I was enjoying the always well-written and well-photographed food blog Gas•tron•o•my when I saw what at first glance I thought must be a chapter from a dark, distopian novel where residents of Chicago, living in a sort of cross between Weimar Germany and Stalinist Russia, have to wait in long lines at the “Doughnut Vault” with the hope that they will be able purchase a single (and, as it turns out, mediocre) jelly doughnut for $3 before the supply runs out for the day.
You can imagine my surprise when, upon closer examination, I realized that this is the actual reality facing Chicagoans today, rather than some implausible fiction. Even more shockingly, the whole thing seemed to be considered a normal – even an estimable – state of affairs.
Now, I don’t often go out for doughnuts – as much as I enjoy them, abstaining is one of those small nods in the direction of dietary self-control which I make for the sake of form – so I thought that perhaps the doughnut world had changed in the 6 or so months since I last indulged. In order to know for sure, I made a special trip to Donut King in Pleasant Hill.
Donut King, one of the better doughnut shops in central CC County, is located in a somewhat down-at-the-heels Contra Costa Blvd strip mall (the anchor stores of which are Grocery Outlet and Goodwill). It is flanked by a Pho restaurant and a vacant store front. Stretching out to the west is Gregory Gardens – a sprawling early-50s tract from which I would guess Donut King draws much of its clientele.
The interior is functional, even sterile, with nothing resembling character. On my visit (around 10 AM) I found a typical retiree-heavy mid-morning doughnut shop crowd – a couple of older ladies at one table and four guys in Giants hats talking sports at another.
There was plenty to choose from and, as always, it was an agonizing decision to choose just one. The purpose of my visit, however, narrowed things down quite a bit, although even here, I was torn between the various jelly doughnut options. I had intended to go with a standard glazed with raspberry filling, but when I saw the lemon oozing out of the powdered sugar, I changed my mind.
Now, with a low-rent jelly doughnut you get about a bite’s-worth of jelly and lots of bland, bready doughnut, but this one had the enough tangy lemon filling for a half-dozen of Safeway’s finest. The doughnut itself was well-cooked, with just a hint of crunchiness to the outside. In short, it was great and well-worth the slight premium you pay for such quality at $1.45.
So, the good news is that the Great Chicago Doughnut Crisis has apparently not yet reached the West Coast – at Donut King, at least, the shelves are full, the lines are short, the prices are reasonable, and, best of all, the jelly doughnuts are delicious and full of jelly.
1607 Contra Costa Boulevard
Pleasant Hill, CA 94523