Firecakes versus Dunkin' Donuts: a Reader taste test

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Posh
It's easy to glaze over at talk of doughnuts being the new bacon, the new cupcake, the new hype-driven fill-in-the-blank whatever. Especially if you don't much like doughnuts, glazed or otherwise. So when I heard about Firecakes Donuts, a new shop in River North, I rolled my eyes and went back to wishing I could start the day with a bagel from Reno.

I may be in a minority.

On my way to check out Firecakes just before 9 o'clock Thursday morning, I saw a cheery-looking man and woman come out of the place bearing four large white boxes of doughnuts apiece. Once inside, I found a line of about a half-dozen people and a sadly depleted selection of the 11 varieties made on-site daily, in quantities, I'm told, of 600 to 1,000 altogether. At Firecakes as at its predecessor, the remarkably similar Doughnut Vault, it pays to arrive close to opening time, which in this case means 7:30 AM weekdays, 8:30 AM on weekends. At both, once the doughnuts are gone the doors close.

Meanwhile, as I surveyed the remaining doughnuts, a guy cut in front of me, further endangering the supply. The shop was already out of the buttermilk old-fashioned, the honey glazed, the classic jelly, the lemon-verbena, and (but of course) the maple-glazed pineapple with bacon. Still in stock were apple fritters, Valrhona chocolate iced, butterscotch praline, and coconut cream—and, in a pleasant departure from Doughnut Vault policy, Firecakes takes plastic. I snapped up one of each.

Clockwise from bottom left: Valrhona chocolate glazed, lemon-verbena meringue, unassuming apple fritter, butterscotch praline
  • Paul John Higgins
  • Clockwise from bottom left: Valrhona chocolate glazed, coconut cream, apple fritter, butterscotch praline

Since Doughnut Vault is just a few blocks away, I swung by to further gauge current demand. Sure enough, there was another line, this one snaking quite a ways out the door.

There was no line at the Merchandise Mart Dunkin' Donuts, however. Inspired in part by the success of a previous Reader doughnut taste test, I decided to pick up a couple for the purposes of comparison, glazed to glazed and fritter to fritter.

Reader doughnut taste test redux

Poor little Dunkin' chocolate glazed, plopped into the bag with the icing side down. It didn't stand a chance against the rich Valrhona, though in the view of one taster the latter could have used a touch of salt. Then again, the Dunkin' doughnut rang in at 89 cents as compared to $2.50.

The Dunkin' Donuts fritter was fluffier and much more noticeably glazed than the unassuming Firecakes fritter, which was crunchier, had more fresh apple taste, and was not too sweet—even I judged it not bad. At $3, it's twice as expensive as the humble nonartisanal fritter, which our art director, for one, preferred.

As for the other firecakes, all tasters agreed that the coconut cream was intensely and agreeably coconutty. But the sleeper for me was the butterscotch-praline doughnut, which I'd expected to be cloying. Far from that, the creamy filling was on the subtle side, the superfresh doughnut itself a good case for the raised as opposed to cake variety. In the words of said art director: "The butterscotch was amazing."

Firecakes Donuts, 68 W. Hubbard, 312-329-6500, firecakesdonuts.com.

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