Ah, the doughnut (or donut, if you will). So humble, but so many possible permutations. Every few years, it seems the doughnut undergoes another renaissance. There was a time when a big chain and its conveyor belt of oil with a waterfall of glaze was the hot thing. Mom-and-pop doughnut shops have been celebrated, too, and now we have gourmet doughnuts.
Donut Bar (631 B St.) recently opened to much delight and buzz, which isn't surprising, given that it's the only doughnut shop Downtown and it's stepping outside of the box. Owners Santiago Campa and Wendy Bartels hung a shingle for a shop that features everything from a classic old-fashioned doughnut to a whimsical S'mores doughnut. They wanted to create doughnuts that stood out, but they understood that their customers would love to see classic flavors alongside doughnuts topped with bacon.
Given the popularity of West Coast doughnut shops that pile all sorts of interesting stuff on their doughnuts, Donut Bar's offerings seem almost tame in comparison. There's the bar topped with maple glaze and bacon; S'mores is a chocolate-cake doughnut with marshmallow fluff and crumbled graham crackers; and there are interesting glazes such as blood orange, boysenberry and salted caramel.
I enjoyed the S'mores, wished the blueberry-and-Meyer-lemon had more lemon and loved anything Donut Bar filled with custard. The Boston cream pie could've been a standard custard-filled, chocolate-glazed doughnut, but it was perfectly yeasty, filled to the hilt with custard and slathered with a ganache-like chocolate glaze. The Julian apple fritter is enormous and filled with enough fruit that we can delude ourselves into thinking it semi-healthy. Also, don't just look for doughnuts—cinnamon rolls occasionally pop up on the menu. Traditionalists will find that the old-fashioned doughnuts are available most days.
Donut Bar's doughnuts are on the pricey side, at $1 to $3; with the average doughnut costing less than a dollar, the question arises: Are they worth it? My answer is yes. It's all in the details. One bite yields a fluffy doughnut that neither is greasy nor tastes of old frying oil. Campa attributes that to a short frying time and religious cleanings of the fryer. Flavors like crème brulee require more time and skill, while ingredients like Saigon cinnamon and various fruits are used regularly. Even the brewed coffee is above average and a great deal at $1.
The shop opens at 7 a.m. Mondays through Fridays and 8 a.m. on Saturdays. It's closed on Sundays. It's better to show up earlier to maximize your options, because it closes once the doughnuts are sold out. Donut Bar produces 1,000 to 2,000 doughnuts on any given day, and whatever they make in the wee hours of the morning is the day's stock. The menu changes daily and is advertised through Facebook and Twitter, along with any deals.
The place will eventually look more like a café, with a lounge area; for now, take your doughnuts to the front of the Comerica building across the street. There's space to sit and relax with a doughnut while Downtown's denizens bustle by.