Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe
Now that Chicago's in the middle of a doughnut boom, I realize how naive and deprived I was. Now I live in the Land of Firecakes and Do-Rite Donuts and the Doughnut Vault and Glazed and Infused (all of which, incidentally, are walking distance from the Reader's offices). If I want to go farther afield, there's Dat Donut and Old Fashioned Donuts. Chicago is suddenly doughnut paradise. The old-fashioned buttermilk at Firecakes makes Krispy Kreme look like nothing. And the coffee's better, too.
Maybe news of Chicago's doughnut renaissance has reached California, because Stan's Donuts, a 49-year-old LA institution, has opened up its first Chicago location, right across the street from the Wicker Park Glazed and Infused. If that's not a direct throwdown, I don't know what is.
The interior of Stan's Chicago looks like the midcentury ideal of California: cleaner! brighter! happier! It has shiny white tile and avocado stools and a display of nine Kitchen Aid stand mixers in nine different bright and happy colors. There's a counter in front of a big window where you can sit with your sinker and coffee and contemplate the midwestern grimness that is the convergence of Damen, North, and Milwaukee in late winter. Unlike its neighbor Glazed and Infused, which reopens its takeout window on Fridays and Saturdays for the late-night drunk crowd, Stan's closes at nine. (Still, between the two, it's possible to get doughnuts in Wicker Park 19 hours a day on weekends.)
Stan's has positioned itself as a gourmet doughnut shop. There's no bragging about the preciousness and quality of its ingredients (like, say, Do-Rite's truffle doughnut), but the staff bakes doughnuts continuously throughout the day, so they're always fresh and there's none of that "we'll only sell till we run out" business that can make a visit to the Doughnut Vault so aggravating. The coffee's Intelligentsia. The doughnuts themselves go for between $1.75 and $3.75, which is silly if you consider a doughnut just a doughnut, but not as much as if you consider a doughnut a small, affordable luxury.
The good news is that Stan's best doughnuts are the simpler, less-expensive ones. The plain glazed is just about perfect: light and airy and not too sweet. The buttermilk has a nice tang. But the cake doughnuts are slightly dry and the apple fritter seemed to be missing its apples. Yes, Stan's has a bacon doughnut (it's practically mandatory these days), and yes it's pretty good since it's a takeoff on the buttermilk, but be warned, the bacon is smoky.
It seems churlish to complain about something as wonderful as doughnuts. But in the case of Stan's, being critical feels like a matter of civic pride. The question is not, "Is Stan's good?" but rather, "Is Stan's as good as Chicago's own doughnuts?" And the answer is, "Thanks for the doughnuts, LA, but we were doing just fine on our own."