Sunday, November 26, 2006

Blue Suede Donut

This will be my final report on Donuts of the Deep South.

Union Avenue in Memphis, Tennessee is probably most famous for helping introduce Elvis Presley to the world. At the corner of Union and Marshall sits the legendary Sun Studios where Elvis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis all recorded their early hits. But what the guide books don’t tell you, is that a mile or so down Union from Sun, sits Donald’s Donuts, a simple, plain-front Donut shop quietly pleasing patrons in the shadow of their attention-hogging neighbor.

There’s really not much to say about Donald’s, other than it’s a great local Donut shop with friendly service and quality fare. On my recent visit to Donald’s I ordered four Don
uts: a Bear Claw, a Frosted Peanut, a Cinnamon Roll and a Cream Cheese-filled.

The Bear Claw was made of light and refreshing yeast dough, not unlike Dunkin’s yeasty varieties. But the best part was the shape – the “bear claw-ness” came from five rectangular subunits all linked together to loosely resemble a bear’s foot. Given the size, it most likely belonged to a young brown bear, but I know nothing about bears so don’t hold me to that.

The Frosted Peanut was made from the same yeast dough as the Bear Claw. It was covered in vanilla frosting and topped with crushed peanuts. Now Blognut enjoys the occasional peanut Donut, but this version was way too PEANUT. All I could taste was nuts. The highlight my meal was course three, the Cinnamon Roll. It was big, airy and had just the right amount of cinnamon kick. The Cream Cheese-filled was interesting in theory, but I wasn't a fan of the sugary cheese flavor that came from mixing glaze and Philadelphia. Plus, aren’t Donuts already bad enough for our health that we probably shouldn't make them any worse?

Vein of cinnamon in Cinnamon Roll.

Cream cheese inside a Donut.

All in all, Donald’s is a solid Donut Shop worth checking out if you’re in the Memphis area in need of a Donut. But wash your hands before heading to Sun Studios - they seemed to get annoyed when I got glaze residue on Elvis’s antique microphone.

Tomorrow Blognut heads to Vienna, Austria for a six-day sausage, pastry and coffee excursion. Now we all know the Viennese can bake like a dog can lick its ass – but can they fry dough? That’s what I intend to find out.

Donut Scores:

Bear Claw -

Frosted Peanut -

Cinnamon Roll-

Cream Cheese-filled -

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The only way to cook a turkey

For a little extra flavor, Blognut recommends throwing a few Donuts in the fryer alongside the turkey. Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Shipley's believe it or not

Earlier this year Blognut ran a post summarizing a donut-centric article in Saveur by food writer John T. Edge. The piece coincided with the release of Mr. Edge’s book, Donuts: An American Passion, and reviewed seven of the scribe’s favorite US doughnut shops. I was surprised to see that Edge included Shipley Do-Nuts in Oxford, Mississippi on his list. I thought for sure all seven Doughnut shops would be independent Mom-and-Pop establishments, whereas Shipley’s is a Houston-based Pop-Nut chain with over 190 franchises sprinkled throughout Texas and the deep south.

But you can’t pull one over on Blognut. I soon remembered that Edge is the director of the Southern Foodways Alliance, an institute of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi in Oxford (well actually, all I remembered was that Edge was somehow affiliated with Ole Miss, I looked up his official association after the fact). So there was obviously some hometown allegiance at work here. Which is fine, because as any respectable food critic will tell you, so much of taste is contextual. No restaurant can match the flavor of Dad’s homemade pulled pork BBQ, or Mom’s near-addictive cinnamon rolls. That’s just the way it is.

Prior to my trip to Mississippi last month, Blognut had tried only a single Shipley’s Donut, back in 05’ on a trip to San Antonio. I remember it being delicious and having something to do with cherries. But given the vast array of memorable Donuts I’ve tried in the last year thanks to this stupid blog, and having no geographical or emotional ties to the region, expectations for my visit to the Oxford franchise were set low. How could a mass-produced Donut match the texture and complexity of, say, a Doughnut Plant offering? But now having adequately evaluated what the Texan chain has to offer, I dare say that Shipley Do-Nut’s plain glazed is one of my all-time favorite Donuts. And Shipley’s certainly has replaced Dunkin’ as Blognut’s favorite Pop-Nut chain.

Mr. Edge compares the consistency of Shipley’s dough to that of Wonder Bread. And I would have to agree. As I bite into the glazed it gently collapses between my teeth and before I know it has disappeared, leaving only a vestige of sugary flavor. It’s unbelievably satisfying in a processed American kind of way and is a near match to my favorite of all Donuts, the plain glazed from Spudnuts (which happens to be in my former hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia...there seems to be a pattern here…hmmm?).

Blognut also tries the Maple Glazed. While no match for its predecessor, it garners considerable style points for actually having a maple-infused glaze rather than a too-sweet sludgy maple frosting like most maple Donuts. For a moment I thought I was in the presence of Mark Israel, proprietor of The Doughnut Plant and master of glaze infusion. The dough is sturdy without being overly-filling, leaving me with room for dessert. I go with the Bull’s Eye.

The Bull’s Eye is a light, yeast-raised Donut filled with smooth and creamy white cream (I think I just described a noun using the adjective form of itself. This probably goes against some sort of grammatical and philosophical tenets but I think I’ll leave it). The top surface is smeared with rich, chocolate frosting accented by a large, ill-defined blob of white frosting, which I assume is the so-called “Bull’s Eye.” Now Blognut is not a huge fan of cream-filled Donuts (I guess Boston Crème are OK) but I’ve had enough to know a good one when I taste it. I would rank Shipley’s Bull’s Eye along side of Dunkin’s cream-filled variety – decent, but not life-changing.

Mrs. Blognut and I were the only ones there.

Shipley’s carries a total of 63 varieties, including a handful of kolaches, a Czechoslovakian pastry popular in Texas, and other parts of the country, thanks to the slews of Czech immigrants who came to the region in the 1900s. The chain is gradually expanding, vowing never to compromise quality ingredients and excellent service in exchange for revenue. And while I definitely had good service and even better Donuts at the Oxford Shipley, I thought it was funny when the Donut-Man revealed they were out of both coffee and napkins, essentially the only two accessories you need to properly eat a Donut. But I didn't mind; the apologetic counterperson went in the back and got me a roll of enormous brown paper towels to compensate. So whether you’re from Oxford, Mississippi or not, Shipley’s Donuts are worthy of even the most snooty Donut-Palate.

Donut Scores:

Plain Glazed-

Maple Glazed -

Bull's Eye -

Friday, November 17, 2006

Donut Quote of the Day

Today's Donut Quote of the Day was found Scotch-taped in the front window of Portland, Oregon's Voodoo Doughnut.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Honest Abe's

Continued from this post

About 45 miles south of Clarksdale, Mississippi is the town of Greenwood, home to the gravesite of Robert Johnson. There are actually three purported gravesites for the blues legend, but most historians believe this to be the real one. So after a morning milling around Clarksdale and enjoying pretzel-shaped donuts from Delta Donut, Mrs. Blognut and I hop in our rented Chevy Impala and make the drive to Greenwood.

Honestly, when planning this day excursion to the burial ground of Mr. Johnson, we stupidly neglected the possibility of a donut encounter. But donuts are huge in the South, where they fry everything. And what's the first thing we see when arrive in Greenwood? Well, it's actually about two miles of strip malls. But after that, the first thing we see is Honest Abe's Donuts.

All you really need to know about Honest Abe's is that it has to be one of the only donut shops in the country serving tamales. Of course we show up on the one day they're out of tamales - so we have to settle for Donuts. Which, if you know anything about Blognut, is not much of a let down.

Actually, there's one more thing you should know about Honest Abe's. And that's that I'm pretty sure they were previously a Shipley's Donuts, the famed Houston, Texas-based Pop-nut chain. I won't go into the specifics that lead me to this conclusion, as my next post will be devoted exclusively to Shipley's, but trust me when I say that Abe's shares more than a few aesthetic and gustatory characteristics with the Texan donut-dealer.

I start with a blueberry-filled. The dough is so light I wonder how it manages to maintain its shape, as opposed to evaporating into the ether. Seriously, as I bite into it the dough has nearly dissolved by the time my upper and lower teeth make contact. The top is covered in an ample sprinkling of granulated sugar while the center is stuffed with super-sweet blueberry compote. It's one of the sweeter Donuts I've ever had, but not in that nauseating Krispy Kreme sort of way.

I wash down the blueberry-filled with a sugar yeast Donut. Again the same barely-there dough coated with a ton of granulated sugar, only this time without the compote getting in the way. I much prefer the simplicity of this Donut's flavor to that of the Blueberry.

After finishing the sugar Donut and spilling what seemed to be the equivalent of 2 cups of sugar all over the floor of the Impala, we set off for the Little Zion Baptist Church where we find Mr. Johnson's grave. For a moment I contemplate taking a picture of a Donut (we had another sugar in the car) along side the headstone. Thankfully, I quickly realize such an act would be disrespectful. Some things are better left sacred.

Donut Scores:

Blueberry-filled -

Sugar -

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

What Donut are you?

So an anonymous commenter left me a link to a worthwhile Donut quiz (see last post). Thank you anonymous commenter. Through a series of five questions it determines what type of donut you are. The weird thing is, in response to the question asking what filling I like in my Donut, I responded gooey dough - mainly because it was the answer closest to a ringed Donut, which I prefer to filled varieties. But somehow it concluded that I am a Boston Creme.

Then I resubmitted the quiz without answering any questions. Again, it decided I was a Boston Creme. Hmmm?

You Are a Boston Creme Donut

You have a tough exterior. No one wants to mess with you.

But on the inside, you're a total pushover and completely soft.

You're a traditionalist, and you don't change easily.

You're likely to eat the same doughnut every morning, and pout if it's sold out.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Goin' down to the crossroads, got my donut right by my side

This past weekend, Blognut was in Clarksdale, Mississippi. So it was inevitable that before long I ended up at the intersection of Highway 61 (yes, like the Dylan album) and Route 49. Or as the local board of tourism calls it, the Crossroads, the intersection of legend where bluesman Robert Johson is said to have sold his soul to the devil in exchange for becoming, arguably, the most important musician of all time.

But as any respectable blues historian will tell you, Johnson would certainly not have made his pact at a busy intersection like this. For such Satanic negotiations are generally handled in remote locations, free of potential witness. And while I agree that the union of 61 and 49 probably wasn't the infamous "Crossroads," I would like to pose a new theory as to why not.

You see, the one thing more enticing than eternal guitar proficiency, is a mouthful of Donut. And sitting quietly on the South East corner of the intersection is a ragged little shop called Delta Donut. So even if Johnson had intended on selling his soul at this well-travled locale, he would have certainly rescheduled - and instead walked in to Delta, ordering a plain-glazed and a pretzel Donut. Because seriously, how many Donut shops have a Donut shaped like a pretzel?! And I'm sure some would argue that Delta Donut wasn't in existence until long after RJ's death. But's let's not get bogged down in the facts. We'll leave that for the historians.

So in an effort to relive the "real" Robert Johnson story, I stroll into Delta and order a plain-glazed and a pretzel Donut.

Now one thing Blognut has noticed about indie Donut shops (our beloved Spudnuts included), is that often times their product comes out of the fryer hexagonally. Maybe back in the day there was an affordable mom-and-pop-friendly Donut machine that grew tired of geometrical simplicity and instead opted for six sides. Who knows? Actually, I guess I should know since I'm the Blognut. I'll get back to you on this.

Plain-glazed in rental car.

But yes, the glazed is a perfect hexagon (sort of). And I love it. Just like Spudnuts, the dough is soft and impressionable, with a tinge of cinnamon. A thin layer of glaze is careful not to oversweeten, while the Donut's scaled-down stature leaves me craving another. I start in on the pretzel Donut. As expected, it's composed of the same cinnamon-spiked yeast dough as was the glazed, but is even more satisfying thanks to the innovative shape. Just for fun I imagine dressing my pretzel up with a pinch of rock salt and a stream of French's, but that would be disgusting.

I leave Delta Donut happy and full, wondering how anyone could play the blues after such an uplifting and fulfilling dining experience.

Donut Scores:

Plain-glazed -

Pretzel Donut -