As promised, this is part two of our cross-country saga: The Great Doughnuts across America Tour. I could have just as logically called it “Lumpy Hotel Mattresses across America,” or “Restrooms of Questionable Upkeep across America,” or even the “Wasn’t that our Exit?” Tour, but since my travelling companion actually planned the doughnut adventure, we’ll stick with that.
Yes, months before we even left Nothingbutfranchiseville, Virginia, my research-driven husband scoured every reference to doughnut shops in every major city along our anticipated driving route from San Francisco to Pittsburgh. He read reviews (particularly those that mentioned his favorites: maple bars and cinnamon rolls), whittled down lists to the highest-rated establishments, and checked their locations for ease of access, even using Goggle Earth to look at store fronts. Then he devised some mathematical sugar-to-distance formula to assess how many miles we could justifiably drive out of our way to explore establishments of particularly high grade. I know what you’re thinking. Perhaps I should call this the “Calories across America” Tour. Yes…yes it was.
Our standard for comparison was Richard’s Donuts in Carmichael, Calif., the regional favorite of the Sacramento Oswalt clan mentioned in my last post. Over the past few years, Jerry has raved so extensively about Richard’s maple bars that I resigned to put them on my bucket list…right under “Dip a toe in the Great Salt Lake,” and before “Watch the Bay of Fundy tides change at sunset.” Aside from Richard’s nearly unforgivable spelling impairment, he seems to know what he’s doing in that little bakery of his. His maple bars are, indeed, delicious, but his crullers are melt-in-your-mouth-worth every calorie.
Of course, by the time I tasted a Richard’s, I’d already experienced what we’ve since proclaimed the worst doughnut stop on our trip—a small bakery in downtown San Francisco. We should never have stopped there, 1: during rush hour, 2: straight from the airport, 3: in the afternoon, or 4: in a car. We learned some valuable lessons there that set our parameters for the remainder of our trip. To pull off the buy, Jerry had to drive around the block while I ran inside, as parking did not exist. In the store I found only a few longish things that looked like maple bars in the case, so I bought two and high-tailed it outside before our rental car made it back. Then, I held the bag on my lap until we could get out of the city, as getting out of there took some serious navigation and concentration. At last, as we drove up onto the Oakland Bay Bridge, we sighed deeply and then each took a bite of—something greasy and nearly gag-able. Neither of us wanted another bite. To make matters worse, holding that bag five minutes on my lap left a San Francisco Memorial Grease Stain on my blue capris.
After our visit in Sacramento, we hit the road east with high expectations. Our first doughnut stop was in Elko, Nevada. We’d set out from our hotel late in the morning, stopping at Donuts N Mor. The name made me wonder if anyone has ever conducted a study on the possible effects that excessive exposure to yeast might have on the brain’s spelling lobe. Anyway, by the time we arrived, the place had been seriously scavenged. After selecting from what we thought were our only options (some fair, but nothing-to-write-posts-about cinnamon rolls), an apparent regular came in and ordered maple bars—and the clerk got her some from the back! Sigh. After Elko, we determined to get to shops early in the morning….even if I had to push Jerry out of bed to bring breakfast doughnuts back to the hotel. (That only worked once, by the way. Another sigh.)
Salt Lake City’s doughnuts were forgettable, but we gave the city points for being Salt Lake because of two memorable experiences nearby. First, we stopped at the Bonneville Salt Flats, something I’d have PUT on my bucket list if I’d known how amazing that place is. Miles and miles of salt in every direction, white as snow, mesmerizing, and, well, salty. (But of course I tasted it, wouldn’t you?) Second, we stopped at the Great Salt Lake, which was a beautiful and memorable disappointment. No, I didn’t dip my toe, although I could have. However, that would have required me to walk across a two-foot-wide band of brine shrimp carcasses and their brine fly border guard. No, thank you. But we did get a video of the flies. Trust me, it’s way cool. (Don’t watch me, watch the sand in front of me!)
Then the doughnut tide changed for us at the Milk Run Donut Cafe in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Once again, we arrived after the stampede, but I found a mocha-filled ball o’ goodness and Jerry hit doughnut nirvana with a maple frosted cinnamon roll. We savored every bite, ignoring the staff as they swept and cleaned around us, hinting as best they could that the place closes when inventory runs out.
We stayed in Colorado a few days, also sampling Daylight Donuts in Longmont, and the Donut House in Denver. Good, but not Richard’s good. But Lincoln, Nebraska, oh my, who’d have thought? If for ANY reason you go to Lincoln, please stop at Lamar’s. Great selection, great doughnuts, melty soft goodness. I enjoyed it so much I’m wondering if I should encourage my high school junior to consider becoming a Cornhusker. I’d visit, I really would.
Even better than Lamar’s, only because it’s barely a two-day drive if I ever wish to go back, is Marci’s Italian Bakery, in South Bend, Indiana. Regrettably, by the time we reached Indiana, I was DONE with doughnuts. I walked the length of display cases just wishing I wanted a doughnut, but it wasn’t going to happen. I settled for some small cheese Danish sticks, just to experience the place, but Jerry had a doughnut and said it’s a winner. However, he was still on a high from checking off his bucket list item, a visit to Notre Dame (complete with a Touchdown Jesus sighting) and chanting “Rudy, Rudy” as if it were a theme song, so even a sardine pretzel probably would have made him smile. At any rate, I will be back, Marci.
We finally made it to Pittsburgh, and on the recommendation of our oldest, visited Pastries A La Carte. It did not disappoint. Again a residual doughnut overload sent me to the cheese Danish tray. I cannot say enough good things about the cheese Danish there. The messiest, cheesiest, pastries I’ve ever tasted. I have a new standard by which to compare all cheese Danish in the future… hmmm, wondering if perhaps this calls for a drive back, this time on a Cheese Danish across America Tour?
But that will have to wait, because our family is not through with doughnuts. How are the pastries in your home town? Let us know your favorite bakery and we’ll add it to our list. We’ve found two so far that give Richard’s a run for its money, but we’re willing to do way more sampling before we proclaim a winner. Someone’s gotta do it…you know, for pastry’s sake.
Okay, I usually tie my Bible verses to the post, but there are simply no doughnut verses to be found, so I selected something that addresses the joy we can find in everything, even doughnuts:
Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. – John 1:3