Donut Challenge Day 7: Sylvia’s Bakery & The End

Donut Challenge Day 7Spring break is over and we’re back in the flow of the school year. But I realized being swept up in weekend activities and preparing for break to end, I missed posting about Day 7 of our Donut Challenge. Of course, that might be due in equal part to the letdown we experienced as our challenge came to an end.

Ending any adventure comes with a complication of emotions, doesn’t it? If the experience went well, chances are we’re wanting to hang on to that emotional high and keep the good times going. But just as often, we’re ready to return to the everyday (at least I am) and the comfort of routine. And so the final hours and moments might be a mixture of up and down, reluctance and euphoria.

In the case of our Donut Challenge, it was mostly down.

Admittedly, Sylvia’s Bakery had a tough position, being last in our challenge. We’d already savored such delights as DeEtta’s sour cream old-fashioned, Stan’s Biscoff Pocket and Busy Bee’s amazing glazed donut. What was Sylvia’s going to bring to “wow” us?

Driving South on Cass Avenue in Darien, we struggled to find the shop. Where our GPS told us toSylvias expect it we saw a broad swath of buckled concrete parking lot, flanked by a rundown strip mall called “Darien Plaza.” Not to be deterred, we bucked and bumped in The Donut Mobile toward the building, until finally, tucked beyond a jutting section of the building, we saw Sylvia’s.

“Maybe it’s a hidden gem,” I remarked to Katherine. After all, it hadn’t come recommended by anyone. I’d simply found it in my Internet searches as I worked on putting together our list. Could it be the discovery I’d been hoping to make when I added it to the challenge? A terrific little donut joint none our friends had ever heard of?

We entered Sylvia’s with an attitude of anticipation. For a Saturday morning, the shop seemed too quiet. We were the only customers. A lone young woman stood behind the counter, where photos and signs advertised Easter pastries like babka, houska, and braided Easter egg bread. A model lamb cake stood sentry in a case by the door.

IMG_3623Tucked in a corner of the glass bakery case sat trays of standard donuts – no new flavors for us to try. And so we picked up the usual – a glazed yeast donut, chocolate-frosted cake, and a custard-filled bismarck, along with two long johns for Mike and a friend, plus a cake donut for Bethany. On the positive side, the prices here were the least of anywhere we’d been all week.

A quick hop on nearby I-55 and we were home in a short time, hungry for breakfast and hopeful these donuts would satisfy.

The glazed donut was coated in a nice thick layer of glaze that crackled when I cut into it. The donut itself had a nice buttery taste, with a light, if dry, texture.  Katherine and I both deemed it a little better than average.

IMG_3625The chocolate frosted cake donut was only slightly crispy on the outside – not quite what we’d come to expect. The interior crumbled easily and had a drying effect on my tongue. Decidedly not enough moisture to it. Neither Katherine and I could place the flavor we were picking up in the donut. Again, it didn’t taste like other cake donuts we’d tried and although unusual doesn’t have to be bad, this distinct flavor didn’t appeal to us.

That left the custard-filled donut. Again, the pastry itself was dry, with a slightly sour custard. Not spoiled tasting, but not a sweet-cream custard. We decided it resembled more of what you’d find in a tapioca than a vanilla custard. A disappointment.

Sylvia’s Bakery Scores 

Presentation: 2 stars

Variety: 3 stars

Creativity/Uniqueness: 3 stars

Texture: 2 stars

Glaze: 4 stars

Overall Donut Flavor: 2.5 stars

Overall Score: 2.75 stars

And so our Donut Challenge ended on a down note. Maybe we’d gotten burnt out on donuts. Or maybe we’d been spoiled by places like Busy Bee and Dimples. I do know that both Katherine and I become more aware of the nuances of the pastries we were sampling over the course of the challenge. We learned to recognize what made a donut appealing to look at and how texture comes into play. It helped to sample so many different places in such a short time. In the end, Sylvia’s just didn’t live up to what we’d come to expect.

Have you ever experienced a letdown at the end of an adventure? How do you usually feel when a vacation or other new experience is coming to an end?

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 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)