But I felt it necessary to be awake for the donuts when their makers were, so I set my alarm and bitterly trudged around in the dark for my keys at 6 am. I wanted to see what the place looked like minutes after opening their doors, and discovered I was far from the only customer there just after OOB at 6:30. Not only that, but there were youths in this donut shop at 6:45 am. I was already agape.
The fine folks at General American caught wind that I would be down there to taste them and kindly gave me a dozen, gratis, and for the sake of transparency, I feel I should let you know that I did not buy the ones I tasted. (I did buy a separate box for my office so I could feel the financial impact of buying a dozen craft donuts. More on that later.)
The scuttlebut that has drifted to me through the social media grapevine forewarned that I wouldn't be able to eat more than one. And I thought, That's because I haven't been there yet. But no, the People In the Know in fact, knew, and were correct; General American Donuts are not for the casual donut eater. They're not for the Saturday morning coffee-and-paper sipper or Sunday School crowd. These big, fat, badass donuts are an occasion unto themselves, that requires much more fortitude of spirit and seriousness about simple carbs. General American Donuts are the reason things like Crossfit had to be invented by some masochistic calisthenics coach, and unless you're a teenager or a world-class athlete, you'll finish one, tops.
I have never loved a donut as much as I love this donut. The donut dough tastes and chews identical to Wonder Bread. The outside is dusted with some kind of peanut crumble, and big globs of jelly are piped inside. It's an encapsulated peanut butter and jelly that mated with a jelly donut, so it is heavy on the filling, but the overall flavor payoff is almost identical to a PB&J. And again, I have to give a standing ovation for whoever decided to make the donut out of that grade school-perfect white bread dough. This one wins the top spot because it was both the most creative and totally delivered on the taste. Along with the French Toast donut, we gobbled the PB&J down so quickly, I didn't even pause to take a well-composted photo. My mind was too busy wishing I were eating lunch on the playground in September.
I picked this one for the second spot because I kept coming back to munch on this donut, and it was one of few in the box that I could conceivably eat more than one of, and would have if I didn't have whole box to taste. Plus, who doesn't love salted caramel? If I were GADCO, I would make this the "house" donut—a sure crowd-pleaser. I tasted a lot of delicious donuts today, and I came back to finish this one. Make of that what you will.
You've likely seen this combo in a lot of foods and donuts, and for good reason: it's friggin' delicious. As my co-taster noted, this is one where you have to deconstruct it a little to get a perfect ratio of bacon to donut in each bite. And this one was heavy, a definite 1-per-visit kind of thing, and incredibly filling. That said, the flavors were as perfect and delicious as they seem like they would. This is one time we will not fault you for hopping on something trendy.
4. French Toast
The only reason this didn't rank higher is because it was the only two-step donut in the box, and the only way it could have been better would be to find a way to incorporate the syrup so that it's an all-in-one deal like the PB&J. But I was so delighted to find out that, in fact, it tasted exactly like traditional, perfectly-executed French toast. The dough was chewy and eggy, rich and just ever so slightly sweet. It had a perfect hint of cinnamon, then you dip it into a cup of syrup and then you feel your body lift off the ground slightly as it attempts to ascend. If you want French toast but also need to keep walking, boom, here's your donut. As I mentioned previously, we ate this one so fast that I had to crop this photo out of music editor Kat Coplen's Instagram. If you don't mind that it's a little messy and a bit sticky, it's an easy favorite.
What I loved most about these donuts, as someone who generally does not like liquid in my donuts, is that every filled donut I tried, I loved. This guy was filled with a heavenly vanilla custard and topped with torched sugar. They did a great job with the custard, which was stiff and rich and didn't threaten to dribble out of the middle and make a mess. I could easily see these beauties being served at a dressed-down baby shower or a brunch.
So high-five, General American. I'm always happy to find a place that lives up to their hype and makes creativity and experimentation a priority. We weren't big fans of GADCO's take on the cronut, but could see it working with a fat-based icing instead of something with a lot of moisture, which made them unexpectedly chewy. It would be interesting to see savory options worked into the menu, as they've proven more than capable of balancing salt against sweet. There was one other that fell short against its more fun siblings, the plain-jane Raised Glazed, which almost didn't seem fair to offer alongside the salted caramel, bacon, and sprinkle-laden varieties. As my mom often says, "It's like bringing a cheese sandwich to a buffet: you're not going to want it when you get there," or in this case, when you get it home.
They're also at least twice the price of standard-issue bakery donuts, from $1.50 to $3.50, so a dozen will set you back about 35 bucks. Luckily, I have a small office and most of these donuts can easily be cut in half or thirds and still be satisfying. There's a lot of donut in one General American donut, and a lot of flavor in each, too. For those who don't mind spending more for a little something special, it all comes out in the wash.
If you like your donuts small, plain, and in multiples, stick to your neighborhood joint. If you need a big dose of flavor, carefully-crafted dough, and sugar to jump-start your day (or end your night), head down to General American. Here's our one word of warning: after you take your necessary Instagrams, put that phone in your pocket. You'll want to eat these bad boys with both hands.
General American Donut Co.
827 S. East St.