by Marty Demarest

The most recent news about the universe is that it's probably donut-shaped. Of course, this isn't going to shock anyone who watched the Krispy Kreme stock soar above a plummeting stock market a few years ago, or anyone who has noticed that our justice system - the means we have of enacting our moral code - is inextricably linked to the circular confections. Donuts are significant, and we're just beginning to understand the mysteries they contain.

So it should be no surprise that exploring the world of donuts in Spokane wasn't easy. Some of the shops have strange hours, and there have been a few relocations and closings in the past year. Nevertheless, in an effort to let you know everything there is to know about donuts in Spokane, we were able to track down three of the area's biggest local donut shops and stuff ourselves with some deep-fried pastries.

If you ever drive around the North Side, you may already know about Donuts to Go, located in a nondescript strip mall at 7009 N. Division. Strangely, the shop isn't open on Mondays; if there's one time in the week when a straight-to-the-bloodline dose of sugar would be necessary, it's Monday. But the Tuesday-through-Sunday schedule doesn't seem to hurt the business at this tiny bakery. Our first few visits after learning their schedule were thwarted each time before noon by sold-out donuts.

When we finally made it inside, the place was packed with customers. They must have been lining up for the old-fashioned donuts, which were already gone. But the server suggested that we try a "Butter Bar" instead, which is basically a glazed old-fashioned donut in loaf form. We savored the extra amount of buttermilk-flavored pastry that the different shape gave us for about the same price.

Donuts to Go also has an abundance of coconut and sprinkled donuts. We bypassed these glamorous harlequins, however, for one of the place's hefty-looking apple fritters. These look exactly like what they are: a big pile of deep-fried pastry. But what a pastry! The apple fritters at Donuts to Go are as close as you can come to eating a piece of apple pie for breakfast with one hand. From the fruits to the spices to the glaze that crackled under our teeth, these were the best fruit pastries we found on our journey.

Donut Parade, our next stop, is located in an old building on Nevada with a simple yellow-lettered sign that proclaims "DONUTS." Moments after walking in the door, you'll know that their dedication to the pastries has been rewarded with a loyal following. (It's a good sign when you see several patrol cars parked outside.) Whether you opt to sit down in one of the worn booths for a chipped cup of coffee and conversation with some of the friendliest waitresses in town, or just rush in to grab a box of fried, sugary O's for work, you'll remember a visit to Donut Parade for a long time.

Of course we had to order the famous old-fashioned glazed donuts along with an assortment of maple-nut glazed and berry-flavored donuts. Unlike some of the other shops that we visited, Donut Parade isn't dedicated to keeping a broad assortment in its case continually. Things sell fast here, so whatever happens to be fresh when you walk in is what you're likely to get.

After the first round of donuts had been devoured, our waitress alerted us that some fresh maple bars were available. Krispy Kreme may lure customers with the promise of hot fresh donuts, but only Donut Parade among the shops we visited was able to offer us the luxury that is a hot, soft, fresh maple bar. Eating one of these is the type of moment that makes a donut excursion worthwhile. I'd suggest hanging out at Donut Parade until you can sample one yourself.

But donut nirvana surprised us - as all enlightenment should - by turning up in a place we never would have expected. On the south side of Indiana, just west of Division, the Donut Hole Bakery's unassuming exterior hides some of the most serious (and large-scale) donut-making going on in Spokane. Many of the donuts at The Donut Hole are potato-raised. This not only gives them a richer, loftier interior, but also lends them a remarkable flavor. And, compared to any other place in town, there were more varieties available, from cream-filled to bear claws.

A few of these donuts make breakfast more than just an excuse to have dessert in the morning. The glaze on the maple bars was not cloyingly sweet when we tasted some of it alone, but it tasted richer and more sugary when paired with the potato-raised pastry. The chocolate on the chocolate old-fashioned tasted like someone had melted a good chocolate bar on top of it, and the plain glaze smelled almost floral.

What pushed everything over the edge, though, was the availability of donut holes. Sold in large plastic containers, these are some of the best bargains you're going to find in town. (There's just something so reassuring about these bite-sized morsels.) On the day we visited, the entire top of the case was covered with them. The shop also sells breads like Black Forest Rye and breadsticks, making it the most full-service of the places we visited. And they're open seven days a week, so once you're hooked, you can come back again and again, returning to the place that you began, in the golden circle of life.

Publication date: 05/01/03

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