After spending a year on the road researching my book Donuts: An American Passion (Putnam, 2006), I can claim a semblance of objectivity and declare that America's love for fried, glazed, filled, and jimmie-sprinkled poufs of dough is renascent. Sure, Krispy Kreme was a catalyst. But now that the cumulus of powdered sugar has cleared, I've come to believe that the best American doughnuts transcend fads. They are honest and forthright. They are goofball and flyweight. The best are cooked by iconoclasts, dedicated to the exaltation of fried dough rounds. The following are exemplars of the art.
BUTLER'S COLONIAL DONUT HOUSE Mario Gulinello, a reformed 30-year veteran of Dunkin' Donuts, plies his trade in a faux Colonial doll house of a bakery in Westport, Massachusetts. Gulinello fries yeast-raised rectangles called Long Johns; then his wife, Lorene (who also worked at Dunkin'), slits the finished doughnuts along their seams, pipes in thin streams of black raspberry jelly, and strafes them with whipped cream—real whipped cream.
DOUGHNUT PLANT The look is Lower East Side industrial. The vibe is downtown Manhattan hip. The proprietor, Mark Isreal, is a doughnut Don Quixote, always dreaming. Among the fried fantasies he has realized are blueberry pinstripe doughnuts in honor of the New York Yankees and fresh ginger doughnuts for the Chinese New Year. His grandest feat of windmill tilting yielded a sometime specialty, a banana cream-filled peanut butter-glazed Elvis-inspired doughnut.
JIM THE DONUT MAN If you're lucky enough to arrive at Jim Nakano's on a spring day, when he is conjuring strawberry doughnuts from his roadside shop on Route 66, east of Los Angeles, you won't have to be told that the ruby-hued berries he uses were picked that very morning. You'll be able to taste the truth. Ditto the summertime peach doughnuts, which also owe their brilliance to local fruit—sliced, glazed, and then stuffed inside the cottony interior of what is in effect a jellyless jelly doughnut.
SHIPLEY DO-NUTS Doughnuts need not be precious. By empirical standards, the glazed yeast rounds served by the Oxford, Mississippi, branch of this Texas chain are not worthy. They have the texture normally ascribed to Wonder bread, and they are drenched in a one-dimensional sugary veneer. They don't challenge the eater. But these downy indulgences do satisfy. And sometimes that's just what we crave.
TEX DRIVE-IN Founded by Ernest Texeira on the Big Island of Hawaii, this popular drive-in (there are two locations) pays tribute to the malasada, a kind of holeless Portuguese doughnut that has long been popular in the 50th state. Tex gouges the centers to make room for such delights as pepper jelly, sublimely subverting the tradition.
TOP POT DOUGHNUTS Brothers Mark and Michael Klebeck of Seattle call their tart lemon-filled doughnuts slicked with lemon icing Valley Girls. The rose-colored vanilla-iced variety, haloed with flaked coconut, is known as the Pink Feather Boa. Chocolate cakes with chocolate icing are Double Troubles. The brothers have designs on expansion and, in a stroke of pure genius, have acquired the moribund trademark of the onetime king of the hill, the Doughnut Corporation of America.
ZINGERMAN'S ROADSHOW Sold from a retrofitted aluminum Spartan trailer coach parked outside Zingerman's Roadhouse restaurant, in Ann Arbor, Alex Young's nutmeg- and lemon zest-spiked doughnuts draw inspiration from an old Dutch recipe and from formulae in the new Joy of Cooking and the Jamisons'_ A Real American Breakfast._