Food Fight: Battle Glazed Raised Donut

Categories: Food Fight

all four donuts on a plate.jpg
Front row: Christy's, Fresh & Best. Back row: Dunkin', Shipley.
Was it Alexis de Tocqueville or Jonathan Gold who said, "Every city gets the donuts it deserves"? Either way, you have to wonder what Houston did to deserve Shipley Do-Nuts. The Shipleys may be lovely people, and the corporation gets much respect for being active in the community and maintaining its Houston roots. But their donuts are consistently mediocre.

Yet somehow Shipley has cornered the market for donuts in Houston. Even more puzzling is how many Houstonians consider Shipley's donuts to be top-drawer, as evidenced by the chain's high ratings on every collective-review site around. It's enough to make you want to smack James Surowiecki upside the head. Either these people have never had good donuts, or they don't care. I lost track of the number of times someone brought Shipley donuts into work and there were still some left at the end of the day. Let me repeat that: donuts were brought into an office, and at quitting time some remained uneaten.

Does a city need great donuts to be a great food city? Maybe not, but every other great food city has destination donut shops. New York has the Doughnut Plant; Seattle has Top Pot Doughnuts; Los Angeles had a Donut Summit last year... Do I need to go on? It's hard to imagine anyone lining up to buy donuts anywhere in Houston.

To be fair, Houston does a lot of things extremely well, culinary-wise, and a few things (e.g., kolaches and Vietnamese-Cajun fusion) that most cities don't do at all. But sometimes you just want a good donut.

I had originally planned a battle of chocolate old-fashioned donuts. But any piece about donuts in Houston has to include Shipley as a reference point. Here's what happened at the location at 3932 North Main, a few blocks from Shipley world headquarters, the recipient of the Press's 2010 Best Kolache award.

"Do you have any chocolate old-fashioneds?"

"I don't know. Is that an old-fashioned?" (pointing at a wizened cake donut on a battered tray below the counter)

"No."

"Then we don't have them."

Seriously? The city's leading donut chain not only doesn't have old-fashioneds, but doesn't even know what they are? That's like a Jewish deli not knowing how to make a Reuben sandwich.
Sadder but wiser, I went with plan B: glazed raised donuts. I know Shipley makes those. I also tried donuts from Dunkin' (as an alternate chain reference point), the Montrose standby Christy's, and Fresh & Best in Bellaire.

To the judging!

Christy's Donuts (55 cents)
The subtle glaze was refreshingly thin, but perhaps too much so, as it didn't conceal the dough's lumpiness. The interior was more spongy than puffy and altogether too dense, leading to a bready mouthfeel. I'm also subtracting a point because I was charged sales tax in contravention of Texas law. But bonus points for the gratis donut holes. And the chocolate old-fashioned wasn't half bad.

Fresh & Best Donuts (63 cents)
The even, sugary icing flaked off in the mouth - nice! The interior was pleasingly raised, but could have used even more air pockets. Overall, this was a solid but unspectacular combination of the fried and sugar food groups. A fine golden hue, this donut looked the most like a Krispy Kreme (albeit twice as large).

Dunkin' Donuts (79 cents)
Globs of sugar spotted the top of this donut, due to haphazardly applied icing. That's just lazy. The icing also tasted like it had too much of one ingredient. Vanilla, perhaps? It wan't an off flavor, like rancid grease, but it was a bit disconcerting. The interior was airy and light, just like it should be. But overall, this donut was a big disappointment . Then again, my usual at Dunkin' is the glazed blueberry cake donut.

Shipley Do-Nuts (53 cents)
Thick, uniform glaze covered the darkest glazed donut I'd ever seen. Was this a donut or rye bread? It was also extremely tall; I could barely fit it into my mouth. The donut tasted like it had been fried a bit longer than usual, perhaps explaining the color. I'm not sure if this was intentional, but it made for an almost nutty flavor, which was surprisingly not bad. The interior was shot through with air bubbles, and pleasantly fluffy.

The Winner: Jeez, do I have to pick one? The efforts from Fresh & Best and Shipley were both acceptable. I might give a slight edge to Fresh & Best for the flakiness of the icing, but the Shipley donut had a more interesting taste.

A final caveat: everyone knows that glazed raised donuts are best when they are still warm from the fryer, with the glaze just cool enough to eat. I bought the above donuts at bakery temperature, which is how most people consume donuts. Maybe, just maybe, if I'd eaten them warm, this piece might have read more like Robb Walsh's paean to the Shipley on Ella.

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Location Info

Christy's Donuts

1103 W. Gray, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant


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28 comments
Jpeavy4
Jpeavy4

youre going to the wrong shipleys bud

joe mex tex
joe mex tex

JUST BY YOU SAYING THIS - To be fair, Houston does a lot of things extremely well, culinary-wise, and a few things (e.g., kolaches and Vietnamese-Cajun fusion) that most cities don't do at all. But sometimes you just want a good donut.

Houston does not do Kolaches well - not no where near good.which means you don't know anything about donuts - yes they can vary from location to location, i perfer my shipley's from North Main!

Tangyjoe
Tangyjoe

I quit going to Christy's when the girl behind the counter stuck her finger up her nose while she was talking to me...

Ali
Ali

I am supremely confident that if you had eaten a warm Christie's donut where the glaze cooled enough to crisp up but melt in your mouth, they would have won hands down.

I used to live right off of Taft and I was tasked with buying donuts for the office because of that reason. I'd get texts at least once a week from various people begging for them. I would text from the car as my fiancée dropped me off at the front door and I'd greet about 10 people salivating at my cube for them.

Shipley's never got that response. Not once.

Also, Christie's is way cheap. Including their delicious kolaches. Minimal bread, spicy sausage and melty cheese. I'd get 2 dozen donuts, 2 dozen donut holes and 2 dozen kolaches for around $30. A dozen Kolache Factory nightmares cost over $20, for reference.

Matthew Dresden
Matthew Dresden

@trisch and @Matthew: I salute your passion for donuts and your loyalty to Shipley. But I still disagree with you, as reasonable minds can. And even if I accepted the greatness of a warm Shipley's glazed, Houston would still be a pitiful donut town. It is inexcusable for Shipley to dominate the donut scene when it (for argument's sake) does one donut well and phones in the rest.

@trisch: echoing Cathy Matusow, I love that your family staged a donut taste-off. That must have been electrifying!

@Matthew: I would have loved to have had the time to wait around at all of these shops for a warm donut. But if I had eaten one warm and the rest at bakery temperature, it wouldn't have been a fair fight. As it turns out, none of the donuts were warm when I bought them, so it didn't matter. Also, as mentioned above, my original plan was to buy chocolate old-fashioneds. As for Top Pot, I didn't actually praise their donuts (although I do like them); I just identified them as a "destination" -- a place that people, including tourists, go out of their way to patronize. As apparently you did when you were in Seattle.

@Jodie: I am confident Houston could support a "cool" donut shop. Not sure about your proposed location though...

Jodie
Jodie

Thank you for taking on the mission I've thought about taking on for some time (so you saved me from gaining an estimated 3 pounds - ha!). I, too have often thought how well a cool do-nut shop would do (especially near Washington Ave and open all night, aka VooDoo Donut in Portland). Fortunately I live pretty close to the Shipley's on Ella and absolutely insist on hot and fresh from the fryer ... mmmm ....

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

Interestingly enough, Matthew, I think you're going to find out the answer to that question later on today...

Matthew
Matthew

"A final caveat: everyone knows that glazed raised donuts are best when they are still warm from the fryer, with the glaze just cool enough to eat. I bought the above donuts at bakery temperature, which is how most people consume donuts."

and with that, your blog entry is revealed as the massive load of fail i suspected when i first read the sentences both denigrating the inherent loveliness of shipley's and simultaneously praising a place that makes some of the most forgettable donuts i've had. (top pot in seattle)

i award you no points, and may god have mercy on your soul.

SirRon
SirRon

Bravo for giving us a food fight with more than two competitors and an entertaining back story. Like.

H_e_x
H_e_x

No Southern Maid?

trisch
trisch

"Maybe, just maybe, if I'd eaten them warm, this piece might have read more like Robb Walsh's paean to the Shipley on Ella."

There's the rub. A fresh Shipleys glazed donut is incomparable. I can eat a dozen in one sitting. Heck, I can't eat less than four at a time. And at other temperatures, Shipleys are still successful -- at bakery temperature they're still pretty good (as evidenced by your taste test), and a stale end-of-the-day Shipleys doesn't look so appetizing, but if the glaze is still intact and not melted, it can be rescued with a 5 second zap in the microwave.

Other donuts? Not so much. Years ago at a large family gathering, we sent everyone on donut runs and did a taste test with fresh donuts from a number of sources. Shipleys was light years better than the wannabes. The Dunkin' offerings sat like lead, and the Krispy Kremes squirted copious volumes of grease into our mouths with each bite. Donuts from the other shops (can't remember which ones) were variously lumpy, overly glazed, too sweet or not sweet enough.

There is a reason for Shipley's cult following, and it's not because Houstonians don't know what a good donut is. All those ex-Houstonians out there pining away for a Shipleys (and those who make trips home just for a Shipleys) aren't crazy or somehow deficient in donut taste. Candied, iced, caked, decorated, chocolate-fied donuts are all fine and whatever, but for a real, basic, glazed donut, ain't no donut out there that beats a warm Shipleys straight out of the fryer.

gaston
gaston

Glad you didn't mention Classic Donuts at Hillcroft and Beechnut--the queue is long enough.

donutdaisy
donutdaisy

@Tanyjoe: that is GROSSSSSSS!!!! that would turn me off anywhere, too...

Matthew
Matthew

HEB makes a surprising good sour cream cake doughnut, which i believe some refer to as an "old fashioned"

Matthew
Matthew

the guy from the brown hand clinic didn't beat his wife again, did he?

SirRon
SirRon

Seriously... that is just pandering for a "Comment of the Day" award. I award *you* no points, sir. I don't care much about your soul.

SYMWAFA
SYMWAFA

you just did, genius...

Fear2stop
Fear2stop

Yeah, but didn't get a good shot in...you can say he just "glazed" her.

Cheflambo
Cheflambo

Children, please ..... play nice.

Matthew
Matthew

if i was trying to get picked for comment of the day, i would have thrown in some cursing or sexual references. i'm just passionate about my dougnuts, Sir.

Matthew
Matthew

that's what i'm talking about.

SirRon
SirRon

Ahh yes. I had sex with a Shipley's do-nut one time. I could barely fit, and it was the darkest glazed I've ever done. But you know what Jesus says... Fk yeah.

Matthew
Matthew

how awesome shipley's is! come on, keep up, ron!

SirRon
SirRon

Wait, what are we talking about here?

Matthew
Matthew

tell that to mary magdalene!

SirRon
SirRon

Sex doesn't sell Jesus very well. I can think a handful of others.

Matthew
Matthew

then it will be a happy accident if i get picked for CotD. but when does sex ever hurt when one's trying to sell something?

SirRon
SirRon

Passion is what gets COtD, not sex... or am I doing it wrong? Sir.

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