Kentucky’s Forbidden Donuts

donuts nord's bakery louisville doughnutsFor a place that doesn’t get a whole lot of national press, Kentucky must have as many claims to fame as any state in the country. There’s thoroughbred horseracing, famous family feuds, bluegrass music, and the nation’s most storied college basketball team. And in the food and drink arena, the Bluegrass State is known for KFC, the Bourbon Trail, mutton BBQ, hot browns, burgoo, and mint juleps, not to mention backwoods Old Kentucky favorites like squirrel and possum.
But I’d never heard of Kentucky as a mecca for donut connoisseurs until I read a piece in the New York Times a few weeks ago. William Grimes described the state as “the last calorie-filled province in an enormous swath of territory where the glazed twist, the apple fritter, the chocolate-iced Long John and the vanilla-cream Bismarck hold sway,” and I was hooked.

Regular readers might recall that I’ve gotten into trouble with my wife over the years for taking the family on long detours to Western New York State’s Amish Country in pursuit of donuts. With that unpleasantness in mind, I didn’t insist on hitting all seven donut shops scattered around the central and northern part of the state mentioned in the article. But we were already planning a long-weekend trip to Kentucky when the Times piece came out, so I added donuts to our weekend to-do list.

hadorn's bakery bardstownOur first stop was Hadorn’s Bakery, an institution in Bardstown, a lovely small town in the heart of bourbon country, for more than 26 years. Hadorn’s didn’t make Grimes’s list but I smelled the place from a block away and noticed the line snaking out the door at 9 a.m. on a Saturday morning and figured it had to be good.

I had to recalibrate my order three times while standing in line though, as the hungry individuals standing before me snatched the last of the pumpkin donuts and two other varieties before I could call out my order. But I came away with a half dozen decadent little beauties: two glazed, two chocolate glazed, a caramel glazed and a pretzel donut.

The plain glazed were 60 cents, the others 70 or 80, and they were all light, moist, fresh and melt-in-your mouth treats. On my walk back to the hotel my plan to divvy up the donuts when I got back to the room went up in smoke, and my wife and sons had to battle it out for what I’d left in the bag.

 burke's bakery danville kentuckyOn Sunday morning, I was ready for round two at Burke’s Bakery in Danville, another appealing small town that hosted the Vice Presidential debate in October. Burke’s was part of the NYT piece and also came highly recommended by Stuart Meyer, who produces a show called Small Town Flavor. Meyer featured Burke’s in an episode of their show (see below), and after watching the segment, I was ready to get in my car and make the 8-hour drive before the clip had even ended.

But you never want to digest too much hype before seeing a movie and donuts are the same way. Burke’s doesn’t open until Noon on Sundays and they bake only a few varieties of donuts rather than their usual full assortment, so I was unable to get the coconut frosted special or any of the others I had in mind. I had a crumb donut and a glazed, both quite good and a bargain at 60 and 65 cents, but it wasn’t the this-donut-has-changed-my-life experience I was hoping for.

nord's bakery in louisvilleOn Monday morning, I was geared up to try the maple bacon donuts at Nord’s Bakery, a popular neighborhood joint in the Germantown section of Louisville, but my sons, ages 3 and 5, decided to sleep in late, after we dragged them out late three nights in a row. I didn’t have the heart to wake them up but I feared that my chances of getting one of their famous maple bacon donuts were dwindling with each passing minute. Still, as we set off from our hotel around 10 a.m., I felt like we still had a shot since it was a weekday.

But by the time we found the place, alas, the maple bacon donuts were history. I did feel a bit better though when Martha, the young woman at the counter, told me they’d sold out hours ago, rather than mere minutes, and my mood brightened further after I tucked into a crunch nut donut that was full of nutty, coconut goodness.

We repaired to Sunergos Cofffee next door with a bag full of the little treasures, (they don’t mind and their coffee is great) and my 3-year-old son James devoured his chocolate glazed donut so quickly that he tried to attack my wife’s donut while it was still in her mouth – a sure sign that he knew he’d stumbled across a pretty damn good find.

“This kid is like the Homer Simpson of donuts,” my wife complained, trying to restrain him with an outstretched leg.

Nord’s was the clear winner of our Kentucky donut quest – the others were very good but these were sell-your-soul-to-the-devil-for-them good. Like the Rolling Stones song, I didn’t quite get the donuts I wanted, but I learned that the Bluegrass State does indeed have one more little known treasure to be proud of: its forbidden donuts. But if you want to reach donut nirvana in Kentucky, you need to get your donut loving behind out of bed much earlier than I did to get the good stuff.

[Photo credits: Dave Seminara]

Return Of The Forbidden Amish Donut

amish donutsGod bless the Amish and their otherworldly donuts. In January, I wrote a piece about the “forbidden” Amish donuts and other treats available in Cattaraugus County, New York, and this week I returned to the area for yet another feast. As I wrote in the previous piece, the Route 62 Amish corridor in Western New York is convenient to nothing and en route to nowhere, so anytime I make a trip there, it’s a serious detour.

On my last visit, I practically had to twist my wife’s arm to make the 60-mile detour, and this time, she flat-out refused to go.

“You’re going to drive 60 miles to buy a donut?” she asked condescendingly.

“It’s not just a donut,” I replied. “I’m probably going to get a whole bunch. And there’s the chocolates too.”

My mother, who lives near Buffalo, only 60 miles away from Amish country, but never goes there, was even harsher.

“You’re not going all the way down there for donuts,” she commanded. “We have a place right down the street called Paula’s, which has even better donuts than the Amish.”This sounded like blasphemy to my ears, but after noticing that the place has 38 reviews on Yelp with an average rating of five stars, I figured I had to at least give the place a shot. So my mom and I went to Paula’s the following morning and I bought a half dozen donuts.

glazed donuts paulas buffaloHow good were they? I have to admit, they were very solid. But their glazed donuts (right) are heavier, and more cake-like than the Amish ones, and most of the glazing caked off and was sitting in little bits on my plate after I finished it. Not only that, the Paula’s donut costs 15 cents more than the Amish one and is about half the size. With all due respect to Paula’s, their product is good, but it’s not a sell-your-soul-to-the-devil-it’s-so-good Amish donut.

The following day, I told my wife and mother – the Amish donut heretics – that I was taking my dad and my two sons, ages 2 and 4, to get some Amish donuts and chocolates with or without them. They elected not to come and we called it a men’s Amish excursion.

I felt nervous as we pulled up in front of the Miller family home at 12624 Rt. 62 in Conewango Valley for two reasons: I always live in fear that they’ll be out of my favorite maple-glazed donuts, and I’d printed out a copy of the Forbidden Donut story I wrote and planned to give it to them.

I’ve written close to 1,000 stories for a wide variety of publications over the years, but, thanks to email, I have never actually printed out a story, hand delivered it to the person I wrote about and then stood there as they read it. But one cannot email the Amish, and I wanted them to see what I wrote about their magnificent donuts, so this was the only option.

amish baked good shopIn the winter, the Millers sell their baked goods inside their home but in the summer, they use a shed out front, so I stepped into the little shed, surveyed the shelves and panicked when I saw no donuts.

“Please tell me you have some maple-glazed donuts,” I said to the teenage Amish girl sitting at a small counter in the shed.

“They’re all gone,” she said. “Yuri took the whole tray we baked to a wedding.”

I repeated the second half of her statement in complete disbelief. He took the whole tray to a wedding?

“What wedding?” I asked, probably sounding like a lunatic. “Where is it?”

The teen measured me and the wild look in my eyes and wisely chose to change the subject.

“Well, we do have some regular glazed donuts I could give you,” she said.

I took a deep breath and felt a huge sense of relief. I did not want to return to Buffalo with no donuts, only to have the two heretics say, “You drove 120 miles round trip and they didn’t even have donuts!?”

amish foodI bought a half dozen of the sweet, beautiful monsters and asked to speak to the teen’s mother. Her mom came out and I introduced myself and handed her the printed copy of the article for her inspection. She stood there reading it on the side of the shed as I bit into my first donut and felt overcome in a wave of euphoria. It wasn’t quite like the maple-glazed baby – damn you Yuri – but it beat the crap out of Paula’s donut and any other one available in a shop.

I watched Mrs. Miller and took delight in noticing a sly, little smile and a sense of satisfaction on her face as she read the piece. But after a minute or two, she looked up from the paper and said, “My name is not Sarah, it’s Barbara!”

I wrote the piece based upon my recollection and had confused her with another Amish shopkeeper I’d met that day. Whoops. But she didn’t seem bent of shape about it, and although she didn’t say so, I could tell she liked the article because after she read it she was beaming.

My dad, my two year old and I sat in the car devouring our donuts in the mid-day sun, as my four year old stubbornly insisted on eating a ring pop rather than the world-class donuts.

“Can we go to the candy shop?” he asked.

Only in Amish country does one not think twice about bringing kids to a donut and bake shop and then proceeding directly to a candy store, but when in Rome, right? So our happy little sweets caravan moseyed over to Malinda’s Candy Shop at 12656 Youngs Road, and I presented Malinda with a copy of the piece I wrote.

She sat and read it while we perused $3 bags of peanut butter bars, coconut clusters, chocolate covered pretzels, cashew clusters and chocolate covered Oreos and then elected to get one of each.

amish kitchenMalinda smiled as she read the article but didn’t offer a comment or opinion on what I wrote. But I knew she liked it, because when I asked to film and photograph her kitchen, where she makes the chocolates, the last time I was there she said no but this time she said, “Well, it’s not very clean but sure, go ahead.”

We made a few more stops, dodging horseshit and buggies in the region’s wonderfully quite, bucolic, hilly country lanes and then returned home to share the booty with the two unbelievers.

“Was it worth it?” my mom asked, her mouth half full of cashew clusters.

“Damn right it was,” I said.

amish donutLong live the Amish, and their killer donuts and sweets.

Update July 17: I received a message from a reader (see photo right) who took a detour to get some forbidden donuts and they report that by 4 p.m. the donuts didn’t taste very fresh. Nonetheless, they still enjoyed the experience but this is probably a good tip. There are no preservatives in these donuts and they’re probably best in the morning, right after they are baked. The photo above is of Timmy with some forbidden donuts.

Forbidden Amish donuts

There is probably only one element of Amish life that would appeal to Homer Simpson: the donuts. I grew up in Western New York State, and every time I return to the region to visit my parents, I get Amish donut fever. Unlike Homer Simpson, I have never sold my soul to the devil for donuts. I’ve never had to, because in Cattaraugus County, New York, about sixty miles south of my hometown of Buffalo, I can get the best maple glazed donuts in the world for 75 cents.

The problem is that getting to New York’s largest community of Old Order Amish involves a long detour, even when I’m approaching Buffalo from my current residence in N. Virginia. On a road trip to Buffalo in July, I nagged my wife about stopping for Amish donuts to the point of exhaustion, but when you’re driving eight hours with two toddlers in the backseat, adding time onto the trip is a tough sell, and I wasn’t able to close the deal.

After being denied the donuts this summer, I was hell bent on getting some on my next trip to the area over the Christmas break. These donuts are so sublime that, the night before we were due to get them, I had a nightmare, in which I arrived at the bake shop only to discover that there were: you guessed it, no more donuts.

There are several Amish families in the towns of Leon, Conewango, and Randolph which offer excellent donuts and other baked goods. But there is one woman, Sarah Miller, at 12624 Seager Hill Rd (Rt. 62) in Conewango Valley, whose donuts are truly worthy of Michelin stars. On Fridays and Saturdays in the winter, and Monday-Saturday in the summer, she sells an array of pies, breads, cookies and glazed and maple glazed donuts of the highest quality at ludicrously low prices.

Just as we were about fifteen miles from my little forbidden donut retreat this past Saturday, my wife made a foolish, last-ditch attempt to get me to forgo the donut detour.

“You don’t understand,” I pleaded. “I need those donuts!”

My wife said that I was “incredibly selfish” and I didn’t bother to argue. As we walked into the Miller’s drafty, dark kitchen I looked around and saw cookies, cakes, pies, fudge. Pretty much everything but donuts.

“Please tell me you have the maple-glazed donuts,” I said, to Yuri Miller, Sarah’s impressively gray-bearded, pencil-wielding husband and cashier.

“We sure do,” he said, pulling out a tray of a dozen of the massive, beautiful creatures from the back pantry.

I bought three of them, along with a loaf of pumpkin bread and the damage was just $4.25. I was worried that after all the donut fantasizing, they wouldn’t be as good as I remembered them but as soon as I bit into my maple glazed slice of heaven, my fears were immediately laid to rest. The donuts are as big as a baby’s head, but are as light and airy as a feather. The maple syrupy goodness is shear bliss. I asked Sarah what the secret to her insanely good donuts was.

“I really don’t want to tell you my secrets,” she said, “because if everyone knew how to make these, they wouldn’t be special.”

The Amish are obviously known for their austere lifestyle, but for me, a visit to the Amish of Cattaraugus County is all about decadence and indulgence. Aside from the donuts and baked goods, I also always stop at Malinda’s Candy Shop at 12656 Youngs Road in Conewango Valley. Malinda sells bags of incredible homemade chocolates- peanut butter bars, clusters, fudge and the like, all for about $3 a bag. Every few months, she pays someone to drive her into Buffalo to buy chocolate and then whips up the sweet concoctions in her tiny little kitchen, adjacent to her shop.

Cattaraugus County is well worth a visit even if you don’t have a sweet tooth. New York State has just started to promote the area’s “Amish Trail” as a tourist destination, but I’ve been visiting the area for years and have never seen a single tour bus. It’s a pretty area of rolling hills and muddy gravel roads with more horses and buggies than cars. The lively, historic ski town of Ellicottville is about twenty minutes north of the Amish Trail and is a great base to explore the area.

Because there are few tourists in the area, you’ll find that the Amish won’t shy away from talking to you, unless you try to take their photo. Aside from the sweets, you’ll also find handmade toys, dolls, rugs, quilts and furniture.

On my last visit to the region, after we left the Miller’s bake shop, my wife popped in a video for my toddlers in their matching backseat video consoles and it dawned on me that, to the Millers, we probably seemed like aliens from another planet. I gave one of the three donuts to my wife, who grudgingly conceded how dreamy it was. Maybe not worth selling one’s soul for, but certainly worth a 50 mile detour.

Superbowl Sunday in Phoenix with the corporate crowd: How is a jet like a donut?

Reading about the lavishness of life for the Superbowl crowd who heads to Phoenix on Superbowl weekend makes me think of jets and donuts.

I’ve tended to pick jobs where free donuts are a treat. With coffee and half and half instead of creamer, it’s a celebration. Throw in pizza for lunch and it’s a holiday. I think perhaps I’ve aimed a bit low. But, don’t get me wrong, I love the jobs I’ve chosen. I just notice the contrasts between donuts and a corporate jet. Donuts are round for one thing–even the part that’s the hole.

For those who work in high flying corporate America a celebration is a different scene entirely. This scene is where the jets come in. According to this New York Times article, as of last Friday, 400 private jets filled with people are scheduled to land in Phoenix for the weekend to take in the excitement of being at the Superbowl. Many of the jets are chartered by companies looking to show their clients (and themselves) a good time. Others are jets owned by the companies. This is 50% more private jet traffic than last year.

Sixty thousand dollars equals 10 hours worth of jet travel, in case that sounds like a good time to you and you may want to rent a big jet yourself. Car rentals look cheap now, don’t they? Throw in a three-night-stay in a hotel and we’re talking serious cash. Three nights at the Ramada in Phoenix over the weekend is $2,382.78–and that’s the least expensive.

For those of us in the donut eating crowd, while we’re eating our glazed version of a good time, chew slowly and think about how long it’s going to take for all the private jets to leave Phoenix. It’s going to take awhile–longer than it takes to eat a donut. Some people may even have to hang out on a runway for awhile. Even money can’t speed up air traffic. How is a jet like a donut? It’s not.