us harm!

though limited to the glazed donut, the krispy kreme is the closest thing to those roly-poly memories of my youth. hot and fresh, the beat the pants off the "local" favorites by a mile. i say local because i haven't seen proof that a dunkin donut was made on site or even within a hundred miles from where it was on display. they certainly don't taste like they were made within the previous 24 hours, all heavy and stale. and i have seen the early morning dunkin deliveries, rolling racks in the back of a standard truck -- no refrigeration, the racks aren't even closed to the elements -- hauled down a ramp and into the back of the dunkin store where an employee brings out "fresh" arrivals from behind the scenes. this is a far cry from the open donut kitchen of the winchell's (or even krispy kreme) where you can actually see the donut go from fat, to cooling rack, to glazing, to display.

i am told that dunkin is a blue collar brand, a place for basic coffee at a basic price and a stick of dough to go with. i don't drink coffee and couldn't care less, but when your store has the name DONUT covering its second half you'd expect some kind of attention to the item in question. from what i gather then either the blue collar joe drinkers -- which includes easily 90% of the population from what i can see -- either doesn't care about donuts or has been conditioned to indifference over time by a company that threw in the towel long ago and decided the clientele wouldn't give a crap anyway. and maybe they were right.

health consciousness be damned, if you're going to indulge in fried dough with sugared frosting why would you settle for less? why settle for a glob of grease-flavored cake with a sandy consistency, or a spongy, flavorless pillow that tastes only of the acrid glaze that coats it? why make a donut at all if you aren't committed to what it means to make a true donut?

will someone, please, resurrect the donut to its former glory? please?
did you pay no attention during our travels to New Orleans? (where, I believe, may be the only FULL SERVICE Krispy Kreme donut shop you've been exposed to.) They are NOT limited to the glazed donut!! there are a million kinds! a brizillion kinds!! if you find a proper store - the kind with the "hot now" sign and the plate glass window between the customer area and the donut assembly line.
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recipes and musings on food -- and anything else for that matter -- from a guy with a sticky brain who likes food. perhaps he likes food too much.

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