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February 8, 2008

The Gadabout—February 8, 2008

Despite its proximity, South Side food is more the stuff of legend than the stuffing of Saturday night. U of C lore only mandates the occasional, possibly alcohol-induced adventure to the Harold’s on 53rd Street before graduation. Those brave souls who have traveled past the end of the world as marked by B-J report the land between 61st and 75th Streets filled with rib-tip and barbecue artisans. But the most legendary stuff of all lies nearly 50 blocks south, in the sugar coma–inducing headquarters of Old Fashioned Donuts.

Docking in at 112th Street and Michigan Avenue, Old Fashioned Donuts—a veritable Krispy Kreme on crack—qualifies as being legitimately South Side; just two neighborhoods separate it from Chicago’s southern city limits. Standing outside, you can almost hear the oil from the frying vat burble your name and your impending need for an insulin shot. A line of people often snakes through the plain interior, interrupted by small tables at which the impatient have already begun chewing their slivers of bliss.

The bakery has as many donuts as Chicago has Obama supporters, in and behind the large, sugar-encrusted counter up front. With 10 flavors of yeast dough, five types of buttermilk cake, and three of regular cake, all of which feature assorted glazing and filling options, it becomes impossible to select your ideal breakfast cocktail. The additional strawberry, lemon, and Bavarian jelly donuts and the seasonal choices on top of those are just there to mock your indecision.

On the Homer Simpson scale, the donuts themselves rate a perfect 10 “mmms.” The buttermilk-cake donuts glazed with chocolate were perfect: The donut had a crisp exterior with a dense yet soft interior, and there was just enough chocolate to get a taste of it in every bite. As a counter-taste, the plain-cake donuts without glaze—in both donut and hole form—deliciously hollered back to the original described by Washington Irving. The chocolate-covered Texas donut, essentially the obese version of its brethren (sound familiar?), takes the virgin eater about four hours to consume to match the round-trip travel time between Midway and Dallas–Fort Worth.

The cinnamon bun, another specialty, is one of the rare less-than-ideal offerings of Old Fashioned Donuts. The palm-sized bun starts off well, with a beautiful cinnamon swirl and appetizing sheen. Much like the White Sox’s last season, though, the success of the start was masked by the failures of the finish. Our bun had a hard candy layer of sugar on top that somehow managed to interfere with the taste of the pastry, and the search for cinnamon within often proved futile. Although Cinnabon’s products are 90-percent chemical, their synthetic cinnamon bun unfortunately glazes over this.

Old Fashioned Donuts’s pièce de résistance, which has single-sugaredly hurtled the bakery into lore, is its apple fritter. Compared to catcher’s mitts or human heads, their apple fritter is certainly not the second-biggest you’ve ever seen. The fried dough inside is the ideal balance for the soft, sweet apple hunks and thickly slathered icing on the outside. Finishing the whole thing in one sitting would be the Olympic eating equivalent of the triathlon.

Time may be an illusion, and lunchtime doubly so, but there is nothing imaginary—or even artificial—about the products of Old Fashioned Donuts. Rich with the splendors of fat and sugar, these hand-crafted donuts hail to a time before gentrification and skim milk. You may have to take the Metra at 8 a.m. to get to Old Fashioned Donuts while everything’s still available. You may have to wait in line for 20 minutes in a place that completely lacks the glitz of Cupcakes or Swirlz on the North Side. You may have to have all your teeth pulled out after the apple fritter. We promise it’s worth it for unequivocally the best donuts in Chicago.