Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Doughnut Nation

LEXINGTON, Kentucky - Nearly every culture has its own take on a basic staple snack: fried dough. In North America, doughnuts have been the fried dough of choice for generations, during which time people have formed firm opinions about who fries, shapes, sweetens and sells dough best. In this town, the capital of Kentucky's verdant horse country, that would be doughnuts from Lexington's own Spalding's Bakery.

A Lexingtonian described the glazed doughnuts at Spalding's, a local champion founded in 1929, as "Krispy Kreme on steroids.'' Spalding's may not have the nationwide fame that Krispy Kreme, another product of the South, enjoys across the United States, but it definitely takes pride of place here. Patrons line up early outside and inside the nondescript building across from the Jif peanut butter plant on Winchester Road, all to get an early start on the first doughnut of the day. I waited about 40 minutes last Saturday, and locals told me that was nothing.

But perserverance furthers. I took my first bite shortly after leaving Spalding's and savored it with a cup of coffee in hand. It was a glazed. It was sublime: sweet, aromatic and light considering the unavoidable calorie content. I'd recommend it to anyone. I am recommending it.

Spalding's had to close once, after spending 70 years at the same, too-small location. It reopened in new digs across from the Jif plant about 18 months later, after sending central Kentuckians into a frenzy of sugar withdrawal. Things are fine now. The customer lines are back, and you are as likely to see a judge waiting patiently to make his purchase as you will a man or woman in a blue-collar job. The family-owned bakery makes cakes, pies, cupcakes and other treats, too, but it's the doughnuts that prompt the line-ups.

These days, you have your muffins and you have your bagels, but doughnuts are not going away. Americans still love them - glazed, covered in chocolate, crusted in sprinkles, filled with jelly or cream - or should I say creme. Even so, the USA cannot claim the mantle of Doughnut Nation. That distinction falls to Canada. I have lived twice in Canada and can attest that Canadians have a love of doughnuts second to none. They eat twice as many doughnuts per capita as any other nation - maybe the cold weather and all that ice hockey makes doughnuts more essential. The top chain in Canada is Tim Horton's, named for a former hockey star, natch.

Americans don't have to cross an international border for their doughnut fix, though. If you're in the neighborhood, just head to Spalding's. It's located at 760 Winchester Road, at the intersection of Walton Avenue. It's closed Mondays and Tuesdays. Otherwise, Spalding's opens at 6:30 a.m. (7 a.m. on Sundays) and stays open till noon. (

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