Searching for the Hole Truth

Almost everybody eats doughnuts every once in a while, and a lot of people more often than that. I'll eat a doughnut about twice a month to cut the burn of super-caffeinated doughnut coffee, the kind that snaps your eyeballs to the back of your head. To me, a doughnut is the equivalent of the filter on a cigarette. (The difference between a doughnut and a donut is the ugh .)

To others, doughnuts are a way of life: there are four doughnut shops within a block of my apartment; an estimated 2,500 in Southern California. One figure I ran across, from '86, said that 42% of Winchell's customers buy Winchell's doughnuts more than four times a week. No respectable Teamster would eat anything else on a film set.

But why ?

A doughnut Diogenes, searching for an honest cruller, I went out to La Puente the other day and took a drive down Donut Lane; picked up a dozen donuts and three containers of milk. Donut Lane is the way through the Donut Hole, a splendid drive-through doughnut shop anchored by a giant hemi-doughnut at either end, a 1947 architectural triumph. (From a couple of blocks away, the place looked like the chocolate-brown coils of a sea serpent wriggling its way toward Hacienda Heights.) The doughnut display was spotless, a living doughnut museum that included Tiger Tail Twists and baroquely frosted French crullers. The milk was icy cold. But the doughnuts were just OK.

A few hours later, a friend and I drove to Stan's Corner Donut Shoppe in Westwood Village, and found a parking space right in front. We ordered one of everything, basically. I thought we'd take most of them home, but Margaret got really excited and took a single bite out of every doughnut right there in the shop, which was pretty compulsive but also kind of cool. Stan's makes what you could call boutique doughnuts, custom types that seem made with a pastry shop in mind, doughnutized versions of pastries and muffins and pies. Margaret thought peanut-butter chocolate-chip was extremely overrated, but we both liked the blueberry buttermilk doughnut a lot.

We stopped by Randy's Donuts, which sells mediocre old-fashioneds under that 40-foot raised-glazed you see on the way to the airport, and by Johnny 'O,' where the doughnuts are average and the apple fritters are renowned. (Back at the office, a colleague took a bite of a fritter and proclaimed it the most disgusting thing she'd ever tasted. It wasn't that bad.) We went to some other places, and some doughnut chains you don't want to hear about.

Margaret didn't eat another doughnut, and in fact would became queasy when I'd so much as whisper the words "maple bar."

I brought a few sacks of doughnuts to a pastry chef I know, and watched as she prodded them and sniffed them and cut them in half with a knife. She popped a bit of devil's food doughnut into her mouth and wrinkled her nose. She compared the chocolate icing to melted phonograph records. She turned a raised-glazed doughnut onto its belly and pinched a wad from its unglazed bottom.

"Taste this," she said.

The piece of doughnut was soft, bready, unpleasantly doughy, flavorless except for the soapy taste of fat.

"It's like an underdone heat 'n' serve dinner roll, right?" she said. "I don't know why anybody would want to eat something like that. It's not really . . . a doughnut."

She picked up a plain cake doughnut from the table and popped a piece in her mouth. The doughnut, from Bob's Coffee & Donut in Farmer's Market was good if not exceptional, a fine, basic doughnut.

" This is more like it," she said: "crisp on the outside, not too oily, not too much like bread. When you're dealing with an ordinary doughnut shop, the baking powder (cake) doughnuts beat the yeast-raised doughnuts every time."

Doughnut wisdom for the ages.

Bob's Coffee & Donuts, Farmer's Market, Third St. at Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles, (213) 933-8929.

The Donut Hole, 15300 E. Amar Road, La Puente, (818) 968-2912.

Johnny 'O' Donut Shop, 1800 S. Robertson Ave., Los Angeles, (213) 836-7670.

Randy's Donuts, 805 W. Manchester Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 642-8632.

Spudnut Donuts No. 4, 11285 W. Venice Blvd., Mar Vista, (213) 391-5838.

Stan's Corner Donut Shoppe, 10948 Weyburn Ave., Westwood, (213) 208-8660.

Tate-O-Nut Donut Shop, 2001 W. Valley Blvd., Alhambra, (818) 576-0832.

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