It's like they were patiently waiting for somebody to invent Instagram. All rainbows, sprinkles and bubble gum-pink glazes, doughnuts jump off of our social media feeds and into our consciousness like a delicious earworm, setting in motion an unstoppable craving for the airy confections.
Sure, doughnuts have been around in some form or another for eons, rising to obsession-level bingeing in the 1940s, '50s and '60s largely thanks to brands like Krispy Kreme and Dunkin' Donuts, but their stock declined precipitously after that. Credit places like Voodoo Doughnut in Portland, Federal Donuts in Philly, and the inevitable birth of the "cronut," perhaps, for kick-starting the modern trend of new-wave doughnut shops.
Like most present-day food trends, the doughnut craze follows a familiar tack: Some crafty individual takes a well-worn classic and updates it through use of skilled techniques, fresh ingredients and innovative flavor profiles – think maple-bacon, Cap'n Crunch, or in-season blueberry. It might have taken its good, sweet time in finding us, but the doughnut wave is beginning to crest in Cleveland and it shows no signs of letting up anytime soon.
Though it only recently opened its doors in the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood, Brewnuts (6501 Detroit Ave., 216-600-9579, brewnutscle.com) has been a going concern since 2013, when owners Shelley and John Pippen began peddling their "dones" at fleas, pop-ups and special events. Latching onto two hot trends – craft beer! doughnuts! – the Pippins decided to marry the two by lacing their confections with local and regional beers.
"There was this perfect storm going on with the beer boom that was happening in Cleveland and all of these great artisan food businesses starting up," Shelley says of the concept's genesis. "Our idea was to come up with a Cleveland version of something really unique to do with doughnuts."
Of course, they couldn't predict that it would be another four years before their doughnut bar would open its doors to the public. But ever since it did, this past September, the 1,200-square-foot corner space at the bustling intersection of West 65th and Detroit has been mobbed by adoring and supportive fans who gobble up doughnuts like the maple-bacon bourbon ale, coffee porter with toffee, and the classic glazed made with Great Lakes Dortmunder. On a busy day, the shop flies through literally thousands of doughnuts, each and every one of them hand rolled, hand cut, fried and glazed by a human.
In a delicious twist of fate, City Girl Donuts (20253 Lake Rd., 440-799-4083, citygirldonuts.com) in Rocky River opened the very same week as Brewnuts. And like that sweets shop, City Girl is a craft, small-batch doughnut shop that puts a fresh spin on an old-fashioned notion. Case in point: an "everything" bagel doughnut with cream cheese icing garnished with fresh chive. Since opening in September, the shop almost daily depletes its inventory of cake and yeast-raised doughnuts, which begs the question: Why has Cleveland lagged behind the curve when it comes to new-wave doughnut shops?
"I think it's really difficult," explains pastry chef Erica Coffee, who runs the shop with owner Barbara Fazio. "They can be finicky; how long do you proof the dough? How many times do you proof it? You can run the same batch 100 different times and they come out different each time."
Plus, she adds, a lot of labor goes into the frying, filling and glazing of every batch.
That's often why pastry chefs are the brains behind many of today's best doughnut shops. Like barbecue and brewing beer, the vocation requires a level of skill that rises above the workaday. Based on those standards, it makes perfect sense that Cleveland's next doughnut shop will be "manned" by Courtney Bonning, the proprietress of the former Bonbon Pastry & Cafe in Ohio City. The erstwhile winner of the Food Network's Cupcake Wars will open Bigmouth Donut Co. in the Hingetown area of Ohio City. As the name subtly implies, these doughnuts will be a wee bit fatter and a wee bit louder than the average treat. No date is yet set for an opening.
Of course, these groovy new spots join other Cleveland favorites like Jack Frost, Amy Joy, The Doughnut Pantry, Peace, Love and Little Donuts, Becker's and the nomadic Donut Lab. Now, all that's left to decide is whether you prefer a tender cake doughnut, a chewy yeast-raised doughnut, or two of each.