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Saturday, January 10, 2015

Going "D'joh" over Djonuts. "Baked, not fried" never tasted so good.

UPDATES: Djonuts have stopped selling doughnuts at Capes Kafé. Donut King closed on March 20, 2016. The building is to be torn down for new development.

Doughnuts in the Metro have been a mom-and-pop industry in the waning decades of the last century with staples like Donut King, Hiland Bakery, and Donut Hut [see links for blog posts] feeding the masses of their respective neighborhoods.

Chain doughnut shops had once dotted the landscape much earlier on. Dunkin' Donuts wholly abandoned the state in the 1970s, while places like Donutland and Mister Donut closed shop and were reopened as Donut Hut and Donut King respectively. Dotty's Donuts was a local fixture that once had locations on Hubbell Ave. and Buffalo Road, but has long since abandoned doughnut making, which it had employed partially as a marketing tool for its more lucrative business suppling doughnut ingredients, fryers and accessories.

From left: Donut King's Them, Hiland Bakery's cherry batter doughnut, Donut Hut's lemon bismarck.

With the coming of the new century, the chains regrouped. Daylight Donuts, essentially a network of independently owned retail stores, opened a location in Ankeny around 2005, and followed with a shop on E. 14th in 2012. A few years after Daylight's start, Krispy Kreme came rolling into Clive with a massive cult following and as much free press as any business could hope for. Soon their doughnuts were being distributed all over the Metro at various convenient stores, which defeated the whole Krispy Kreme schtick of offering hot raised doughnuts, straight from the glazer. Consquently their appeal waned, but the brick-and-mortar store on 86th St. still exists.

Dunkin' Donuts [see blog post] returned to Central Iowa in 2012 with similar fanfare as the arrival of Krispy Kreme. Starting with a location in West Des Moines, the chain has grown to seven locations across the Metro.

Along the way a quiet revolution took place in Ankeny with the opening of Topped Doughnuts in 2011 [see blog post]. The concept of gourmet doughnuts was a new, exciting concept in these parts, even predating the gourmet cupcake craze. With top-notch cake and raised doughnuts, and superior frosting, Topped Doughnuts raised the bar with exemplary offerings such as Red Velvet and Maple Bacon.

As the dust settles on a Dunkin' Donuts dominated environment, another revolution is taking shape, and unlike the rest, its origin doesn't spring forth from the fryer, but a humble oven.

Left: Topped Doughnuts' Red Velvet. Right: Djonuts for sale at Capes Kafé.

In the last few months, Joe Formaro, son of famed restauranteur/chef George Formaro, has been crafting small batch baked doughnuts, cleverly branded as Djonuts, offering flavors hardly dreamed of in these parts. Currently available at Capes Kafé inside the Des Moines Social Club building at Ninth and Mulberry, and by order, the variety of Djonuts never ceases to amaze me with flavors like Raspberry Rose Petal, Piña Colada, Banana Nutella, PB&J, and Pumpkin Pie. No matter what the flavor, Djonuts offer a moist, airy crumb. Having no deep fried crust, the bite is exceptionally tender.

My first taste of Djonuts was the Cookies n Cream, above, a chocolate cake doughnut topped with a sandwich cookie inspired filling, and finished with a generous crust of crushed chocolate cookie. Easily their most popular flavor.

Holiday Djonuts, above left, were in the house at Capes Kafé's Christmas celebration last month. Featuring a Peppermint Chocolate topped with crushed peppermint sticks and a drizzle of dark chocolate ganache, and an Eggnog doughnut, above center, lightly dusted with warm spices. A Sour Grape doughnut introduced not long after, above right, was pucker inducing.

They make look gimmicky, but Djonuts' breakfast cereal topped doughnuts taste delightful. Both the CinnaCrunch, above left, and Cocoa Pebble Burst, above center and right, offer a moist, full flavored cake, nearly enrobed in a light, milky frosting. Crunchy cereal atop adds a fun dimension.

The apex of the Djonut art: the Cookie Butter Nutella. Available as cookie butter frosting drizzled on Nutella frosting, or the other way round. Its the best frosted doughnut in town, IMHO. Even better than Donut King's much lauded Them.

Cherry Carnage, above left and center, takes the cake for best cherry frosted doughnut in town, an honor that Hiland Bakery held admirably for years. The Strawberry Lime, above right, is exceptional! Its like tasting a strawberry, seeds and all, with a citrusy undertone from the lime drizzle.

Another strawberry frosted concoction, the Tiger's Blood, offers lightly toasted coconut. No tally of Djonuts' creations can be complete without highlighting the PB&J, a peanut butter cake doughnut with peanut butter frosting and a grape jelly drizzle. Despite the absense of whole-wheat flour, it tastes just like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on wheat. Evocative, comforting.

As to what the future has to offer Djonuts, whether they're sold at more locations or from a brick-and-mortar shop, its sure to be a good bite either way. I do think a mug of Capes Kafé coffee is the best pairing one can enjoy with a Djonut, but I'm fairly biased and its just down the street from home.

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