THE DOUGHNUT is the dumb blonde of the pastry world. Buoyant and pillowy as a breast implant, it promises delight while innocently denying potential consequences. Offer to buy a doughnut a drink, and your reward is a giggle followed by coy acquiescence. Beloved of police, children, and Homer Simpson, the doughnut beckons us all to forget our cares and surrender to sugar-induced hilarity. We may admire the Parisians with their beignets and crullers, but America embraces the doughnut as we do Wal-Mart, bowling, and boxed wine. It is pedestrian, it is humble, it is cheap, and it is ours.
As with all things our culture embraces, it didn’t take long for a national brand to develop. With a purchased recipe and a 1936 Pontiac, an American hero by the name of Vernon Rudolph created what is now the most famous name in Doughnut Land—Krispy Kreme. There’s no escaping the pull of that red neon “Hot Doughnuts Now” sign, yet those early shacks with primitive drive-up windows have evolved into the modern monolith of brand over product and conformity over quality. Krispy Kreme offers a consistently adequate product throughout the country, and as of 5:30 a.m. on Oct. 30, Seattleites will be lining up to receive their doses of fresh, hot adequacy. The shop, at 6210 E. Lake Sammamish Parkway S.E. in Issaquah, will surely be mobbed by greedy folks salivating for sugary glazes and delightfully empty calories as if they’ve been starved for doughnuts since the dawn of time. Some will always prefer the expected; hence the popularity of those nationally branded Meccas that our foggy backwater feels so lucky to have. The Cheesecake Factory and Buca di Beppo are well on their ways to becoming “Seattle institutions,” and Krispy Kreme will be joining them momentarily.
But here’s the thing: We’ve already got our share of damn fine doughnuts. Several remarkable doughnuterias are quietly slaving away through the night to bring us delectables, including melt-in-your-mouth maple bars and crispy doughnut sticks that will have you believing the Lord of Doughnuts has declared Seattle to be the Holy Land.
THE TITLE OF Seattle’s Best Doughnuts goes to Family Doughnut Shop (2100 N. Northgate Way, 386-9107, 5 a.m.-4 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 6 a.m.-1 p.m. Sat.-Sun.). Here, doughnuts are made throughout the day, and while they defy the rules of gravity at any temperature, they are especially sublime when fresh from the fryer. The truly decadent should purchase a dozen and sample them like a box of chocolates—a nibble from one, two bites from another, polishing off the ones with sprinkles before the kids or roommates get to them. You won’t find a mediocre doughnut on the premises. The raised doughnuts are lighter than air, whether they are formed into the basic ring shape or the larger bars and twists. Glazes provide pleasingly pedestrian flavors that blend enchantingly with the pastry. The cake doughnuts are available in both plain and chocolate, with myriad combinations of icings, sprinkles, chopped nuts, and coconut that add up to seemingly infinite choices. These doughnuts are universally magnificent; no matter how full you may feel, you can find room for just one more bite.
A trip to the recently opened Sophie’s Doughnuts (2238 Eastlake E., 323-7132, 6 a.m.-1 p.m. Mon.-Sat., 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Sun.) began with their sign, which asks simply “Want a Doughnut?” Of course we want a doughnut! And oh, what a doughnut it is. Torn between the bismarck and the jelly-filled, we chose both. The bismarck was a masterpiece, with bittersweet fudge frosting thick enough for Candy Land residents to use as roofing material. This beautiful fudge was the ideal counterpoint to the crispy exterior and vanilla custard filling. Another visit introduced us to a miracle known as the coffee doughnut—with a firm, cakey texture and smooth coffee icing, it was better than most lattes. Sophie’s aims to turn the humble doughnut into an art form; dough is made from scratch, and the quality of ingredients is impeccable. They balance the hit-and-run feel of the standard doughnut shop with plenty of seating where one can fritter away a rainy morning sampling, well, fritters. A caution to the caffeine-wary: For unknown reasons, decaf drip coffee has yet to hit the menu. Perhaps with enough polite requests, an extra thermos pot will be added to the counter.
Madison Park Bakery (4214 E. Madison, 322-3238, 6 a.m.-6 p.m. Tues.-Fri., 6 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Sat., closed Sun.-Mon.) had quick service, great coffee, and a fabulous selection of sticky treats. Weirdly, they are closed on Sundays, so it’s pretty much a haven for retirees. Our weekday morning excursion included fighting a dozen of those retirees for a parking spot, paying over $8 for a single drip coffee and a small bag of baked goods, and getting lost in that crazy little neighborhood. There’s not a doughnut in the world that will taste good after all that. Perhaps if Benicio del Toro starts a delivery service for them, things will seem a little brighter.
Del Toro and overpriced pastries aside, these friendly little shops provide a welcome break from the heavy, pseudo-healthy blandness that fills the majority of local bakeries. If you’ve had it with oat-fruit-granola-bran 10,000-calorie muffins, why not try a little (maple- flavored) tenderness? One taste may lead you down the path of righteousness—forgoing the latte and ordering a plain drip coffee just for dunking.