Donut Challenge Day 6: Dimples Donuts & Expectations

Donut Challenge Day 6We’re nearing the end of this week-long challenge and closing in on selecting the winner. It’s fun hearing that friends are joining in and trying some of these donut shops (and others) this week themselves. Too bad we didn’t bump into any of them while we were out!

Day 6’s visit to Dimples Donuts in Naperville brought up a key factor that often comes into play in bucket list adventuring (that in some ways can make or break an adventure). That’s expectation. On the one hand, expectation for what a bucket list goal will be like is what drives us to set that goal, and it fuels our anticipation leading up to it. The downside happens when the reality doesn’t live up to what we hoped for. Avoidance of this kind of disappointment is what leads some people to ignore the hype surrounding movie releases or concerts or any other event they’re looking forward to. They don’t want to have their expectations unrealistically inflated by others’ perceptions when they might enjoy it more without the hype.

We did not go into Dimples Donuts with any expectations per se. It’s what we found when we got there that set our expectations in motion.

IMG_3616Dimples Donuts of Naperville occupies the end of a quaint strip mall called English Rows on Rt. 59 between 103rd and 104th Streets. The signs on the shop windows were cute and perky, living up to their slogan of “Smile when you say Dimples!” And guess what? They’ve got a drive through window! Perfect for stopping in for a treat after a soccer or baseball game at one of the fields in the neighborhood, or for an early morning breakfast when you aren’t quite ready to get out of your pajamas yet.

The shop was brightly lit, with a few tables and chairs for those deciding to eat in. Their bakery case held a standard variety of donuts, donut holes, fritters and danishes. What caught my eye – and Katherine’s – were the vanilla-filled donuts (not to be confused with custard-filled, which they also had). Could it be?! Might a local shop carry my absolute, ultimate favorite donut? The vanilla buttercream with chocolate frosting at Spunky Dunker’s in Palatine tops any other donut EVER, in my mind. Followed closely by Krispy Kreme’s creme-filled, and then Dunkin Donuts’ chocolate buttercream-filled (although Katherine would put Dunkin’s chocolate buttercream ahead of all others). None of the shops so far on our challenge sold such a donut. Much to my disappointment.

Dazzled by the prospect of a nearby source for donut ecstasy, Katherine and I veered from our usual selection of three different donuts (to split) and opted to each have an entire vanilla-filled donut each, plus a glazed to share. While we brought home a cake donut forIMG_3617 Bethany, it still meant we weren’t going to actually sample a cake donut ourselves. But the sacrifice was worth it. Or so we thought…

I nearly drooled the whole drive home (about 20 minutes), thinking about that vanilla-filled donut. Thankfully the shop clerk had tossed a handful of complimentary donut holes into our bag, so we munched on those to tide us over.

Once home, we dutifully tried the glazed donut first. The flavor was wonderful – very reminiscent of Krispy Kreme’s signature glazed donuts. And like Krispy Kreme’s the donut itself compressed easily when bitten into, unlike some of the springier varieties we’ve sampled. It had lots of crevices and went down smooth with the cup of Dimples coffee I’d bought. A pretty good donut all around.IMG_3619

And then there was the chocolate frosted vanilla-filled donut. A light, flakey yeast donut, it sported a smooth chocolate topping and a heavy dose of sweet whipped cream filling. Not. buttercream. Can I say that again? It wasn’t a buttercream filling at all. More of a whipped frosting like you might find on a strawberry layer cake. On the positive side, this version was not overwhelmingly sweet. And it was quite fluffy. But then again, it wasn’t the vanilla buttercream filling I had been hoping and longing for. Which makes it hard to judge. I’d say it was a very good donut all around, but I felt let down that it seemed I wouldn’t be finding any shops near me with my favorite filling.

To any donut shop or bakery owners around here who might be reading: if you decide to sell vanilla buttercream-filled bismarcks you’ll have two lifelong, loyal, raving customers. Just saying.

Dimples Donuts Scores 

Presentation: 3 stars

Variety: 3 stars

Creativity/Uniqueness: 3 stars

Texture: 4 stars

Glaze: 3 stars

Overall Donut Flavor: 4.5 stars

Overall Score: 3.42 stars

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)