Sunday, June 19, 2011

Donut anxiety

I've always considered donuts a laid back proposition. Not the case at the Donut Vault. The stakes are high, quantities are limited and timing is everything. And with the advent of real time social networking, you know exactly where you stand (in a really, really long line with your smart phone, obsessively checking Donut Vault status updates every two minutes) at all times.

We hit that line on Saturday at 10:00 AM. It was about 50 people long and it wound around the corner of Franklin on to Kinzie into the hot sun. I've stood in lines for food before, but this time, I felt sort of foolish, like a donut novice, which I'm not. I grew up on mother's milk and donuts. It's a genetic certainty, my love of donuts, that was passed down from my mother. Just recently she confessed that when she turned 16 and got her driver's license, she would lie to her parents and tell them she was going to a late mass on Sunday, but instead, she'd head to a bakery on the outskirts of town, where she'd get half dozen glazed donuts and eat them all, unrecognized. Now, she's probably going to hell.

But that sordid foray explains our outings at the grocery store when I was in high school. Before we started to shop, my mother and I would head over to the bakery section and buy a dozen sugared donuts in a white paper sack. By the time we finished our shopping, 4 or 5 would be gone. In the cart was another bag of mini powdered sugar donettes, which my stepfather would eat over the course of the next few days, two here, three there, the telltale white powder lingering on the counter at all times from the constant reaching in and pulling out of donuts. I lived in a donut crack house and we were all addicts.

I know my donuts. I don't like Krispy Kremes. Too sweet. Dunkin Donuts taste like the test tube they grew in. My favorite bakery donuts come from Dinkel's here in Chicago. They're dreamy, especially the apple cider donuts rolled in sugar and spice available in the fall. The best restaurant donuts I've ever had came from Campanile in Los Angeles. Nancy Silverton, my pastry idol, concocted a dream plate of two kinds of donuts - ricotta fritters and beignets - accompanied by homemade vanilla ice cream and warm huckleberries. I had that dessert twenty years ago and I'm still reeling.

So there I was, in line at the Donut Vault on Saturday, slightly scared. It takes balls, and a modicum of arrogance, for a restaurateur to expect people to wait in line for any extended period of time, especially for a $2.00 donut. For the first time during one of my many food pilgrimages (there have been many), I wondered if it was worth it. I considered going across the street to Dunkin and getting the test tube donut and calling it a day. Who wants to wait an hour in the hot sun for a freaking donut?

As I was standing there, getting angry, I was also following Facebook, and getting real time updates on which donuts were selling out, and which were getting low. As this was happening, I watched single people come out of the tiny shop carrying two boxes of donuts. And I was starting to get donut rage.

REALLY? You really need two dozen donuts? You know, there are people in line here who would be happy with just one. Asshole. Asshole with a little dog.

And then before I knew it, I was standing inside the vault. Only it wasn't really a vault, it was a hallway pulsating with hip hop music. My 8 year-old daughter was with me and when the singer sang, "Motherfucker motherfucker mother fucker bitch," she looked up at me, alarmed. I was alarmed. These better be great donuts. Motherfucking great donuts. Bitch.

And then it was our turn. I stepped up to the very hip hip hop counter and ordered one of each: old-fashioned buttermilk, chocolate glazed, vanilla glazed, and pistachio. Score. The only one that was sold out was the gingerbread stack and that didn't even sound like a donut, so who cares?

One hour and fifteen minutes after we first stepped in line, I had a Donut Vault bag in hand. We found a spot right in front of the Moody Bible Institute (I knew God would somehow find his way back into this), sat down on a bench and started eating (pictures below, beginning with pistachio, then chocolate, followed by vanilla glazed then buttermilk).

These are good donuts. Good, big, squishy, and very sweet donuts. The chocolate one needs more chocolate glaze. The pistachio wasn't pistachio enough. The vanilla glazed had little flecks of real vanilla bean - a nice touch on what was probably my favorite. And the old-fashioned buttermilk was delightful - I think. I don't remember it very well, but I'm pretty sure it was good.

I still prefer Dinkel's, where there might be one or two people in line in front of me. And where the donut anxiety is at a minimum.


  1. Dear Wendy....I have been in obsessive pursuit of egg rolls comprable to the former "Hoe Kow" restaurant in Chicago. The nearest I have come to finding them is at "Kow Kow" on the far north side of Chicago.
    I also miss the froglegs and perch at the former "Phil Scmids"sp. in N. Indiana. I have heard the Teibels also in N. Indiana has them on the menu and I will try them when I come to Chicago to visit my sister in Oct.
    I also miss "Shelton's Grill" in Ravinia which had a great BBQ Beef sandwich, never duplicated.
    I now live in mtn. NC and am certainly not starved for good food. Any help you or your readers can give me on finding these elusive egg rolls will be appreciated. My next try is in NYC Chinatown at a old time Cantonese restaurant Anthony Bourdain visited on one of his shows.Best, Michael Smith.

  2. My Grandfather's Restaurant, Shelton's Ravinia Grill