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October 21, 2011

Hunger Strike: Waiting for good dough

7:45 a.m., a Friday.

While much of the U of C peacefully sleeps and the busy urban professionals busily go about their business downtown, I patiently wait on the corner of Kinzie and Franklin. I jog in place to retain some warmth, read a book to retain some knowledge, and do my best to not look like a crazy person jogging in place and reading in the middle of the street to retain some dignity. But mainly I wait. All good things come to those who wait, right? Given all the hype surrounding The Doughnut Vault, I’d better damn hope so.

The shop opens at 8:30 a.m. during the week, and 9:30 on Saturday, peddling its doughy doughnut wares until they run out. Needless to say, a Dunkin’ Donuts this is not. Priding itself on the more artisanal aspects of doughnut making, The Doughnut Vault makes only so many doughnuts in a day, with five standard flavors, one daily special, and a Soup Nazi-esque policy of a strict half-dozen per person, max.

When I had arrived 45 minutes before the doors open I was, for the most part, alone. However, with five minutes left until opening, the line was out of sight and around the corner. After that it did not take long for me to walk into the closet-sized space, and boldly (not to mention triumphantly) order half-a-dozen doughnuts­­—one of each.

Yes, I had waited, and waiting was half the battle. Now it was time to devour these beauties. The day’s special was Mocha, and the “regular” glazes were Vanilla, Chocolate

(with sprinkles!), and Chestnut with Toasted Coconut. Rounding out the bunch were the incredibly dense and cakey Buttermilk Old Fashioned, and the mini trio of identical doughnuts known as the Gingerbread Stack. Yeah, I could dig it.

And dig in I did. The good news first: The Buttermilk Old Fashioned was the hands-down winner. The glaze had coagulated around the moist, dense interior, and, upon taking a bite, brought to mind the sweet sensation of breaking the caramelized shell of a crème brûlée. The Gingerbread Stack was not exactly amazing on its own and possessed little flavor, but I quickly realized that its potential was unlocked when dipped in coffee.

I desperately wanted them to be the best doughnuts I’d ever had, and while they were certainly good, and as much as I endlessly advocate simplicity in food, I found myself longing for the bizzaro flavor combinations and toppings that have taken over the world of baked goods. They were among the best I’ve had, which made it that much sadder when I thought of the incredible results that could be had by spicing up the flavor and maybe even ramping up their savory side.

When all is said and done and fried and glazed and eaten, The Doughnut Vault truly is a depository of deliciousness; maybe not quite worth its weight in gold, but something a bit less glamorous, like palladium or beryllium. Just remember to get there early, be patient, keep calm, and om nom nom. ‘Cause at this vault, every day is a bank run.

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