Hole Foods

Chicago's doughnut scene is being redefined and customers are lining up to sample the artisanal creations

Doughnut Vault

Cult-like appeal: Among the ever-changing assortment at the Vault, there's an uncommonly moist almond old-fashioned, a mocha-glazed doughnut dotted with cocoa nibs, and a killer pistachio version. (José M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune)

Cupcakes are cool. But doughnuts are hot.

A handful of new and relatively new shops are producing the kind of high-quality, limited-quantity, chef-driven doughnuts that truly can be called artisanal products.

Much as cupcake specialists revolutionized their product with imaginative flavors and first-rate ingredients, these new-wave doughnut-makers combine the soul-nurturing satisfaction of fresh, warm doughnuts with the decadent thrill of Valrhona chocolate, seasonal jellies and chestnut glaze.

It's heaven with a hole.

And customers are, ahem, eating them up, enduring long lines and narrow windows of opportunity (these shops stay open only a few hours a day) for these nuggets of deliciousness.

Which isn't surprising when you know who the doughnut-makers are.

Francis Brennan went from running the kitchen at L2O to creating Do-Rite Donuts, a 3-month-old shop in the Loop. Christine McCabe, onetime pastry chef at Charlie Trotter's and the creator of Sugar, a now-defunct drinks-and-desserts concept, now works her sweet magic for Glazed and Infused, a recently opened doughnut specialist with Wicker Park and Market District locations. Patrick Addison, pastry chef at The Gilt Bar, spends his mornings frying dough at The Doughnut Vault, where customers line up before he opens the doors.

Do-Rite Donuts

"For me," says chef and owner Francis Brennan, "the key is making (the doughnuts) as fresh as possible. We're using great-quality ingredients — and these days, it's kind of expected. The real difference is how fresh it is."

Do-Rite, tucked into a corner of Petterino's restaurant in the Loop, makes its doughnuts in small batches. "Chances are," Brennan says, "you'll get a warm doughnut. We only have two fryers, and each only holds 20 doughnuts. We're constantly replacing. We're just doing it right; we're not reinventing anything."

Fans of Do-Rite's product might disagree. Who else is doing a Boston-cream, toasted-almond doughnut, which is like a rectangular Boston-cream pie covered in slivered almonds? Not to mention the lemon-poppy seed, which has poppy seeds embedded in a sugar-glaze topping, with a lemon-curd middle. The pistachio and Meyer lemon combination is a superstar, the coffee-cream features a vanilla glaze and a coffee-cream middle and Do-Rite's chocolate frosted — which looks just like any chocolate-ring doughnut, only enrobed in thick Valrhona chocolate — puts every other chocolate-frosted doughnut to shame.

Brennan is particularly fond of Do-Rite's gluten-free doughnuts.

"Gluten-free is important to us," he says. "We don't want to exclude anyone; we want everybody to be able to enjoy (the product). You'd never know they weren't just regular doughnuts, which is the goal."

50 W. Randolph St., 312-488-2483, doritedonuts.com. Opens: 6:30 a.m. Monday-Friday, 8:30 a.m. Saturday. Price: $1.95-$2.50. Delivery available.

The Doughnut Vault

Limited menus and inconvenient operating hours have only enhanced the cult appeal of this tiny shop, created 14 months ago by Brendan Sodikoff in a cramped corner attached to Gilt Bar, one of Sodikoff's many restaurants. Many people have to be at work before The Doughnut Vault opens its door (at 8:30 a.m. weekdays, 9:30 a.m. Saturdays), and if you wait until midmorning you're apt to be disappointed; the "sold out" sign is usually hanging by 11 a.m. You could call ahead to check — if The Doughnut Vault had a phone. It doesn't. But there's a certain communal vibe to the waiting line, a sense of shared suffering and eager anticipation that leads to short and friendly exchanges.

And rewards for those patient patrons, once past the baby-blue door into the tiny, brick-lined retail space, are immense. Though the menu is comparatively limited (maybe seven or so doughnut varieties daily), Patrick Addison changes the lineup weekly (viewable on the store's website). And the numbers support that approach: Tuesdays through Thursdays, the store makes 800 to 900 doughnuts a day, and on Fridays and Saturdays it sells more than 1,000.

You can always find yeast doughnuts with chocolate, vanilla and chestnut glazes (the latter is especially good). The gingerbread stack, a trio of soft cake doughnuts with a cinnamon-sugar dusting, are terrific. Among the ever-changing assortment, there's an uncommonly moist almond old-fashioned, a mocha-glazed doughnut dotted with cocoa nibs, and a killer pistachio version.

"We don't go too wacky," Addison says. "No foie and cherries. We'd toyed with the idea of bacon-cheddar, but we haven't done it yet. We stick to the classics, where we've been really successful.

"Do people ask why we don't open earlier? All the time," Addison says. "But where we're at is where we're going to stay; we're not in it to make tons of money. We might expand; we might not. For now, we're hanging with what we've got and enjoying it."

4011/2 N. Franklin St., no phone, thedoughnutvault.tumblr.com. Opens: 8:30 a.m. Tuesday-Friday, 9:30 a.m. Saturday. Price: $2-$3. Cash only.

Glazed and Infused

The single-best doughnut-shop name I've ever heard is Glazed and Infused. A mere 17 days old, this newcomer is making a lot of friends in a hurry.

Scott Harris (Mia Francesca, The Purple Pig, Davanti Enoteca, more) is the force behind this operation — the Wicker Park location is tucked inside Francesca's Forno restaurant — but the partners who oversee the doughnuts are executive pastry chef Christine McCabe and executive chef Tom Culleeney, a veteran chef who headed up Lettuce Entertain You's franchise operations with Krispy Kreme.

Prices range from $1.75 to $2.50, except for the maple-bacon long johns, which, covered in maple glaze and topped with a full strip of applewood-smoked bacon, are well worth the $3.25 price. "By far our top seller," says McCabe.

There are 13 varieties offered currently, and they're all so good it's difficult to pick a favorite. But I'll make specific mention of the creme brulee, a cream-filled creation whose sugar topping is authentically brittle; the PB&J, which features a raspberry-filling middle and a crunchy peanut-butter glaze; and the Chocolate 4, a chocolate-cake doughnut with fudge filling, ganache icing and crunchy chocolate-streusel on top.

Jelly-filled doughnuts are meant to be seasonal. "Right now it's pretty much all raspberry," McCabe says. "We're just waiting for the local fruit to come in." Stay tuned for summer peaches.

The Wicker Park location is little more than a walk-up window, but the Market District location has tables and chairs. A third location, in Lincoln Park, will have seating when it opens; delivery service will be added. If you're ordering in quantity, call your order in; there are by-the-dozen discounts available for phone orders that aren't offered to walk-in customers.

813 W. Fulton Market, 312-226-5556; 1553 N. Damen Ave., 773-770-0184, glazedandinfuseddoughnuts.com. Opens: 6:30 a.m. Monday-Friday, 8:30 a.m. Saturday-Sunday. Prices: $1.75-$3.25.

pvettel@tribune.com

Twitter @philvettel
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