“Getting doned” is how a friend in Portland referred to the consumption of milk and donuts. He rhymed “doned” with stoned because “getting doned” has a satisfyingly stupefying effect. Apparently, being from Nevada isn’t just about guns, gambling, and the mob, but also about how to alter one’s consciousness using everyday food items.
My friend would announce his intention to get doned late on those summer evenings when we didn’t want to go home but didn’t have enough money for much more than a dozen donuts and a quart of milk. He would turn to us and, in his best Bob Dylan voice, announce, “Ev’rybody must get doned!” As we drove to Dunkin’ Donuts, he sang that they’d “done ya when you’re tryin’ to go home.” We took our donuts and milk and park downtown and decamped near the river at Waterfront Park to fill our bellies with milk, sugar, and fat. Lying on our backs, several of us ruminated on the joys of such food and observe that, were we to enter the water, we would have a kind of alacrity in sinking. The only antidotes to getting doned are coffee and sleep, in that order.
The habit of getting doned fell to the wayside as we acquired steady jobs, reached the legal drinking age, and moved to different cities. As we have aged into our 30s, we have lost some of our ability to digest milk (most in my case), and the effect on our bodies of large doses of sugar seems much harsher than it did a dozen years ago. Even so, I enjoy a good donut on occasion, usually after a long bike ride, and they go well with coffee. Lactase (the enzyme that digests milk sugars) is sold over the counter in tablet form, making milk consumption not so painful.
Sunday was another unusually warm Seattle summer day, and I convinced the Butter Bitch to join me in a donut tasting to compare a famous national donut brand against local donuts, including the strangest of desserts: the vegan donut.
The Donut Shops
Calling Krispy Kreme a donut shop is like calling a Boeing plant a workshop. The Krispy Kreme in Northgate is like the other Krispy Kreme locations I have visited, a small factory with an assembly line that rolls fresh donuts from the cooking area to the counter, where they are go on trays for display. The interior is bright green and white and there is a lot of space pabetween the counter and the booths, even taking into account the display stands of Krispy Kreme paraphernalia. The service is friendly and efficient, and we place our donuts in the back seat and head to the next shop.
I should mention that we have no way of tasting the donuts simultaneously under ideal conditions, so we will put all of them at a disadvantage. Each donut will sit in the back of our car, drying out and warming or cooling to about 80 degrees until it reaches the cool shade of our kitchen.
Top Pot’s store has a confusing mix of messages. Like Krispy Kreme, it seems to celebrate ’50s vitality, simplicity and happiness — at least on the outside. The shop features a sheltered patio reminiscent of drive-ins (and gas stations), a pair of palm trees, and a giant donut that should appear in Zippy strip soon if it hasn’t already. This is not your average donut shop, as indicated by the painted letters above the outdoor water fountain: “Pure filtered water.” Inside, this Top Pot contains a long donut counter in one large room and another room that is a 20′ x 20′ library with built-in bookshelves and leatherbound books. Yes, you read that right: A library with built-in bookshelves and leatherbound books.
The interior is Modernist, covered in medium-hued woods and brushed steel with oil paintings of lilies and daisies. The books are real, and include a number of Harvard classics that draw my eye because I only have the three that are on permanent loan from my mother. The service is, again, friendly and efficient, and we leave with an old-fashioned and a chocolate glazed. There is no sign in the front of donut production, only trays of donuts and coffee-making machines. I notice a chaotic-looking kitchen through the side hallway that leads to the bathroom. Completing the oddness of the place is a trim blonde woman dressed all in white who rides off on her pale blue scooter, as though she were late to shoot a commercial.
Mighty-O is in Tangletown, a neighborhood that sits quietly above Green Lake and was our first neighborhood upon our move to Seattle. The shop is small and cramped but cozy, and looks more like a coffee shop than a donut shop. A coffee shop, Zoka’s, is across the street, but Mighty-O sells very good coffee as well. Their windows roll up during the hot summer days and they have tables inside and on the sidewalk. Mighty-O’s claim to fame is that their donuts are entirely vegan. They use only organic ingredients and no animal products or hydrogenated oils. Like Top Pot, Mighty-O is a locally owned company.
The staff are friendly, but not as clean-cut as the Krispy Kreme (working teenager) or Top Pot staff (tanned donut-avoiding athletes). They also are a little disorganized, and at one point, four of them are shuffling behind the counter. They are friendly, and when I ask about the lack of donuts (the case is empty and there are only a few miniature cinnamon donuts in a box on top of the case) one of them tells me efficiently, “No more donuts. We are closing.” This will pose a problem, since the cinnamon minis are completely unlike the donuts from the other two vendors.
“I have a plan,” I inform the Butter Bitch.
“Does it involve going to Caffe Fiore and hoping that they aren’t closed and haven’t sold all of their donuts?”
“Yes.” Caffe Fiore is a delightful coffee house in our new neighborhood, and they sell Mighty-O donuts. They also installed a television just for the World Cup matches, and provided a lively atmosphere when my friend J. and I watched Germany beat Argentina. The employees vocally rooted for Argentina, as did I, while J. and a few patrons cheered on Germany. This shop is at the top of stairs that lead down to Golden Gardens. (There’s another on Capitol Hill.) We are in luck: they’re open and they have Mighty-O donuts. We buy a vanilla cake and a raspberry chocolate (close enough), get a pound of organic free trade coffee, and head home.
I arrange the donuts on a central plate, and then cut small chunks from each of the six donuts that we will taste and arrange them on smaller plates. After we sample the bites, we will be free to take pieces from the main plate for further examination.
Krispy Kreme: Traditional glazed and chocolate old-fashioned
Top Pot: Plain old-fashioned and chocolate glazed
Mighty-O: Vanilla old-fashioned and raspberry glazed chocolate cake.
The miniature cinnamon donuts are left in reserve in case we don’t like the other six donuts or need to introduce more sugar into our bloodstreams.
The Taste Test
The plain donuts are tasted first, starting with Mighty-O and Top Pot and ending with Krispy Kreme. After we taste the plain donuts, we will taste the chocolate donuts, following the same order of Mighty-O, Top Pot and Krispy Kreme. The Butter Bitch pours herself a glass of milk, asserting that the heavy liquid will do a better job to wash away the shocking sweetness of the donuts.
Mighty-O: The old-fashioned has a very strong oil taste and is not very sweet, but is dry. The raspberry chocolate tastes like it has bittersweet chocolate, which goes well with the raspberry glaze. The raspberry chocolate was my favorite and the Butter Bitch’s second favorite. All of the Mighty-O donuts were a little dry, possibly because they were made that morning or the day before and later delivered to Caffe Fiore. Even the minis, which we bought from Mighty-O, were dry.
Top Pot: The old-fashioned is great — moist cake and an even flavor. The donut is munchable and satisfying, something you enjoy eating: you wouldn’t want to ignore it and stuff it in your gullet. The chocolate glazed donut tastes burnt, like meat that has been cooked on a grill that badly needs to be cleaned. I suspect that they burnt the chocolate while making the batter. We’ll have to try them another time.
Krispy Kreme: Both Krispy Kreme donuts have strong vanilla flavor and extremely moist cake. “They taste like they’re supposed to dissolve in your mouth,” observes the Butter Bitch. That makes sense — if you want people to eat a dozen donuts, you don’t want them wasting time chewing. They are very sweet, even more so than Mighty-O, which previously had been my standard for extremely sweet things. The traditional Krispy Kreme donut is creamy in its flavor and texture. The Butter Bitch calls this one “unpleasantly fatty,” in the way that lard looks unpleasantly fatty. The glaze makes it look a little like it is covered with lard, too. I won’t dismiss lard out of hand, as lard has its proponents.
The chocolate donut has such a strong vanilla flavor that it is immediately off-putting. After the nice bittersweet chocolate of the Mighty-O donut and even the burnt chocolate flavor of the Top Pot donut, the Krispy Kreme donut tastes fake. We can taste the chocolate in the Krispy Kreme, but it is accompanied by a lot of vanilla acting as a kind of Secret Service of flavor to protect the chocolate from undue notice.
“I wonder if they add so much vanilla to cover up the amount of oil that they must use to keep the donuts moist and creamy,” I speculate between bites. The donuts were in our car for almost two hours, but still are moist. That’s what people call shelf life.
We quickly decide on our favorites. For the Butter Bitch, Top Pot’s old-fashioned is the best because it has a consistent flavor but isn’t sickeningly fake. The cake is nice and moist. Mighty-O’s raspberry chocolate donut is her second favorite. “It’s a close call between the two,” she admits. When I raise a miniature cinnamon donut, she shrugs and says, “I just love those.” The cinnamon minis are in a class of their own.
I prefer the raspberry chocolate donut above all of the others. The bittersweetness of the chocolate goes very well with the sharp raspberry flavor. I tend to prefer bitter flavors over vanilla-y sweet ones, taking my coffee and beer black when possible. Top Pot’s old-fashioned is my second favorite only because their chocolate donut tasted awful.
Krispy Kreme is at the bottom of our list, even when paired with milk. If I had to list Krispy Kreme’s biggest flaw, it would be that it doesn’t taste good with milk. It would go fine with a cup of coffee, and is creamy-sweet enough to dull the acidity of Krispy Kreme’s coffee.
Mighty-O and Top Pot make fine ’rounds for getting doned. If you find yourself in need of a good milk and fat stupor, they are your best choices.
We ate portions of each donut and devoured a couple, but we save the rest for breakfast the following day. I know that I’ve had too much sugar, and my cup of coffee isn’t cutting through the buzz: My teeth ache.