I was in Portland, Oregon for a wedding a few weeks ago and figured I’d stop in at Voodoo Doughnut to see what all the fuss was about. My friends and I were all staying in a downtown hotel — one of those places that markets itself as a hip alternative to the Marriott, but which is actually just an old HoJo that still smells like cigarettes — and decided to walk to the near-ish Old Town Chinatown location for breakfast one morning. The doughnuts were very good. I had a “Homer” (strawberry frosted with rainbow sprinkles, natch) and a blueberry cake, and I would like another one of each at this very moment. But I have to admit that I was sort of annoyed by the fact that so many of Voodoo’s doughnuts were topped with already-existing sweets like Oreo cookies, M&M’s, or — and this was the most contemptible example — pieces of Cap’n Crunch. Why eat a simple, pillowy glazed doughnut when you can rip your mouth to shreds with this one instead?
I’m a no-frills doughnut kind of guy. When the ongoing fancy-as-fuck doughnut boom began a decade or so ago, I tried to convince myself that bacon was a good and even necessary topping, that doughnuts should definitely be the size of a large baby’s head, and that it was important to me for the blueberries to be organic. But the truth is that I don’t actually believe any of that, at least not now, anyway. Doughnuts should be meatless, they should fit comfortably in the palm of an adult hand, and even though I generally care about sourcing, the blueberries used by a doughnut shop can come from Stop & Shop for all I care. I rarely require fancy food, and I definitely never require it when it comes to doughnuts. At some point you’ve just got to be honest with yourself, and my truth is that I just want a goddamn strawberry frosted from Dunkin’.
Admittedly, it’s a common craving. Much to the chagrin of my gastrointestinal doctor, I eat a lot of doughnuts. I figure the yearly total is anywhere from 104 — two per week, every week — to, uh, well over 200. When I’m craving a doughnut, I want something I can eat in four bites, not something that requires a fork and knife. I want it to cost roughly one dollar, and I want it to come in a small bag that can be easily crumpled and thrown into a recycling bin or under the front seat of my car. (I’m Irish Catholic, and even though I’m lapsed, no action comes without a modicum of guilt. Give me a break, alright?)
And a fresh strawberry frosted from Dunkin’ is the ideal version of this genre. Its yeasted dough is springy and slightly chewy, and topped with a frosting that tastes more like strawberry milk than actual strawberries. You can typically order it with sprinkles or without — I get it with sprinkles because I’m trying to have a little fun before I shuffle off this mortal coil — and its accompaniment par excellence is an iced coffee with oat milk (I’m aging, and my gut can no longer handle the good stuff) and “the smallest dash, please” of simple syrup. I ate so many of these doughnuts in the 1990s. My parents would drink their medium coffees with two creams and two sugars, and my brother and I would work our way through our own half-dozen, plopped in front of the television in our childhood home watching Saturday morning cartoons. Maybe there’s some nostalgia at play here, some taste memory that rips me back in time each time I take a bite.
The stronger pull, though, is that there’s nothing fussy about a doughnut from Dunkin’, and that’s the point. Too often I’ve stood in line at a fancy doughnut shop, excited to see that strawberry frosted was on the menu, only to discover as I approached the counter that the strawberry frosting was more akin to strawberry jam than the artificially flavored, tooth-achingly sweet pink paste I’d grown accustomed to. When I want a strawberry frosted doughnut I want the thing that looks like it’s from The Simpsons, not an inside-out jelly doughnut. Doughnut cravings are precious, highly specific moments, after all. To its very good credit, Voodoo isn’t fucking around with its strawberry frosted — no jams or jellies or compotes — and if I lived in Portland I imagine I’d eat an awful lot of those suckers. Still, nothing beats the simplicity and accessibility of a doughnut from Dunkin’.
Maybe it’s just because I’m from Boston and at least seven of my cousins behave exactly like that character in the SNL Dunkin’ commercial — you know, the one smoking a cigarette in the doorway who says he loves “crullahs” — but if I was on my deathbed and someone, for some weird reason, asked me what kind of doughnut I’d like to eat as I lay dying, I’d say, “a straw-bree frosted from Dunkin’, kid.” I can think of worse last meals.