New world doughnuts
Donut Rising, not your grandfather’s doughnut shop
Chico, CA 95928
What brought me back to doughnuts? In a word: bacon.
I grew up on doughnuts. My mom and her siblings all worked at my grandparents’ two doughnut shops in Redding when I was young. I ate a lot of doughnuts, and as a result I became desensitized to the lure of fried nuts of dough for a long time—until now.
It started shortly after Donut Rising—a new doughnut shop in the Nord Avenue Safeway shopping center—quietly opened its doors this past March. While innocently wasting a day trolling Facebook, I came across a picture of one of its employees holding a glorious creation dubbed the O’ Canada Bar. The description for the bar-shaped yeast doughnut—“Canadian maple syrup icing with a slice of Applewood sliced bacon”—almost made me fall out of my chair. I needed one.
The next day, I walked through the lobby at work, and in place of the usual Thursday doughnut box that I walk right past, in a seemingly impossible stroke of serendipity, was a much more colorful mix of treats. And there, in one corner, was the O’ Canada Bar. I didn’t even try to contain my excitement as I loudly announced my intentions and dived right in.
And it tasted exactly how I’d hoped it would: like a pancakes-and-bacon breakfast in doughnut form.
But exceeding my expectations was how well the body of the doughnut was cooked. The raised doughnut was airy and light, with no trace of cooking oil, and the fluffy body and lightly flavored maple icing both melted on my tongue. And on top of it all, the thick and crispy slice of bacon gave that salty and crunchy balance to the sweet that I had hoped for. Just perfect. I was instantly hooked, and I headed over to the west side where Donut Rising has taken over the old doughnut shop across the breezeway from Safeway.
The tiny space has been remodeled and cleaned up. The floors are black-and-white checkerboard, the walls have been painted green, and combined with the brightly painted doughnuts on the counter and wall the room gives off a cartoonish, almost Simpsons-like vibe. It’s fun.
Behind the counter during my several visits was one of the two co-owners/cooks/servers, Gabrielle Leavy-Obeng or her husband, Kwame Obeng (Sierra Nevada Taproom and Restaurant executive chef Michael Iles, Gabrielle’s father, is also a silent partner). Both of them quietly and politely dispense the dozen-plus gourmet flavors of the day. That’s right, “gourmet.” There are no buttermilk bricks to choke on here. This is a post-Cooking Channel/Food Network world, and even little ol’ Chico is starting to reap the rewards of the rising foodie culture that values high and low cuisines equally—especially when they are intertwined at places like Donut Rising. They are making fried treats, but with attention paid to a creative mix of quality ingredients, using things like handmade jellies and custards, as well as locally grown produce.
The selections vary each week. Some of the notable varieties I sampled included: Chico Chai, a yeast doughnut filled with a wonderful, spicy Chai-flavored custard, covered with Chico Chai icing and topped off with a piece of candied ginger to give it nice kick; the insane New York, New York, with the perfect blend of raspberry and cream-cheese filling, cream-cheese frosting and bits of vanilla cookie on top; and my favorite, the Carmelita, a vanilla cake doughnut covered in the creamiest dulce de leche icing imaginable and topped with broken peanut brittle.
There are more, of course, with fun names like The Weezy (with pink icing and crushed coconut) and Jack and Coke (Jack Daniels custard inside, Coca Cola icing on top). I’ve tried another half-dozen or so varieties over the past few weeks (cutting off just a couple bites of each to protect my girlish figure), and nearly every experiment was a success.
It’s almost unfair to compare Donut Rising’s elaborate creations with typical doughnut-shop fare. Adding their singular inventiveness to expert preparation makes it no contest as to where I’ll go when I want to splurge. In fact, I think I hear the call of O’ Canada right now. Maybe I can just add an extra mile or two to my run so I can have just one more this week.