Why Winchell’s when it could be someplace with some buzz, like Frittelli’s in Beverly Hills, or Donut Man in Glendora or Stan’s in Westwood? Or at least someplace with huge fake donut on it? Well, in the interest of full disclosure, I have never been to any of those places. You could even say that my donut credentials are a little weak. I’ve had Krispy Kreme, I’ve had Honey Dew, and Dunkin Donuts, I’ve eaten donuts that came from a supermarket back east a million years ago – they were about as far from a Winchell’s donut as you can get; no icing, crispy on the outside, they were amazing. But Winchell’s was where I went as a kid. I must’ve eaten a million donut holes to celebrate school birthdays, usually white cake with sugar icing and sprinkles in green, orange and yellow. These were good, but better were the chocolate with chocolate icing and chocolate sprinkles (donuts of this persuasion were infinitely better than those that were chocolate with chocolate icing but no sprinkles.)
My dad used to take us on Saturday mornings, while my mom got to stay in bed just that little bit longer. We would run our hands over the plexiglass booths, a yellow that was shiny and dense and appealing. There were trays of donuts with their tidy, repetitive round shapes, their centers puckered with colored icing and sprinkles. We were charmed by the possibilities – coconut, jelly filled, strawberry, but we always got the same ones, if they had them. My brother got plain with white icing and sprinkles (of the afore-mentioned green, orange and yellow – why no blue, Winchell’s? WHY NO BLUE?), and I got the chocolate with chocolate icing and sprinkles. We would squirm into the slippery yellow booths, eating with such gusto that we managed to shower sprinkles all over the fake wood surfaced tables. To this day, when I pass the Winchell’s in Studio City, I get a little stirring of excitement.
When I decided to go back to Winchell's, I was a little nervous. I'd done some reading on the Internet and it had been bought in 2004 by Yummy Donuts, an institution, which aside from its ugly purple and yellow sign, I know nothing about. Maybe they'd changed the recipes. Or worse, maybe my taste buds had changed and Winchell's donuts were, like mayonnaise sandwiches and baloney, no longer appealing. I was in for a pleasant surprise. They had kept the yellow benches for one thing, though they've diversified the menu, offering croissants and breakfast sandwiches and something they refer to as "iced cappuccinos" though they come from one of those juice machines that always has the liquid spilling all over the inside.
I chose a glazed round, an old fashioned, a maple bar, and of course - had to do it - a plain cake with sugar icing and sprinkles and a chocolate cake with chocolate icing and chocolate sprinkles. The glazed round was, frankly, disappointing. Maybe I've been spoiled by Krispy Kreme, but this donut was dry, without the springy texture I've come to expect. The old fashioned was much better, crisp on the outside and it tasted like some of the better un-iced donuts I've had (though it had sugar icing on it.) The maple bar was passable, but not as good as I had hoped it would be. Something about the aftertaste wasn't quite right. But the plain cake with icing and sprinkles (now in yellow, dark green and pink) and the chocolate cake with chocolate icing were exquisite - just how I remembered them. The cake was moist and tender, with just a tiny bit of crunch on the outside, the icing was sweet, but not too sweet, the chocolate was just as it should be. And the sprinkles! I had thought going into this that sprinkles were part of the folly of youth, that they would be gummy and poorly flavored, but I was wrong. They were crunchy and appropriately sweet and/or chocolatey. I guess you really can go home again!
Winchell's, 10700 Washington Boulevard, Culver City, CA
Winchell's, 12034 Ventura Boulevard, Studio City, CA
For others, go to www.winchells.com