The first donut I remember eating was from Holland Farms circa 1977, although I think I must have had one before then. It was a day of twin revelations – we also ate ham salad for lunch (save that essay for another time.) My brother and sister and I were staying with my grandmother (my father’s mother – in retrospect I’m surprised because most of my great food memories came through my other grandmother) and we stopped at the bakery after church. A peanut donut. Why not? It looked like it might be dry; it also looked vaguely healthy, which didn’t thrill me. I still recall the first bite – the tender cake yielding, with an immediate creamy sweet sensation that was leavened by the crumbly peanuts (peanut donuts are still my favorite, and for me the peanuts must be “crumbly” – the ones with the big chunks are unrefined and somewhat gross.) Thus began a love affair that I was seriously committed to for the next 15 years or so. It would be almost 12 years before those first donuts were exceeded in my affections however.
In 1988 I returned to Utica for good and started working at the movie theater. Back then, there was a Dan Dee Donuts store in the mall, and they started baking around 6:00 in the morning. On Fridays I used to put the new movies together, and I had to watch them before they could be screened for the public. I’d start between 3 and 4 in the morning, and I’d be ready to watch by 7:00 or so. At 7:00 the first donuts were being set in the case over at Dan Dee Donuts – I could smell them frying as I worked. Although the store didn’t open until later, I was usually able to get a few of those fresh donuts and a cup of coffee to enjoy with my movie. Sour cream donuts. Those fresh Dan Dee donuts spoiled me forever on this kind – I’ve never had anything as good since. Warm, dense cake with a furrow in the top to hold the glaze. Phenomenal.
It wasn’t long before my third great donut affair started. Around the same time, I worked at the drive-in. We’d finish at 2 am or so and head to the all-night coffee shop – Nadine’s. I’ll admit the appeal of Nadine’s donuts had less to do with the quality of the donuts than with the way they were offered every night by Judy, our beloved waitress: “Would you wike a donut? Dey fwesh!” Yes, they were.
I spent many years at that theater in the mall, and Dan Dee Donuts didn’t last long. For many years we contented ourselves with Hemstraught’s cinnamon fry cakes. It should be mentioned that Hemstraught’s approach to donuts was sort of like Michael Bay’s approach to movies – there was nothing subtle about them, but they got the job done. (Hemstraught’s had a frosting-filled donut that also had chocolate and sprinkles on top – a strange drug that first induced violent indigestion followed by a three-hour sugar high.)
Although my affection for donuts has since faded into the background (I still enjoy them from time to time, but find it difficult to get excited about them anymore) I can recall at least one more shining moment, which occurred in the year 2000. I was in New York City, working on Richard’s first show. It was opening night, but the curtain was still hours away. I was staying in a Catholic missionary home (read: clean and cheap); down the street there was a Krispy Kreme. I’d heard about Krispy Kreme donuts, but I’d never tried one. The sign in front of the store said “Hot.” I bought six glazed donuts. An hour later I bought six more. Krispy Kreme can’t make any other kind of donuts to save their lives, but those glazed are heaven. Note: you must eat Krispy Kreme glazed donuts within a couple of hours; otherwise, they harden up and the glaze gets flaky. They go very quickly from one of the best donuts around to one of the worst. NEVER buy them from a fundraiser, where they have usually been fried hours earlier.