Archives for March 2017

Donut Challenge Day 5: Glaze Donuts & Repeating a Bucket List Conquest

Donut Challenge Day 5The donut challenge continues and I’m thinking of renaming my car The Donut Mobile. Not that we’re trekking far for our donuts, but we are criss-crossing the Western Suburbs in search of donut perfection. The hardest part has been riding home hungry with those donuts calling out to us to be eaten immediately. However, we’ve resisted mightily and held on until we could get them home and properly documented (aka photographed).

Up until today all of our visits have been to shops new to us. After all, that’s what bucket lists are for, right? Trying new things. And once you’ve checked it off, it’s no longer bucket-list-worthy. Or is it? Sometimes I think repeating a bucket list conquest or revisiting a goal destination can work – especially if you are approaching it in a new context. Visiting Disney World is on many people’s bucket lists, but that experience becomes new all over again when you return to the Mouse’s House with children who have never been there. Learning a new skill might be a bucket list experience that you redo under the tutelage of a renowned master. You don’t always have to think of bucket list goals as “one and done.”

IMG_3612For us, Glaze merited a spot on our challenge list because it has undergone a name (and presumably management) change since we visited it last. Once called Joe & Doh, this little shop occupies the end of a strip mall opposite our local DMV. It’s in an odd location, facing at an angle to all the other shops in the strip. But it is visible looking South from West Street (although not at all visible from the DMV – too bad for them).

We had fun surveying the variety of flavors there, since they had a few more unusual ones. Finally we IMG_3615selected a glazed donut, a cake donut with mint icing and chocolate drizzle, and a raspberry-filled bismarck. We like branching out and trying new flavors, so this stop gave us plenty of opportunity. We also brought home a caramel frosted cake donut for my eldest daughter, who arrived home from her trip to New Jersey in the early afternoon.

Katherine and I were impressed by the flavor of the glazed donut – sweet, but not too much so, with undertones of vanilla. It was probably one of the best glazed donuts we’ve tasted so far, in terms of flavor. However, the surface was very sticky. If you like your glazed donuts that way, it’s not a problem. But I’m not big on sticky donuts. And the texture didn’t stand out the way the flavor did.

After the custard bismarck from Ingram’s yesterday and the Biscoff one from Stan’s, we decided to try another version of bismarck, this one with raspberry filling. Again, the pastry texture left something to be desired. In spite of us buying and eating these at breakfast time, all three donuts were a bit dry. In the case of the bismarck though, we willingly overlooked the texture because the filling made up for it. The thick, glistening red raspberry jelly filling encompassed most of the donut’s interior, meaning raspberry goodness in every bite. The powdered sugar topping was also plentiful and together with the pastry and filling made it a pleasing option.

Our other choice, the mint-frosted cake donut with a chocolate drizzle wooed us with its enticing appearance. This donut was thick, not as crispy on the outside as other cake donuts we’ve had and a little dry. The mint flavor worked because it didn’t overwhelm the taste of the donut itself, and while it was the sweetest of the three, we found the sweetness agreeable.

Glaze Donuts Scores 

Presentation: 4 stars

Variety: 4 stars

Creativity/Uniqueness: 3.5 stars

Texture: 2 stars

Glaze: 2 stars

Overall Donut Flavor: 4 stars

Overall Score: 3.25 stars

I said above that it sometimes works to return to a previous bucket list conquest when experiencing it in a new context. That’s true in this case, mostly because I can’t remember what I thought of Joe & Doh. Glaze stood on its own merit for our challenge, not overshadowed by its predecessor.

Have you ever “redone” a bucket list goal or returned to the site of a previous adventure? What made it different the second time around? Could you see repeating an adventure in a different context?

Donut Challenge Day 4: Ingram’s Busy Bee – Look to the Locals

Donut Challenge Day 4We’re on Day 4 now of our Challenge and friends have been asking if we’re getting sick of donuts yet. The answer? Of course not! Our secret? We’re eating only about one donut-worth apiece (give or take) each day.

For Day 4 we tried donuts from a true old-fashioned bakery. Ingram’s Busy Bee has been selling local families their scratch-made cakes, cookies and pastries in downtown Downers Grove since I was a child, if not longer. Which is why I wanted to include them in our challenge. Their business isn’t based on a fad or a “concept,” but simply years of proving they can deliver a great product.

In my bucket list adventures I have always valued authenticity. When I traveled to Russia in my 20’s I did a homestay, living with Russian families instead of booking a curated tour, staying in hotels & seeing carefully selected sites. When I’ve sought to experience the food of a region in the U.S., I’ve based my choices, as much as possible, on recommendations from the locals. And whenever we travel somewhere new, I try to avoid the tourist traps and find where everyday folks shop and eat (although the kitschy shops always manage to lure me in).

Never has this philosophy let me down. And it held true in this case as well.

Ingram’s Busy Bee bakery sits on Main Street, about a block away from the train station in the IMG_3609longtime business district of town. The bright yellow-and-black-striped awning and windows decked with seasonal decorations remind me of trips to this and other local bakeries in my childhood. Inside high-up shelves showcase tiered decorated cakes and glass-fronted cases display rows upon rows of baked goods ready to take home.

I eyed the frosted cookies, but had to hurry to buy my donuts since the girl behind the counter was already stacking trays from the case onto a cart in preparation for closing time a half hour later. Thankfully she still had a nice variety of donuts for me to choose from. I brought home two chocolate frosted cake donut holes (this was the first shop to offer bite-sized versions), our usual glazed donut, and a custard-filled bismarck.

IMG_3610Two words for all three donuts: oh. wow. The glazed donut was beautiful to behold. A very tall, golden yeast pastry, with a dense, but light, texture, it managed to be flakey without giving way to air pockets (like Stan’s glazed). It wasn’t too sweet and had just the right flavor.

The donut holes were also dense, but with a moist cake-like texture that was perfectly crisp on the outside. A thick, smooth daub of hardened chocolate icing on top melded nicely with the buttery cake flavor. It’s a good thing we only had donut holes and not whole donuts, because I’m not sure I could have stopped after only two bites (which is how much it took to eat the half of a donut hole that I split with Katherine – they don’t skimp on size).IMG_3611

Finally there’s the piece-de-resistance: the custard-filled bismarck. This yeast donut, like the glazed one, stood 3-4″ tall, dusted with a generous coating of powdered sugar. It was heavy with filling, so we knew we wouldn’t miss out on tasting custard in every bite. The custard itself overflowed when I cut into the bismarck, not dripping like the watery custards in some Boston Creme donuts, but clotted thick like pudding. The flavor of donut and custard balanced well without being too sweet. This one won as our overall favorite from Ingram’s.

Ingram’s Busy Bee Bakery Scores 

Presentation: 4 stars

Variety: 3 stars

Creativity/Uniqueness: 3 stars

Texture: 5 stars

Glaze: 5 stars

Overall Donut Flavor: 5 stars

Overall Score: 4.17 stars

It’s no wonder to me that Busy Bee comes out as the top scorer so far in our challenge. They’ve had decades to perfect their donuts and have clearly earned the spot they hold as a local bakery. This is no flash-in-the-pan donut shop or concept shop. This is an honest-to-goodness hometown business that knows how to please. Following the lead of the locals proves to be a good philosophy once again!

Is there a locally-owned bakery like this in your town or region that people rave about? Do you look to locals for recommendations when planning your bucket list adventures?

Donut Challenge Day 3: Honey Fluff Donuts & Sensory Reset

Donut Challenge Day 3Our donut tour of the Western Suburbs of Chicagoland continues today with a stop at Honey Fluff Donuts in Countryside. As I’ve done the past two days, I want to point out a broader concept I learned from this visit before giving you our review of the shop. What I realized from visiting Honey Fluff is that not every business needs to be the best or a standout to do well. And not every stop on any adventure will be amazing. In fact, maybe our adventures shouldn’t be one hundred percent over-the-top mind blowing. Sometimes it’s good to have an ordinary, everyday experience as you explore. I think of it as a sensory reset. Having a break from newness or from being “wowed” gives our minds and senses an opportunity to settle. It prepares us to be amazed again. After all, how much do you notice a light being turned on in a glaringly bright room compared with that same light being lit in a dim space?

When you plan adventures for yourself or your family, consider this factor. Think about whether it would be valuable to build in a “down” day intIMG_3598o your schedule, for a longer vacation. Or a break in an intense day-long activity. Or whatever a sensory reset might look like for your given adventure.

Not that Honey Fluff was a sensory reset exactly, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

IMG_3565Honey Fluff Donuts is located in a strip mall on Joliet Road not far from I-55 and I-294. An easy stop on a commute or trip across the area. What I noticed as I pulled up in front were the prominent signs featuring their deals. I like deals! 4 donuts for $3.39, plus tax? Yes, please! Of course the afternoon special offering a baker’s dozen for $6.80 plus tax would have been tempting too – except I don’t want to burn us out on donut eating (which is a very real possibility this week). Given that it’s not far from where I work, I can see myself stopping by for a baker’s dozen on another afternoon as a treat for the family. Instead this time I bought 4 donuts, which ended up costing about the same as one Dough Boy donut at Stan’s Donuts (for comparison’s sake). And I think that’s what Honey Fluff Donuts has going for them – their prices are reasonable enough for a family to grab a dozen for breakfast.

IMG_3606In addition to the requisite glazed donut, I chose a Boston Kreme, a buttermilk cake,  and a chocolate frosted cake. The shop had sold out of their sour cream donuts, which I would have liked to try. Otherwise, their selection followed the standard donut shop listings – nothing unique. Which I don’t think hurts them at all. Honey Fluff seems like a solid neighborhood donut shop that isn’t out to win accolades as much as they want to offer customers regular donuts.

Among the four we sampled, the Boston Kreme won out for best donut. The custard filling was delightfully thick and creamy smooth and they didn’t skimp on it – even cutting it into quarters, we both ended up with mouthfuls of filling (it drives me nuts when a donut is filled unevenly). The chocolate frosting tasted sweet and chocolatey, just as expected and the donut itself, while not flakey like Stan’s, held up well to the filling.

The glazed donut was underwhelmingly basic. A thin layer of glaze coated a donut that was more cake-like than you typically find in a yeast donut. I like that the donut held up well – it didn’t squish flat like some do. The flavor didn’t stand out. The same was true of the buttermilk cake donut. It was slightly crisp on the outside with a decent cake texture, but I couldn’t tell the difference taste-wise between it and the yellow cake donut with chocolate frosting. If it hadn’t been evening when we tried them, I would have liked to have had a cup of coffee alongside these donuts. That’s the kind of donuts they are – your donut-and-coffee type.

Bearing in mind the above, here are our ratings.

Honey Fluff Donut Scores

Presentation: 3 stars

Variety: 3 stars

Creativity/Uniqueness: 2 stars

Texture: 3 stars

Glaze: 3 stars

Overall Donut Flavor: 2.5 stars

Overall Score: 2.75 stars

Do you have a local donut shop near you like Honey Fluff? And what do you think of my sensory reset theory? Have you ever worked in a break during your adventures?



Donut Challenge Day 2: Stan’s Donuts & Why You Should Seek Recommendations

Donut Challenge Day 2Our week of trying new donut shops continues with a visit to the brand new Stan’s Donuts & Coffee at OakBrook Center. But before I give a rundown on our Stan’s experience, I want to share with you something that I learned as we started this challenge: getting recommendations when planning an adventure can make a big difference. We would not have known about Stan’s if it weren’t for friends chiming in on social media to recommend it to us. In fact, the concept of our Donut Challenge arose from our awareness of some local shops partly through others’ recommendations.

When you’re planning a trip or starting a new hobby do you look to others who have experience for advice? Do you ask locals for restaurant recommendations and read travel guides for ideas on attractions to visit? Do you seek suggestions on the right tools to invest in for your hobby or the best places to shop for them? In the age of the Internet, it’s not difficult at all to survey your friends about any subject. And people are often eager to help. Don’t forget the value of this the next time you set out to do or see something new.

IMG_3559After work yesterday I headed up to Oakbrook Center mall to check out Stan’s Donuts. I’ve been shopping at this mall since my mother dragged me to the Crate & Barrel store there as a preschooler. Along with an array of department stores and specialty shops, it has some excellent restaurants (Mon Ami Gabi, The Cheesecake Factory and Wildfire, to name a few), plus Pinstripes, an upscale bowling alley, and a recently added AMC 12-screen movie theater. In other words, entertainment and nightlife are plentiful at the mall. In conjunction with the AMC, a new food court called The District was added. Stan’s Donuts opened a stall in The District earlier this month.

IMG_3558I parked in the lower level parking underneath the wing of the mall anchored by Nordstrom’s (entrance is on the south side), although the mall would recommend parking in the Purple Parking by the AMC. From where I parked I took the elevator to Level 2 of the mall and exited just outside The District – very convenient. Luckily, I arrived at an off hour. No movies had recently ended and it was too early for the dinner hour crowd. Even so, I waited in a line behind a little more than a half dozen people. According to the cashier, the lines had typically been 30 deep or longer since the Grand Opening on March 18th.

Stan’s Donuts sells a large variety of flavors and prices them in categories: Standards, Specialties and Dough Boy’s Best. You can choose from old-fashioned donuts in traditional and unique flavors, filled pockets and bismarks, pretzel-shaped donuts, cake donuts and more. I chose one from each category: a standard glazed, a chocolate orange old-fashioned (specialty),  and a Biscoff Pocket (Dough Boy).StansDonuts

Here’s what we thought of each one: the glazed yeast donut had a nice flakey texture, with the layers evident. They had puffed up nicely and even had a few air pockets, reminiscent of a beignet. However, the glaze itself had separated and made the outside a bit moist. Katherine, Evelyn & I agreed that it was good, but not the best of the three.

Like the glazed donut, the Biscoff Pocket was nice and flakey. The glaze-coated pocket held just the right amount of Biscoff Cookie Butter filling. As someone who enjoys dunking Biscoff cookies in my coffee, I could very well see how this would pair well with a cup of joe (which Stan’s sells). This one I would buy again.

Finally, the orange old-fashioned with a chocolate frosting did not disappoint. The taste was excellent – the cake donut had a complex orange flavor and the rich, deep chocolate of the frosting matched it well. The donut itself was soft with crisp edges. Katherine’s only wish was that it had more chocolate on it.

Stan’s Donuts & Coffee Scores *

Presentation: 3 stars

Variety: 5 stars

Creativity/Uniqueness: 5 stars

Texture: 3 stars

Glaze: 3 stars

Overall Donut Flavor: 3 stars

Overall Score: 3 2/3 star

IMG_3560Right now, Stan’s & DeEtta’s are neck-in-neck in the overall score. We’ll see how the others match up in the coming days. In the meantime, we definitely recommend Stan’s Donuts – particularly if you are in search of a unique flavor like the Biscoff Pocket, Captain Crunch Bismark, or a Lemon Pistachio Old-Fashioned (which friends tell me they love).

* (texture, glaze & flavor based on Glazed Donut only)

Donut Challenge Day 1: DeEtta’s Bakery

Donut Challenge Day 1If you’re following along, you know that my daughter Katherine and I have embarked on a seven-day tour of seven donut shops/bakeries in the Western Suburbs of Chicago in search of our favorite. Before I give you the Day 1 results, I want to point out something about this challenge: it’s interesting because it has a theme. In other words, if you are searching for a way to spice up a weekend, a vacation or a school break, look for a theme to center your activities on. We chose donuts because it had become apparent that there were some good shops out there that we hadn’t tried and after all, what were we waiting for? But you might make a summer-long goal of visiting every park in your town. Or maybe you want to check out all the food trucks in a city near you during a given week. Giving yourself a list to work through adds purpose and direction to what otherwise might be an aimless week off.

So for our Donut Challenge, Katherine devised a rating scheme. Each shop will be judged on the following categories: presentation, variety, creativity/uniqueness, texture, glaze (because we plan to try a glazed donut at every stop), overall donut flavor, and overall score. She chose a 5-star scale, where 1 star = bad, 2 stars = worse than average, 3 stars = average, 4 stars = better than average and 5 stars = amazing!

IMG_3550Yesterday we began our challenge at DeEtta’s Bakery on Fifth Avenue in Naperville. This isn’t strictly a donut shop per se, but on Friday through Sunday they serve freshly made donuts. And they recently won a judge’s choice award for their chocolate sour cream old-fashioned at the Chicago Donut Fest.

We drove across town to this little bakery that sits just across the street from Naperville North High School. Katherine surmised that students probably stop by there on Friday mornings to grab a donut. I’ll bet she’s right! As it was, a steady stream of cars flowed into the small lot there bringing patrons eager for coffee and donuts.

Behind the counter, two women worked serving coffee and packaging donuts for customers. We didn’t have to wait long. DeEtta’s offers a standard variety of donuts flavors, along with a handful of unique tastes like cinnamon sugar, pecan, and maple bacon. We chose to sample the vanilla sour cream old-fashioned and a chocolate frosted chocolate cake donut (we’re both big chocolate lovers), plus we brought home a maple bacon for my husband to try.


Katherine sampling the vanilla sour cream old fashioned

IMG_3553Here’s what we thought of DeEtta’s donuts: they were good. Actually, I thought the vanilla sour cream was very good. Coated in a thick layer of glaze that gave a little crunch as you bit into it, this donut was melt-in-your-mouth light. The sour cream gave it a moist texture and the edges were crumbly crisp, in a good way. The glaze added just the right amount of sweetness to the outside, without soaking in to make it soggy. I would say the vanilla sour cream was my favorite of the two. Katherine preferred the chocolate cake donut. I did like the flavor – a solid, light chocolate, and the frosting matched it well without being overwhelmingly chocolatey. The texture, on the other hand, was too cakey for my tastes. It literally felt like eating a donut-shaped slice of cake. I like cake, but not in the morning, so that did not work for me. As for the maple bacon, Mike enjoyed the donut but didn’t care for the bacon topping. While clearly the bacon had been cooked to a crisp, it became chewy sitting atop the donut. That didn’t stop him from eating either the donut or the bacon, though!

Now before I give you our combined star ratings for DeEtta’s, I want to note that ratings for flavor variety and creativity/uniqueness may skew toward the donut shops during our challenge. After all, if all you are serving is donuts (and coffee), then you have space and time to experiment. On the other hand, bakeries may choose to narrow their offerings to a group of tried and true flavors, while also giving customers other pastry choices such as coffee cakes, muffins, and scones. I’m not sure we should hold that against them. We may have to adjust our scoring as we go along.

That said, here is what we thought of DeEtta’s donuts:

DeEtta’s Bakery Donut Scores

Presentation: 3 stars

Variety: 3 stars

Creativity/Uniqueness: 3.5 stars

Texture: 4 stars

Glaze: 4.5 stars

Overall Donut Flavor: 4 stars

Overall Score: 3 2/3 stars

Have you been to DeEtta’s for their donuts? If you have, which donut(s) is your favorite?