I recently moved 1,729 miles away from the best donut shop in America: Portland’s Delicious Donuts.
An optimist might take some consolation in the move, considering I now live 1463 miles closer to the “World’s Best Donut,” in northern Minnesota. But I am not consoled—at least until I can settle on a suitable go-to donut in Minneapolis*—I will remain in mourning.
My introduction to Delicious Donuts was the summer of 2007. That is when I discovered The Delicious Apple Fritter: the fritter that made me the man I am today.
It was an especially long day working at the OMSI front desk. I clocked out for my lunch break and was about to tuck into another miserably healthy waldorf salad—the same waldorf salad I’d been eating for almost two months straight (It was quick and easy to prepare). But that night, the waldorf wasn’t cutting it.
Feeling a little slutty, I rode off, in search of something dirty to help me through my shift.
I found Delicious Donuts on the corner of Burnside and Grand, wedged in a strip mall between a Plaid Pantry and O'Reilly Auto Supply.
Inside, Delicious was refreshingly absent the ubiquitous, surgically-curated minimalism of the trendier boutiques with sterile subway tiles or hand-woven sconces brimming with air plants. There was no cafe DJ spinning early Aphex Twin. There was no brand color pallet. There was no rotating collection of vague and overpriced lazy-art.
What Delicious lacked in pretense, they apparently made up for with surprisingly friendly customer service and a wide selection of incredible looking donuts.
Their pastry case was stocked with staid fare and the requisite fancies. But there was the apple fritter, tucked neatly between the maple bars and plain cakes—It was calling out to me.
The fritter had a satisfying heft (It must have weighed over a pound!). I took a ravenous bite before leaving the store, like an animal. Its peaks and edges were scandalously crispy, with a marshmallowy, pull-apart middle. It was very sweet yes, (as a fritter should be) but not overly eager. And the sugar was balanced by a nutty-appleness and a kiss of cinnamon.
I returned to my office at OMSI, where I locked the door to my office, closed the blinds, and did some terrible, nasty things to that poor apple fritter.
(You never forget your first time.)
So began my weekly ritual of much anticipated visits to Delicious Donuts. Because the Delicious Fritter was such a whopper, I rationed my visits to once a week, for whatever day I was hurting the most.
Ours would be a romance for the books.
The fritter followed me to my next job, at Chris King Components where, on Fridays, we would celebrate the end of a work week with Donut Fridays. Even though we were supposed to start work immediately, with no funny business, there was a dangerous, devil-may-care luxury to opening a dozen donuts and taking just a moment to let the morning roll itself out and, perhaps with a coworkers, admire the sunrise coming through the upper windows, lighting up the rafters.
Before leaving Portland, I stopped by Delicious Donuts to take some pictures of my favorite donut shop and visit my fritter one last time. I was noticed by a group of three construction workers seated at a table. They were eating their lunch and eyeing me suspiciously. They wanted to know why I was taking pictures. I said the pictures would accompany a blog I was writing on Portland’s finest donut shop.
One of the guys raised his coffee and said, “Damn right it is.”
This affirmative gesture was not meant for me since, technically, I was writing a piece about their favorite hideaway. It was meant for Penny Nguyen who was standing at the counter, close by. Penny, along with her husband, Boun Saribout, own and operate Delicious.
One of the guys added that I should be careful with my “article thing.”
“Careful,” he warned. “Don’t let out the secret.”
Another added, “Not that we don’t love this place, we just don’t want it to turn into another Voodoo.”
And that’s when Penny stepped in. She said, “Nope. No bad talk about Voodoo in here.”
(Penny doesn’t tolerate any Voodoo trash-talk in her shop.)
To their credit, Voodoo Doughnuts (spelled: doughnuts), was the first donut shop in Portland to corner the ridiculousness that is the artisan donut market. It was the first place I encountered a maple bar garnished with a strip of bacon—an introduction for which I will always be grateful. With several other trademark recipes, Voodoo certainly reinvented the boutique donut, and that deserves recognition.
The downtown Voodoo location has attracted so much recognition, they’ve had to commandeer a portion of their sidewalk with a network of stanchions to help organize the constant crush of people, falling over themselves to get inside. In spite of Voodoo’s forbidding lines that end with a cash-only register and the shittiest customer service you can scare up in Portland, throngs of people still willingly join the ranks with an admirably undiminished, almost giddy commitment to itinerary that says: “We came all the way from Dubuque to experience Portland and we’ll be damned if we’re going to let a huge line get in our way.”
The buzz about Voodoo continues to be a source of bewilderment. For some, like the group of construction workers at Delicious, Voodoo stands as a perfect example to what is ruining their beloved city.
One of the construction workers, in spite of Penny’s disapproval, said this, “All I gotta say is this: Five dollar donuts with bubble gum and NyQuil? What even is that?!”
Construction Guy sitting across from him, was eagerly nodding along, “Let the tourists have Voodoo. We’ll keep coming here—the best in Portland.”
And with that, the three construction workers held up their donuts to Penny and said, “Cheers.”
The last days of packing up our home, and preparing for our drive east was a maddening blur.
There was a mad dash to purge as much of our stuff as we could—a lawnmower, gardening equipment, sewing machine, typewriters, welding equipment—either on Craigslist or Nextdoor. The goal was to get rid of everything we rarely used, didn’t need, or could easily replace in Minnesota. Heirlooms were spared, for the most part.
We had gotten rid of quite a lot of stuff. But there was still so much stuff to sell. Soon, “sell,” became “trade” or “give away,” which then became, “leave on the curb.”
The day before we left, I received a reply to one of our Craigslist posts suggesting we trade donuts for a sewing machine and a printer I had listed. Since I was leaving the very next day, and could not stomach the thought of simply leaving both items on the curb (there was absolutely no room in the car) and even though accepting donuts for such items was a ghastly rip-off, I acquiesced and replied, “Make them Delicious, and you’ve got a deal.”
I would soon realize, I should’ve been more clear, what I meant by ‘Delicious.’
The next day, our guy arrived to pick up his new sewing machine and printer, and whatever else he could fit in his bike trailer (that is another story). To my horror, he eagerly revealed two of the unmistakably pink boxes from Voodoo Doughnuts from his bike trailer, and happily handed them over.
Of course, I thanked him for coming over and I thanked him for the donuts. We shook hands and I added the two giant boxes to our already over-stuffed car.
Probably every time I flew out of PDX airport, there was someone standing in the security line with a box of Voodoo Doughnuts. I could never understand it. The thought of carrying a dozen fragile donuts on any flight was immensely humorous and dumb.
And that is how we left Portland—our car, stuffed to the brim with Voodoo Doughnuts—as tourist as when we’d arrived some twelve, and thirteen years earlier.
*Since moving to Minneapolis, I have sampled many fabulous donuts, served with exceptional customer service.
They’ve all been rather expensive though, and that’s where Delicious still has them beat.