Saturday, May 12, 2012

Chicago Doughnut Wars

I knew something was horribly amiss when I heard about the lines.  Lines snaking down long city blocks. In the rain, the cold, the snow. People waiting for HOURS, only to be turned away when the meager supply ran out. Chicago is a foodie town. Not in a highfalutin, Michelin star kind of way but in a it's- the -Midwest -and- we- like- to -eat, kind of way. We will jump on the latest foodie trends. We will sample newfangled ingredients and down weird beverages. But we do not do lines. All that New York, LA, velvet rope/insane waits because it's the hot spot has never worked in Chicago.  Many a New York or LA outpost has found their hipster dreams shattered in Chicago because we will shut a place down before we wait in unnecessary lines. It just insults our practical Midwestern sensibility.  So when I heard tales of crazy lines at the Doughnut Vault,  a closet-sized shop with a 1/2 in its address and a rotation of only five flavors of $3 doughnuts, I was appalled and intrigued.

It wasn't long before I heard whispers about another new doughnut shop. It was just as good as the Doughnut Vault but without the stupid lines. The Doughnut Vault limited their doughnut supply to only 400 to create a buzz, they said. This other shop, Do Rite Donuts ,was also tiny but the fine-dining chef owners produced enough donuts so that they didn't run out. Doughnut Vault was cash only. Do Rite took credit cards. I knew where Do Rite was located, I walked past the red awning all the time. It was conveniently located near stores and city agencies and I never saw any lines. On the other hand, the Doughnut Vault required a journey. Nestled into an easy to miss corner between the Chicago River and the Merchandise Mart Plaza, it was located in an area of the city that I rarely visited. You know that I chose the journey.

The first time I landed at Doughnut Vault, it was apparently late. It was 10 AM on a weekday morning and as I  gazed at the "closed "sign, with nary an indication that there were fresh donuts and hundreds of people present maybe 20 minutes ago, I realized that I would have to come earlier. The shop opens at 8:30AM and closes as soon as they sell out, which is typically after one or two hours. There is no phone, only a Twitter feed that counts down the dwindling number of doughnuts. So I planned to arrive by 9AM (super early for me) the next day.

The line was winding around the block when I stepped off the train but I gauged that it would still be a reasonable wait.  The sun was out and it appeared that many people took off  for the day to snag their doughnuts. I thought that it would be mostly tourists standing in a ridiculous line but no, these were real Chicagoans patiently waiting for doughnuts. People walked by and rolled their eyes at us. An elderly gentleman looked perplexed. "All this for a doughnut?"  he asked us. I laughed. I didn't get it either but I was here to find out.  As the time crawled , the shop keeper announced that they were out of pistachio. Then chocolate. Then old fashioned. I tensed a little. I did not come all the way here to end up with no doughnuts. 15 minutes passed. Then 25.

I watched the el train roll by over our heads.

I watched a butterfly flutter.

Then the shop keeper announced that they were sold out of everything except the gingerbread stacks. There were three to a stack and only a dozen stacks left but I was almost there. I could see the shop's crystal chandelier glimmering in the distance.

 And then I was there. Luckily, I like gingerbread so I ordered four stacks at $3 each. (They would need to last because I did not plan on standing in another line anytime soon.)  Cinnamon and sugar crumbled onto my hands as I cradled my bounty and carried it outside to eat at the Doughnut Vault's picnic table.

The doughnuts were warm and toothsome, the ginger flavor filled my mouth.  I took small bites, savoring the sensation of eating such a hard won treat. I had waited in line for 40 minutes and had watched all the more interesting flavors like chestnut and dreamsicle, sell out.  The doughnuts were good.  They tasted of high quality, definitely not the lardy, mass produced versions that you can buy in any store. Were they worth two trips and 40 minutes? I'm not so sure about that. But as I watched the "sold out" sign go up and dozens of distraught people drag away, I vowed to try Do Rite next week and come back for a comparison.


Wendy said...

"Many a New York or LA outpost has found their hipster dreams shattered in Chicago because we will shut a place down before we wait in unnecessary lines." Too funny!

Fly Girl said...

Wendy, funny but true! We aren't used to the long waits and crowds of bigger cities like NY. Good to hear from you again. Will visit soon.

Andrew Graeme Gould said...

I never knew that obtaining a doughnut or two could be so complicated, Rosalind! Ginger does sound very nice, though... Good luck for the next food taste adventure!

Fly Girl said...

Andrew, I never knew it could so complicated either but it was an adventure!

Mary R said...

Now, that is commitment! Good for you! I'm so glad you got the gingerbread ones. Those were the ones getting my attention on the sign... great job building up the suspense. I would've hated if it hadn't worked out. I'm serious about my donuts!

Fly Girl said...

Mary, I really think it was delirium instead of commitment!

A Cuban In London said...

Nice one. Was there enough jam in your doughnut? I often complain here in London because there's not that much jam in mine one. Great story! :-)

Greetings from London.

Fly Girl said...

Thanks Cubano. I don't like jelly doughnuts but I hear that the Doughnut Vault makes great one with artisan jam.

katie said...

Oh. My. God.

Why did I click on the doughnut picture? WHY? I NEED IT.

In Ohio, we didn't do lines either. You're probably right in that it's a midwestern thing. When I moved to the NYC area though, I had to acclimate to waiting on lines--EVERYWHERE--accordingly.

Fly Girl said...

the lines are probably one of the worse things about New York. Sorry, I didn't put a disclaimer up about the donuts!