The scene: a Minnesota bar at dusk. Two pies perch on neighboring barstools in a dismal tavern, weeping into their tiny drinks. “It was supposed to be us,” the first pie mutters. “It was supposed to be our year. All the newspapers trumpeted it! It was the year of pie in New York City, in Brooklyn, even. And then the donuts came! Those donuts came and they took it all away from us! It was rightfully ours.” The second pie sighs, and pats the first pie on the shoulder, flakily. “There, there,” she says. “This trend can’t last. These donuts too shall pass.” “Will they?” wails the first pie. “Will they ever?” (Meanwhile, behind the bar, lying in dirty snow, are the cupcakes, hopeless and drinking, discarded by a society that regards them as nothing more than last week’s cupcakes.)
Or so I came to imagine after standing in my third frenzied line at a Minnesota donut bakery. I waited with joy. I like trends. I like fads. I like the slightly anxious madness that descends on people when they go hog-wild after something. I like the idea that one day half the men in the country are going to sleep with tissue papers carefully furled around their well-waxed moustaches, and a few years later that behavior seems eccentric, weird. Once upon a time, there were bell-bottoms—and then they were mocked. And then they were back! Then mocked again. I don’t care. If you don’t enjoy the trends, how will you know it’s 2012, and not 1992? 2012 is poised to be a very donut year, with lines forming out the door at all the new donut shops. So grab a cruller (or a dozen). And remember: the smartest move is to order ahead, because these donuts sell out regularly. (If you end up in that sorry situation, here’s a thought: pie?)
Mojo Monkey Donuts
The belle of the ball is Mojo Monkey Donuts, St. Paul’s newest shop. It has everything you’d ever want in a donut shop: crullers as light as air, double-chocolate donuts as intensely chocolaty as a top-flight devil’s food cake, mocha-crème filled donuts full of lush custard with true mocha depth. Mojo also has the element of surprise, cycling through dozens of here-today, gone-in-20-minutes options. Maybe an apple-dumpling donut made with freshly chopped apples; maybe a German-chocolate one topped with a dollop of traditional homemade caramel-coconut-pecan frosting. And are they cute! Cute as toddlers holding their donuts two-handed and wide-eyed, (of which there were many during my last Mojo Monkey visit.)
Speaking of kids, Mojo’s owner, “momtrepreneur” Lisa Clark, let her kids name the business. The monkey in the title is MoJo JoJo, the serially misguided villain who antagonizes the lovely little PowerPuff Girls. MoJo JoJo isn’t the main danger here, however: when Clark opened her shop, she had no idea the tsunami of enthusiasm she’d receive. Most days, the demand is so great she can barely keep up. One day I was there and the credit-card machines had gone down, causing widespread anger. Boy oh boy, people get crabby when they have to wait for a donut. But those donuts are worth the wait, and by the time the frenzy dies down (say, around March?), I’d bet Mojo Monkey will be considered one of the Twin Cities’ greatest gems.
Meanwhile, one year earlier in Minnetonka, YoYo Donuts was born. Donut historians will look back on this day as the hour, the minute, the second the local donut renaissance began. But these donut historians (presumably up in their powdered-sugar-dusted ivory tower) should really date the donut renaissance to a big-bang event in South Dakota. That’s where YoYo’s owner, Chris Moquist, had a grandfather who owned a couple creameries—creameries where donuts were sold out front. “After the big Krispy Kreme flame-out, it seemed like there was a big hole in this market,” Moquist told me. “My father always said if we could find the right flour mix, the right seasoning blend, we could recreate our old family-creamery donuts.”
How do you get that right flour mix? Moquist and his father tracked down a flour consultant in Salt Lake City who helped them reverse-engineer the taste they were looking for. After a year of trial and error, the YoYo flour blend was achieved. “Donuts are a little bit of a lost art,” Moquist says. “Even a lot of places that fry their donuts every day are getting frozen donuts from Canada and defrosting them.” Not so at YoYo. Here, the two bakers have 89 years of baking experience between them—and they learned from the real, real old timers.
Three cheers for experience! YoYo’s basic donuts, like the cake or the old-fashioned, are truly fantastic. Their rich, biscuity flavor is just right, and their consistency is perfectly chewy and light. That said, I think I like Moquist’s wackiest donuts best of all: maple Long Johns crowned with full slices of bacon, s’mores donuts topped with torch-toasted marshmallows and graham crackers, worms-and-dirt donuts with gummy worms twisting through Oreo crumbs. And it doesn’t hurt that he serves Dogwood coffee and Tea Source tea, making YoYo Minnetonka’s best coffee shop.
I call YoYo the donut shop most likely to succeed in cities such as Mankato and Duluth. As this issue headed to press, Moquist was looking for a second location. How many donut shops will it take to fill the hole in this market? I’d guess a dozen. Start lobbying your city council now.
In Minneapolis’s Seward neighborhood, residents knit and talk about biodiesel. The Donut Cooperative is the kind of place where both of these activities can happen, alongside a hot cup of coffee and a just-fried donut. The place is non-hierarchically owned by Dawn Otwell, who joins with her fellow worker-owners to make whole-grain donuts from local Whole Grain Milling Co. flour. Need I say this is a shop for the 99-percent? Well, it is, and the donuts are interesting and good. The whole-grain flour gives them a robust, complex taste without being hippy-ish or grainy. And the way Donut Cooperative donuts are fried creates a truly crunchy exterior, like that of a tortilla chip or the skin on fried chicken, and makes them seem extremely old fashioned—like historical-reenactment-village old fashioned. But good!
The co-op also uses local milk from Castle Rock Dairy in the lattés, and donates used canola oil to biodiesel makers. So next time you’re in Seward, look around: one of those cars might be donut-powered. Just like all the people in this very donut-powered year.
Mojo Monkey Donuts, 1169 Seventh St. W., St Paul, 651-224-0142, mojomonkey.biz. YoYo Donuts & Coffee Bar, 5757 Sanibel Dr., Minnetonka, 952-960-1800, yoyodonuts.com. Donut Cooperative, 2929 E. 25th St., Mpls., thedonutcooperative.com
A Hole Lot More
Are you a donut connoisseur? Then you’ll want to visit all these great Twin Cities donut artists.
The ultimate in classic raised-and-glazed; so good they make Krispy Kremes taste like saccharine goo. 4800 28th Ave. S., Mpls., 612-729-9316, meloglaze.com
A Baker’s Wife’s Pastry Shop
Homespun, homey, and adorable, a single cake donut from ABW captures everything good and innocent about the Midwest. 4200 28th Ave. S., Mpls, 612-729-6898, facebook.com/aBakersWife
St. Paul partisans hold no donut in higher esteem than Granny’s: old-school, unpretentious, and classic. 1555 Robert St. S., St. Paul, 652-451-6132, grannydonut.com
Puffy Cream Donuts Plus
South metro, don’t think you’re left out of the donut magic. Report to Puffy Cream for all the traditional options, made fresh. 3390 Coachman Rd., Eagan, 651-686-8342