In many ways, Concord is a prototypical California baby-boom suburb.  In 1940, it was a sleepy little town of about 1,400, by 1950 its population had increased some 5-fold to almost 7,000 – still modest but growing.  The real boom began around 1950, and by 1960, the were some 36,000 Concordians, by 1970, more than 85,000 and by 1980, over 103,000. (The current population is about 122,000.)

At some point in the mid-1950s, in order to accommodate this growing population and keep up with California’s nascent car and consumer culture, the Park and Shop mall came into being just west of Concord’s downtown.  Since that time it has been expanded several times and now stretches for the equivalent of about 4 blocks – sort of a strip mall on steroids.

Over the years, the Park and Shop has had its ups and downs – facing pressure from the near-by and more modern Sun Valley Mall shopping center and the reality that Concord is generally a less upscale market than the neighboring communities of Walnut Creek and Pleasant Hill.

In recent years, however, Park and Shop has landed a couple of big retail fish – Fry’s Electronics and 99 Ranch Market – both attracting large numbers of shoppers (such as myself) and significantly re-vitalizing the mall.

Today Park and Shop is a bustling but undeniably somewhat dated and down-at-the-heels spot (in spite of recent efforts to pretty it up).  Still, to me its very unfashionableness is an asset, almost certainly contributing to keeping the rents affordable and allowing a profusion of small, independent restaurants to survive. Now, in addition to several fast food places and a couple of buffets, there are at least 3 Mexican, several Chinese, 2 Vietnamese, 1 Mediterranean, 1 Korean, and 1 Indian (I think) restaurant – and Chick’s Donuts.

Chick’s is one of my top 5 doughnut shops in this part of the world and so when I was up at Fry’s this morning, picking up some boring odds and ends of things I decided to stop in for a late breakfast.

Chick’s, as the menu says, has been in business since 1955. The interior is authentically retro, with the vintage of the last remodel being, perhaps, the 1970s (maybe the ’80s), by the look of the counter at least.

The staff is very friendly and much of the clientele seem to be regulars.

As is usually the case in the morning, the place was pretty full, so I grabbed a seat at the counter and almost ordered my usual – an apple fritter, along with a cup of coffee.  Chick’s apple fritters are mamouth and very good, but I have to admit that I had noticed a seductive looking lemon jelly doughnut in the case as I came in.

So I switched things up and went for the jelly doughnut – an excellent call.  The doughnut was perfectly cooked, with a hint of crunch to the outside and a ton of jelly on the inside.  (They take the term “filling” literally.)

This was a really excellent jelly doughnut – every bit as good, if not better than Doughnut King’s also very good version, which I described several months ago.

In addition to doughnuts, Chicks does “American Breakfast and Lunch” – with the emphasis on breakfast.  While I usually stick to the doughnuts on my visits, last week I decided to have the full-on breakfast special – 2 eggs, 2 sausages and 1 biscuit and gravy ($6.50).

I like Chick’s biscuits and gravy a lot – even if maybe it doesn’t look so appetizing in the picture.  I’m not sure how much of it is homemade, but the biscuits are light and the gravy sausage-y, rich and flavorful without being gluey.  Add a couple of shots of Tabasco and you’re good.  (I’ll admit that the sausages are pretty generic and – hey – eggs are eggs, but at least they’re cooked right.)

Overall, Chick’s is a great spot – the breakfasts are very good, the doughnuts are excellent, the staff is helpful and nice, the place is lively and relaxed and the prices are reasonable.

Chick’s Donuts & Coffee Shop
1801 Willow Pass Rd
Concord, CA 94520
(925) 682-4917

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.

Donut King
1607 Contra Costa Boulevard
Pleasant Hill, CA 94523
(925) 682-8128