Dish: A Donut Smackdown

From the glazed cinnamon raisin cruller to the jelly donuts, there’s a lot to like at these two shops
A blackberry jelly donut from Lyndell’s Bakery. Photo: Kelly Benvenuto
January 17, 2012

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This is one in an occasional series about eating establishments in neighborhoods near Tufts’ three campuses. Have a suggestion for a place for our roving diners to explore? Email us at now@tufts.eduYou can also follow Dish on Foursquare.

Unsurprisingly, the subject of donuts has been virtually absent in the musings of food writers and restaurant critics. The decline and fall of Krispy Kreme and the low-carb diet insurgence offer evidence of the disrepute that donuts and breads in general have presently come to. But the donut insistently pops up in gussied-up versions at certain establishments. The freshly fried bites served as accompaniment to foie gras at Cambridge’s Garden at the Cellar and the beignets at the Beehive in Boston come immediately to mind.

If the D word has been all but banished among most respectable folk, few can deny that the model donut is still a thing to relish, if not openly admire. A tour of Medford/Somerville purveyors turned up a number of such paragons and, at the risk of a finger-wagging from Friedman School authorities, I must share the findings. For present purposes, let us cast questions of guilt aside for a moment and pay the donut its due.

Upon eagerly sharing my discovery of a quaint donut storefront in nearby Medford Square, a co-worker gamely responded by sharing some inside dish of her own. Neighborhood acquaintances of hers prefer another bakery for their donuts. It seemed clear there was no recourse other than to measure the relative merits of each and declare a tie-breaking assertion of preeminence. I was badly mistaken.

An array of donuts await customers at Donuts with a Difference. Photo: Kelly BenvenutoWhat first excited me about my Medford Square find, Donuts with a Difference, was its unadorned modesty, nearly always a positive indicator. A sampling of their wares revealed a masterly hand in spicing the traditional cake-style donut, the basis for a cruller, as well as the plain donut in all its manifestations.

I confess to being old enough to remember when milk tasted like milk and crullers were pretty uniformly delicious. At a time when heritage donut-making falls under threat of becoming a lost art, benchmarks of quality such as the products found here ought to be met with prayers of thanks.

The queen of their offerings has been rather ingloriously named the Gracie Stick. (Something more like Your Majesty or even Joy Stick might be more appropriate, I would suggest.) Reducible to the notion of a glazed cinnamon raisin cruller, the whole is far greater than the sum of its parts. The other clear standout from Donuts with a Difference is its rendition of the honey dip, unassuming in appearance but bewitchingly candy-like in all the best ways.

I then followed the lead I received and visited Lyndell’s in Somerville, open-minded but somehow skeptical that this venerable all-purpose bakery would rise to the standard of excellence I had just enjoyed at my hole-in-the-wall découverte.

The Neopolitan at Lyndell’s Bakery. Photo: Kelly BenvenutoA Lyndell’s specialty, against which my critical faculties are rendered quite powerless, is the Bismark. Like Proust’s madeleine, this torpedo-shaped throwback to a bygone era evokes the old-school bakeries of my childhood. Think of it as a déclassé éclair: shaped like a frankfurter bun, split and filled with whipped cream and finished with a trail of red jelly. A high-falutin’ relation resembling a Napoleon but here dubbed Neopolitan, substituting custard for the cream and flaky pastry in lieu of the doggy donut, beckons from an adjacent case, and I begin to comprehend the extinction of its homely forebear.

But on to the matter of weights and measures. Here I found what I must account to be far and away the most exemplary jelly donut imaginable: a succulent blackberry jelly fills its encasement to near bursting. See the dark shadow showing through on the surface area? That seductive beauty mark constitutes a warning: oversize load, proceed with caution.

I assume I don’t need to advise anyone to grab a coffee in establishments more suitable for that express purpose.

Donuts with a Difference is located at 35 Riverside Ave., Medford. It is open Mon.–Fri., 6 a.m. –5 p.m.; Sat., 6:30 a.m.–2 p.m.; Sun., 7 a.m.–noon.

Lyndell’s Bakery is located at 720 Broadway, Somerville. It is open Mon.–Thurs., 7 a.m.–6 p.m.; Fri.–Sat., 7 a.m.–7 p.m.; Sun., 7 a.m.–5 p.m.

Fred Kalil can be reached at frederick.kalil@tufts.edu.

Read earlier Dish entries:

Dish: Dumpling Cafe

Dish: Yak and Yeti

 

 

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