I Speak Doughnut
Illustration by Michael Rushbrook
It has been far too long since I’ve done a crawl. Long-standing readers of this column might remember the Great Hot Dog Caper of 1999, during which I wolfed down half a dozen hot dogs in a 48-hour window for the sake of ranking those suspicious tubes of variety meat, red dye No. 40 and nitrate for the magazine’s readership.
Six may not sound like many in light of the fact that this year’s winner of the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest consumed an astounding 68 hot dogs in 10 minutes. But for me, it was a gastronomical feat. I lost my taste for hot dogs having spent three years of hard labor behind a Regency Mall food counter serving frothy Orange Juliuses and chili-slathered slaw dogs to hordes of hungry shoppers. While wearing brown double knit polyester pants. Shudder.
You may also recall the Big Burger Bonanza of 2001, my jaunt through Augusta’s hamburger joints—a culinary cruise about town that pre-dated mad cow disease and the pink slime brouhaha. I sampled burgers at places that continue to dish them out, like Blue Sky Kitchen, Hildebrandt’s and Village Deli, and at a few unfortunate establishments that have been shuttered. RIP Delta Sandwich Shoppe and Whistle Stop Café. The burger that tripped my trigger more than 10 years ago (the cheeseburger all the way at the Sports Center on Broad Street) remains my patty of choice. And with a side of hand-dipped onions rings? Perfection.
There was also a story back in 2006 that involved a whirlwind rum-tasting weekend in Puerto Rico and a mojito mix-off during which some of Augusta’s best barkeeps squared off. That, perhaps, was the adventure for which the term “crawl” was the most apt descriptor. I remain indebted to the sacrifice made by my intrepid tasters—Marian, Mickey, Holly and Beth.
More than six years after my last focused foray through town, I now find myself staring at a glazed doughnut. Not just any glazed doughnut. A “Hot Doughnuts Now” doughnut fresh from a vat of bubbling oil at Krispy Kreme.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I must admit that when given the choice between savory and sweet, I always pick savory. All those well-meaning folks who bring boxes of doughnuts to work on Fridays or National Whatever Day? Thanks for the thought, but a doughnut can’t really get me. Particularly a run-of-the-mill glazed doughnut. I may opportunistically nibble on a raspberry jam-filled powdered doughnut if I’m feeling particularly peckish, but bring in a box of chicken biscuits and I’d elbow your granny out of the way to partake.
And then there’s another problem. As a dyed-in-the-wool English major, I simply cannot abide wanton abuse of the Mother Tongue. To wit, using the letter K when a C or a Q would suffice. Frankly, it drives me krazy. Think Kool-Aid and Krystal and all those roadside watering holes cleverly called Kwik Stop or Kuntry Kitchen. Which brings me back full circle (get it?) to my Krispy Kreme experience, which went something like this:
Me: “Your sign indicates that you are selling hot doughnuts now.”
Woman Behind Counter (warily): “Yeesssss?”
Me: “May I get a hot doughnut now?”
Woman (again, warily): “You can get as many as you like.”
Me: “I believe one will do just fine.”
Woman Behind Counter retreats with a questioning “okaaaay” to retrieve a solitary ring of fried dough from a conveyor belt.
Also in the spirit of full disclosure...this doughnut is my very first Hot Doughnut Now, the first Krispy Kreme I’ve ever eaten fresh from the oil. As I pull it from the bag, I can’t help but think of a jellyfish out of water, a delicate seafaring invertebrate with no bones, no exoskeleton, no shell to protect or support it. When I bite into the doughnut and it responds with an audible squish, the analogy is complete. But there’s no taste of the sea here...just piping hot liquefied sugar and dough. I swallow my first bite and watch the rest of the doughnut slowly collapse in my hand.
And so the crawl begins.
For this adventure, I’ve brought along my friend Doreen, an emergency room physician, in case I need a bolus of insulin administered between stops. My morning routine involves green smoothies—kale, cucumber, kiwi, grapes and Granny Smith apples blended with ice and chia seeds. So not long after I consume the Hot Doughnut Now, I’m visibly vibrating.
Sounds are louder. Trees are greener. And where is that annoying buzzing noise coming from? This, my friends, is a full on sugar rush. And there are miles to go....
I asked Doreen to accompany me on this adventure not simply for the medical support but because she has a seriously respectable doughnut IQ. I had no idea there was a language, but there is. Doreen taught me that doughnuts come in three general varieties—cake, raised and piped.
And within those general categories is a cornucopia of sugared delights. There are the bear claws, Berliners and beignets. Fritters, funnel cakes and old-fashioneds. Boston creams and crullers. Elephant ears and frying saucers. And, let us not forget the doughnut holes—the Munchkins, the Timbits, the dibbles.
There is no end to what one can do with dough, hot oil and a little imagination.
Following our opening volley at Krispy Kreme, Doreen and I make our way to North Augusta to the Donut Hole in North Hills Shopping Center. For doughnut aficionados, this is no Voodoo Doughnut, the much ballyhooed doughnut shop in Oregon that serves clever creations such as the Voodoo Doll, a raised yeast doughnut filled with raspberry jelly topped with chocolate frosting and a pretzel stake, and the Mango Tango, one filled with mango jelly and topped with vanilla frosting and tang.
No, the Donut Hole is a bit more nostalgic, serving handmade classics such as apple crisps, cinnamon rolls, long johns and cake doughnuts covered with chocolate, caramel or sprinkles. As Doreen says, “This is the doughnut you eat when you want to look back.” No Gay Bars, no Dirt doughnuts, no Maple Blazer Blunts—but a right respectable blueberry cake doughnut for only 80 cents. Get there before 10 a.m. because that’s when proprietor and head baker Charles Circle (get it?) closes his doors.
Next stop? Kim’s Donuts on Evans to Locks Road, a venture owned and operated by Cambodian immigrants. Doreen scoped this place out earlier and has been crowing about the bacon topped maple long johns for weeks. About 90 percent of California’s doughnut shops are owned by Cambodian Americans so Doreen has been on the hunt for an Asian-style doughnut shop since she migrated east from Santa Maria, Calif.
Kim’s doesn’t disappoint. In addition to the long johns, Kim’s offers bear claws the size of, well, bear paws, doughnuts filled with homemade lemon cream and custard, chocolate and vanilla iced cake doughnuts topped with chopped peanuts...and kolachés, a classic Czech breakfast pastry. In addition to an assortment of doughnuts, I also purchase a kolaché because the pastry is wrapped around a sausage and cheese. At this point in our adventure, I am in desperate need of protein. Doreen, on the other hand, is wiping crumbs from the front of her scrubs and declaring Kim’s old-fashioned doughnut the best she’s tasted since she left the Left Coast. “Spot on,” she mumbles, “spot on.”
We make one last stop at the Dunkin’ Donuts on Washington Road. “You’ve got to try a French cruller,” Doreen tells me. The doughnuts at Dunkin’ are beautifully displayed and artfully decorated, and I’m distracted from our target by the seasonal offerings...the pumpkin doughnuts and apple orchard doughnuts. Doreen redirects my attention and we exit with a bag of Munchkins, Dunkin’ Donuts version of a doughnut hole, and the crullers, fluted, ring-shaped doughnuts made from choux pastry. They’re practically hollow but that doesn’t make the ingestion of this last doughnut any easier. I will the kolaché and its sugary companions to behave.
Over the course of the crawl, I’ve consumed nine doughnuts and one giant pig in a blanket. Again, based on the fact that the glazed doughnut eating record stands at 49 in eight minutes, my morning’s consumption isn’t much to brag about. But these adventures aren’t about bragging; they’re about learning more about the fare our fair city has to offer—hot dogs, burgers, mojitos. I’m not sure where my next adventure will take me...maybe fried chicken, maybe banana pudding...but as of today, I speak doughnut.