Colorado’s new generation of doughnut shops reinvent the holey doughnut.
By John Lehndorff
(This feature appears in the current issue of Colorado AAA Encompass magazine)
Few people make doughnuts at home anymore, and even really experienced bakers avoid creating a splattered mess. That’s why many families stop by the neighborhood shop on the weekend, just to smell the yeasty aroma and coffee. For kids it is a rare opportunity to order the sweet cruller, Bismarck, maple log, or raised glazed.
Doughnut shops famously open very early: 4–6 a.m. is common, and they often close early by modern standards. The Milk Run Café in Steamboat Springs stops selling doughnuts at noon.
Once almost every small city in Colorado had a doughnut shop or an independent bakery that fried the food of cops and truckers every a.m. Now the majority of us get our doughnuts at supermarket bakeries or at cookie-cutter major chains including Dunkin, Krispy Kreme, Lamar’s and Winchell’s.
Shops in the Daylight Donuts chain tend to be more independent and feature local flavors. The Daylight Donuts shop in Breckenridge sells notable doughnuts and coffee in a funky environment that celebrates snowboard, mountain biking and jam band music, dude.
However, a new wave of doughnut makers are starting to make their mark in Colorado. Some of these shops serve only hot doughnuts. Some allow you to choose the filling that gets squirted inside or customize the glaze and stuff on top. Some are made from brioche dough, croissant dough or potato dough and a few get bruleed with a torch.
The hipster artisans at places like Glazed and Confuzed, Habit Doughnut Dispensary and Voodoo Doughnut in Denver use the crisply fried surface of the doughnut as a canvas. These pastry chefs paint short-lived masterpieces using a palette of icings, frostings and sprinkles. They experiment with icing flavors from clove to Japanese green tea and might finish a cake with grape or bubblegum “dust” not to mention various meats and cheeses.
As is the case with the state’s craft beers, these creations are often given witty names. Voodoo Doughnuts offers The Marshall Mathers named after rapper Eminem. It’s a plain cake doughnut with vanilla frosting and mini M&M’s. Some of the doughnut monikers are funny but inappropriate to repeat in a magazine with a family readership.
These next gen sweets are neither cheap nor small. It can take serious dough to acquire one of these elaborately decorated pastries but some are gigantic enough to sweeten a family of three.
Many things fall within the broad doughnut tent: your classic cake and yeast-raised plus old-fashioneds, crullers, bars, fritters and holes. Their fine relatives include sopapillas at Mexican eateries and the frybread offered at Tocabe American Indian Eatery in Denver and Greenwood Village. International variations—churros, malasadas, beignets and jelly-filled Polish paczki, are popping up at local ethnic bakeries and bistros.
It’s important to remember that not everything fried, sweet and memorable is technically a doughnut. Carnival funnel cakes are related to fritters but only in the way you are related to a second cousin twice removed who you never visit.
Serious restaurants are also part of the doughnut renaissance. Boulder’s Oak at 14th fries only 15 of its famous brioche doughnuts a day, each served with a matching doughnut hole in nuanced flavors from mocha glazed hazelnut to Chinese 5-spice. At Denver’s ChoLon restaurant spiced doughnuts are served with Vietnamese coffee ice cream and at Il Posto, upscale bomboloni (Italian doughnut holes) earn rave reviews.
When EnCompass went looking for the state’s most distinctive doughnut experiences it discovered a baker’s dozen (and more) spots from Glenwood Springs to Greeley. To get started just follow the author’s trail of crumbs and powdered sugar.
2430 S. Glen Ave., Glenwood Springs, 970-230-9056
You have to love a place where “doughnut” is one of the bread choices on breakfast and lunch sandwiches, and for dessert: Doughnut ice cream sandwiches. Sweet ColoraDough offers 100 different types of scratch-made doughnuts on a revolving menu that includes cake and raised glazed plus cherry fritters, cinnamon rolls, twists and bear claws. The 11-layer Bavarian cream-filled “Croughnut” made with croissant dough has a melt-in-the-mouth quality. Like most doughnut enterprises this shop is heavily involved in community causes and co-owner Aaron Bandolato estimated that the shop donated more than 600,000 doughnuts to various community causes last year alone.
Don’t miss: The Big Daddy, an egg and bacon sandwich on a large, split yeast-raised glazed doughnut.
20 Nottingham Rd., Avon, 970-949-1423
How do we spell relief from I-70 in the mountains? Start with a gas station next to a bakery/restaurant stocked with dense cake doughnuts that are born to dunk. Try one paved with Fruity Pebbles cereal, upgrade to a chai donut, or better yet, try what may be the best maple bacon donuts in the state. The Northside also bakes large English muffins from scratch and at night transforms into a candle-lit, sit-down dinner destination for prime rib and red wine.
Don’t miss: Birthday cake-sized yeast-raised doughnut with a choice of frosting and message and ample room for all those candles. (See image above)
941 Lincoln Ave., Steamboat Springs, 970-761-2023
It is true in life and also in doughnuts that if you snooze you lose. Milk Run only makes a limited number of light, fluffy doughnuts each day. They close at noon so when they’re gone they’re gone. It may be worth it to get up early for the chocolate and peanut butter doughnut, the hefty Snickers doughnut or a rare yeast-raised glazed with bright green tea icing.
Don’t Miss: The gold standard here is the simple but perfect yeast-raised doughnut with thick chocolate glaze.
342 Moraine Ave., Estes Park, 970-586-2988
It’s not quite as picturesque as nearby Rocky Mountain National Park but thousands of Estes Park visitors have shots of themselves eating long johns in front of the homey Donut Haus sign. For decades they have been frying moist chewy doughnuts but nothing fancy or hip. Besides buttermilk cake donuts, yeast-raised bismarcks and raised or cake donut holes, there are flavor days set aside including Applesauce Spiced Cake (Monday), Devil’s Food Cake (Tuesday) and Blueberry Cake (Wednesday). Note that this family business closes promptly at noon every day.
Don’t miss: Pinecones are yeast-raised dough shaped like a ponderosa pine cone rolled in cinnamon, fried and heavily glazed.
2608 11th Ave., Greeley, 970-353-2400
Spudnuts was a popular regional chain serving doughnuts made with potato flour which adds moistness and a nice chew. Red’s uses the original recipe to make their yeast-raised doughnuts for a simple chocolate glazed as well as the Kool-Aid Kicker with vanilla frosting dusted with Cherry Kool-Aid. The comfort menu at this mostly take-out spot boasts wild game brats, fresh cut fries topped with garlic and oil, jumbo roasted turkey legs, kolaches and a Colorado favorite, a crust-wrapped krautburger with beef and cabbage inside.
Don’t miss: Giant, knobby Michigan Bing Cherry Fritters drenched in glaze.
PUEBLO & COLORADO SPRINGS
2704 E. Fountain Blvd., Colorado Springs, 719-632-0512
1303 S. Pueblo Blvd., Pueblo, 719-564-7592
Amy’s is the Willie Wonka of Colorado doughnut makers because they always have dozens and dozens of decorated, iced and sugared varieties including Dirty Worms, Amy’s Almond Joy, German Chocolate, Chocolate Round filled with Bavarian Cream, Maple Turtle, Apple Spice Cake, Zesty Lemon, Chocolate Reindeer Glazed, Bronco Berry and Banana Spider-webs.
Don’t miss: Have it your way and get yeast-raised glazed doughnuts freshly filled to order from a roster of sweet fillings.
5301 Leetsdale Drive, Denver, 303-524-9637
From the moment it opened in Denver, Glazed and Confuzed decided to not leave well enough alone. The hip, modern space applies pastry chef principles to making doughnuts completely from scratch including the fillings, glazes and even the caramel. The dough itself is surprisingly not sweet. One favorite is the Girl Scout Samoa doughnut with caramel glaze, toasted coconut, and chocolate drizzle. A cream cheese cake donut might come with a guava glaze and the maple glazed with buttered popcorn is made from real maple syrup. Vegan and gluten-free doughnuts are also available. Be aware that scratch doughnuts like these desserts made with great ingredients are pricey and worth it.
Don’t miss: The towering root beer float yeast-raised doughnut has a surprisingly spicy root beer glaze and a great creamy filling.
4090 E. Mississippi Ave., Denver, 303-759-0635
Krispy Kreme gained fame in part by occasionally lighting a sign in the window when a batch of doughnuts were “hot” from the fryers. At the first Colorado outpost of this small East Coast chain, doughnuts are always hot because they are all fried to order. There’s one choice in doughs – cake – but you can top it with any of 19 glazes and 13 toppings and change it doughnut by doughnut. Those overwhelmed by the choices can pick one of the standards like the OC Sand with honey glaze and cinnamon sugar, or the Key Lime with tart Key lime glaze, graham crackers and powdered sugar.
Don’t miss: Try a warm doughnut dipped in mocha and chocolate glazes and topped with chocolate chips, chocolate sprinkles and chocolate cookie crumbs.
1553 Platte St., Denver, 720-428-8565
A dual business opened recently in the historic Paris on the Platte coffee house space in the Ballpark neighborhood. Carbon Beverage Café has a menu of sandwiches, salads, gourmet tater tots, small plates and a cool tap system pouring beer, wine, cocktails and cold brew coffee. The pastry chefs at the tongue-in-cheek Habit Doughnut Dispensary next door craft small batches of denser honey brioche doughnuts that have a lightly yeasty flavor. The “filled” doughnuts are actually sliced in half and layered like a sandwich yielding much more filling per square bite. One grownup doughnut is middled and iced with sweetened mascarpone cheese. Favorites include a raised dough item with peanut butter icing, chocolate cookie crumbles and potato chip streusel. Habit is also a hipster neighborhood bodega with graffiti art, lots of tattoos and convenience store essentials ranging from cigarettes and Tylenol to vintage candies.
Don’t miss: Sit at Carbon and have a cup of espresso and The Paris, a brioche doughnut with a distinctive clove-flavored glaze and a house-made candy cigarette.
1520 E. Colfax Ave., Denver, 303-597-3666
Voodoo is credited with launching the new doughnut renaissance. Colorado fans used to make pilgrimages to Portland and return through airport security clutching pink boxes of the precious pastries. As a result, Voodoo’s first location outside of Oregon was opened on a gritty block of Colfax Avenue and there has been a line of anticipatory customers ever since. They service a wonderful cross-section of the doughnut demographic with beards and yoga pants as well as hardhats, biker jackets, tattoos, 3-piece suits amid the graffiti art and general hubbub. They are there for the Bacon Maple Bar, the Mango Tango, and the nearly obscene Memphis Mafia, a banana and cinnamon-accented fritter with glaze, chocolate frosting, peanut butter, peanuts and chocolate chips.
Don’t miss: The Voodoo Doll is a human-shaped yeast doughnut filled with raspberry jelly, topped with chocolate frosting and a pretzel stake through the pastry’s heart.
A doughnut by any other name
Fried dough made itself at home in nations across the globe centuries before doughnuts emigrated to the U.S. and then to Colorado. Here are some of our favorite international doughnut variations served locally.
400 S. Meldrum St., Fort Collins, 970-224-5464
2852 W. Bowles Ave., Littleton, 303-797-1190
518 Kimbark St., Longmont, 303-774-9814
2124 14th St., Boulder, 303-442-4743
275 S. Logan St., Denver, 303-282-6258
It’s hard to walk out of Lucile’s without a dusting (or more) of powdered sugar appearing on your clothes. This 32-year-old Colorado institution does gumbo, etouffee, grits, red beans and more Louisiana dishes but the claim to fame is beignets. Modeled on the legendary chicory coffee accompaniment served at the Café du Monde in New Orleans, beignets are hand-cut pieces of dough fried and served hot in a cloud of powdered sugar. Butter and the housemade apple butter and strawberry jam—always on the table at Lucile’s—make a perfect filling.
2850 Iris Ave., Boulder, 303-440-0228
Tucked into an old strip mall across the hall from the Boulder office of the Colorado Department of Motor Vehicles is a hidden gem that serves affordable, authentic tacos, enchiladas, birria (stew) and gorditas. The crowning touch is a plate of long, crunchy sweet doughnuts fried to order.
Aloha Hawaiian BBQ
8623 Washington St., Thornton, 303-227-6800
Portuguese-Hawaiian malasadas are bites of sweet dough deep-fried, plated hot and sugar-coated, and sometimes with fillings including guava. This hole-in-the-wall eatery delivers island platefuls of loco moco or Kalua pork with white rice and mac salad every day. Malasadas are only made Thursday through Sunday.
Note: Malasadas are also served hot 5–7 p.m., Fri.–Sun. at Amy’s Donuts in Colorado Springs.
9606 Ralston Rd., Arvada, 303-940-2065
This small, old-fashioned Polish bakery is famous for its paczki, a wonderful variation on the doughnut theme made with rich, creamy dough. The hole-free round is fluffy inside, crispy outside, centered with jelly or custard, and surrounded by powdered sugar or glaze. Paczki are traditionally eaten just before Lent starts but they are available year round.
Colorado food writer John Lehndorff grew up on long jelly cake crullers from MaryAnn’s Donuts in Fitchburg, Mass. He hosts Radio Nibbles Thursdays on KGNU radio (88.5 FM, 1390 AM, KGNU.org).
What is your favorite Colorado doughnut shop?
We know we missed a few notable independent Colorado doughnut shops. Let us know and we’ll add them to the list: email@example.com.
Did you know …
You can get legally married at Voodoo Doughnut in Denver? Matrimonial packages can include a tiered doughnut cake with diverse cake topper figurines available.
Doughnut or donut?
“Doughnut” is the proper dictionary spelling. The shorthand “donut” has been around for more than a century, but is only became commonly used after the rise of Dunkin Donuts in the late 20th century. “Doh!” (pronounced “dough”) is a colloquial exclamation of illumination used by animated doughnut lover Homer Simpson.