The Instinct, Part III


I’m an eater of convictions, and one of the things I used to believe in was the existence of a clear Donut Shop corollary to my Taco Shack theory. In a nutshell, it went like this: The gnarlier looking the donut shop, the better the donuts. The Donut Wheel, in Houston, Texas, was a little outcast in the parking lot of a strip mall, as if even the dollar store told it to stop coming around. But inside, the air smelled of fresh oil and the yeast donuts were float-away light with a surprisingly tenacious chew. (It has since sadly remodeled and the donuts have not survived.) The bluntly named Jelly Donut, in Lincoln Park, Michigan, was housed in a 50’s-era A-frame building with a red roof and wings. The inside was colored by decades of early-morning coffee and cigarettes. Yet the eponymous specialty was so good—crunchy crust, tender cake, sweet and tart jelly.

But lately my faith has been shaken a little, in one of those good, complicating ways that keeps you on your toes. After all, blind faith is so unseemly, particularly when it keeps you away from deep fried cakes.

In Seattle, for instance, you have Top Pot donuts. They call them “hand forged,” and that actually makes sense on first bite. Solid, heavy, serious cake donuts with impressive, powerful glazes. These are donuts of consequence, the bullies of the donut world. Real tough-guy donuts incongruously served in gorgeous, airy cafes lined with bookshelves and Macbook-toting people with beautiful tattoos. Normally a place like this just makes me want to just drink fine coffee and be secretly jealous of people’s haircuts, not pound down something as gauche as a donut.

Ocean Springs, Mississippi, is the proud home of the Tatonut Shop. 57 years old but you wouldn’t know it, what with a recent dye job and a little botox around the temples. From the outside, it looks a little too much like comfortable-vibe-by-numbers, but the logo, unchanged probably since my mother was born, gives its age and longevity away. Tatonuts are sort of the opposite of Top Pots: raised donuts so incredibly light and tender they would sprout angel wings and levitate to safety if a gang of Top Pots cornered them in an alley.

So there are for sure fantastic donuts to be had in ungross places. But what this is making me realize is that my point was never that grody equals good, but that it’s about character. Maybe that character comes from age, maybe that character comes from well-worn grunge, maybe that character comes from pride, care, and a little braggadocio. And if I’m going to scream and holler about great places getting written off just because they don’t look all snazzy, I should also learn to have an open mind about places that look a little more gussied up than what I expect.

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