Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Great Los Angeles Doughnut Roundup

“In springtime, a man’s fancy turns to thoughts of doughnuts.” Johnathan Gold.

It seems like this spring, everyone has done doughnuts, from Jonathan Gold to Eating LA ; maybe it has to do with the coming release of the Simpsons Movie (mmm, doughnuts).

In any case, every spring, for the last ten years, I have done a mini-doughnut tour of my favorites (usually 2-3 locations over several weeks). Inspired by all this doughnut-mania, I embarked this year on a major doughnut tour, hitting all of the fabled doughnuterias I could in this thriving doughnutropolis. Some of these were visits to my old standbys, but some were first timers. I describe them below in chronological order, starting in early April. And if you don’t want to read all of this, skip to the bottom for a summary.

I should explain that I am a raised glazed man, and my standard for best doughnut has much to do with whether you can make a raised glazed or not. However, where a doughnut shop has a particular specialty, I try to get one of those as well.

Donut Man, Glendora (first time visit).
The menu: raised glazed, strawberry, raspberry cheesecake.

Yes, I finally made the pilgrimage to Donut Man. After reading the multiple glowing reviews at Donut Man, I packed up and headed to Route 66, singing all the way (Flagstaff, Arizona, don’t forget Glendora…). I wanted to like Donut Man, heck I wanted to love the Donut Man and particularly his world famous Strawberry Doughnut, listed by Saveur Magazine as one of the ten best doughnuts in the country…but I just couldn’t work up the enthusiasm. Let’s start with the strawberry; the legendary strawberry doughnut sandwich that made Glendora famous. It’s good, but it’s stop on the way to work and pick one up good, not drive to the edge of San Bernardino County good. Much hay is made of the farm fresh strawberries, big Chandlers; maybe I’m spoiled, but I couldn’t help but think how much better this would taste with the gaviotas I get at the Hollywood Farmers’ Market. The strawberries are lacquered with a glistening red syrup. The doughnut itself is a solid yeast doughnut, and the best part is sopping up the gloppy red syrup with the doughnut shell. The raspberry cheesecake doughnut was a glazed disk covered with an enormous amount of cream cheese frosting and a dollop of raspberry jam. The frosting was good, and it’s nice to see a doughnut place put some love into the flavored icings and fillings which are so often sub-par, but it was piled so high as to overwhelm the doughnut itself. The raised glazed were fine, but nothing to write home about. If I lived in Glendora, I would no doubt happily patronize Donut Man on a regular basis, but based on my experience, I think it is held in higher esteem than merited.

Frittelli’s, Beverly Hills (first time visit).
The menu: raised glazed, heath bar cake doughnut, apple fritter.

Frittelli's, the fancy schmancy, no trans-fat doughnut vendor to the stars, was by far the worst of all the places I tried this tour. Though laid out in aesthetically pleasing array reminiscent of the museum cum food shop style of Boule, the doughnuts were lackluster at best. The raised glazed was heavy and dry and the glaze lacked character. The Heath Bar doughnut was probably one of the worst cake doughnuts I have had. Now, I grant you, I am primarily a yeast doughnut man, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like a good cake doughnut now and then and that I don’t know one when I taste one (see Bob’s below). In my mind, the ideal cake doughnut is fried such that it has a delicate crispy crust on the outside, giving you some resistance when you bite into it, and tender cake on the inside. And it should have some real flavor. The Heath Bar doughnut was terrible. There was no difference in texture between the crust and the inside and, while it appeared to be chocolate, it had no discernable chocolate flavor. It was topped with a small bit of chocolate icing and a few crunched Heath Bars, but they were not enough to make up for this ridiculously bad (and might I say, overpriced) doughnut. The apple fritter was horribly dry, not very crispy and did not have much apple in it…the worst apple fritter I’ve ever had. Dryness was an across the board problem here.

Bob’s Doughnuts, 3rd and Fairfax Farmers’ Market
The menu: raised glazed, apple fritter, plain cake

I am convinced that Bob’s is one of the unsung heroes of Los Angeles doughnutry. It sits there, inconspicuously, between Patsy’s Pizza (another unsung hero) and the ice cream shop, surrounded by admiring pigeons and elderly regulars; it never seems to get the level of kudos reserved for Donut Man or Primo’s, but it pumps out some of the best doughnuts around. The razed glazed was one of the better I had on the tour. It was light as air, with enough but not too much glaze, but it was really the cake doughnut that shined. The cake doughnut was spectacular. Perfectly crisped on the outside, soft on the inside…only slightly sweet with a hint of nutmeg. I got the plain because they didn’t have the powdered sugar variety. The added powdered sugar would have enhanced the overall doughnut, but tasting the plain cake gave me the opportunity to taste a really well done caker, stripped to its core. The apple fritter was a flat disk, fried to an almost black color, with many nooks and crannies which increase the amount of surface area available to the deep fryer. Bob’s is somewhat famous for the apple fritter, and this one was above and beyond most fritters, but it seemed a bit burnt on some of the edges, which took away from my enjoyment.

Primo’s Doughnuts, National and Sawtelle.
The Menu: buttermilk bar, raised glazed, butterfly cinnamon roll

I hereby declare, even though I have openly professed my preference for the yeast variety of doughnut, that the Primo’s buttermilk bar is the supreme, ultimate best doughnut in Los Angeles! Primo’s is one of my standbys…I was first led there by Chowhound and since my first taste of the crisp, sugary outer layer and the divinely buttery center, moist and yellow, melting in my mouth….I knew it was the best and I am happy to report that so it remains. There is not enough I can say about this doughnut. I was tempted to buy a dozen of these brick sized, perpetually warm bars of doughnut gold. Primo’s rocks. All of Primo’s other doughnuts are good, the butterfly cinnamon roll is particularly so, with a great balance of cinnamon, glaze and dough. Their raised glazed is good but not really special…but none of it compares to the BMB. Hail the BMB!

Grace, Beverly Blvd, west of La Brea (First visit)
The Menu: butterscotch doughnuts

Okay, one of these things is not like the other. Grace is not a doughnut shop; there are no pink boxes, no wax paper, no case or rack of glistening crullers, no table of regulars sipping coffee and they aren’t open in the morning, but Grace is much heralded for its butterscotch doughnut dessert, so I thought I’d mix things up a bit and add it to the list. The butterscotch doughnut is not really a doughnut in the traditional sense, but more of a beignet. The dough is a light, delicate beignet style dough, sprinkled with powdered sugar. The butterscotch filling is sublime, tasting of butter and slightly of caramel but really not very sweet. This is a great dessert but it’s not really fair to compare it to the other doughnut shops listed here. Plus, I think beignets tend to be easier to perfect than doughnuts, and in that sense, it might be unfair to compare these to the “true” doughnuts on the list. I have had many a bad doughnut; done improperly they can be rock hard, flavorless, greasy or overly sweet. In contrast, I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad beignet: light batter, fried quickly, sprinkling of powdered sugar - easy peasy. Still, these were well done and the butterscotch filling, in particular, was excellent; maybe next year I will do a beignet tour.

Stan’s, Westwood Village
The Menu: raised glazed, chocolate peanut butter, buttermilk bar, glazed pretzal

Stan's was the best all-around doughnut shop I visited. The raised glazed was near perfection. It was puffy, slightly beyond normal proportions, the glaze was sweet but not overwhelming and there was a slight sour-yeasty taste to the doughnut. This visit reinforces my opinion that Stan’s is the best raised glazed in LA, at least among the one’s I’ve had. The chocolate peanut butter, or “Robbie,” seems to be somewhat of a house specialty and was wonderful. A nice sweet, peanut butter inside, more like real peanut butter than, say, Reese’s filling. It was topped with chocolate glaze and mini-chocolate chips, but the glory was in the doughnut, which, like all the Stan’s selection I had, was perfectly crisp on the outside, light and airy on the inside, which made for the perfect coating for this confection. The only disappointment was the buttermilk bar. It had a nice buttermilky flavor but the texture was not to my liking, lacking the outer crispness. Maybe cake-type doughnuts just aren’t their thing. The pretzel, a sort of cinnamon twist type doughnut, was also excellent, and again, fried perfectly. For some reason, my impression is that Stan’s is held in low esteem among the LA food intelligentsia…like the Pink's (another of my favorites) of doughnuts. I seem to hear from people that it is overrated or has gone downhill…I have to disagree. Stan’s was on the mark and did more doughnuts better than any place I visited.

Best Doughnut – Primo’s Buttermilk Bar
Best Raised Glazed – Stan’s
Best Cake – Bob’s
Best Specialty – Stan’s (chocolate peanut butter)
Best All Around – Stan’s

So, that’s a rap. My arteries have until next spring to unclog. And now, dear readers, please let me know what I’ve missed. Are there places of this caliber that should go on my list for next year. While I have been in the past, I neglected to make it out to Randy's in Inglewood, oh thee of the big doughnut in the sky – a clear deficiency in my report. And are there doughnuts in the Valley or Orange County that I should be aware of? Let me know and I will add them to my next spring fling.

Thanks for indulging my indulgence.


Anonymous said...

Just curious, where in L.A. or L.A. County can you get a great Beignet? Gumbo Pot, not for me, Uncle Darrows, nope! The place that took over the old Uncle darrows on Venice for 6 months made a thing called a Cales or Callis, a fried rice dough ball with cinnamon sugar, as good as Elizabeth's in New Orleans. Alas he only lasted 6 months, great food, terrible service and took forever for a sandwich. Give me a GREAT Beignet! Please!

sku said...

As I said, I haven't done a beignet tasting in LA. Long ago, I favored the heart-stopping beignets at a place called Coffee Corner in Baton Rouge.

I agree that Gumbo Pot's are sort of lackluster. I did notice that Bob's Doughnuts, of the heavenly cake doughnut, had beignets...based on my experience there, I would be hopeful about this beignet. Next time I'm there, I will try it and report back.

D said...

All these years I've known you and yet I had no idea you were a yeast doughnut man.