According to “Doughnuts: A Definitive History,” an article from the Web site of the authoritatively dubbed Mr. Breakfast (with a name like that, how can we not believe him?), those little circular bits of deep-fried goodness trace their origin back to Dutch pilgrims, who called them olykoeks, or “oily cakes.” (As someone who spent a half-year in Holland, I can attest to the locals’ fondness for pastries, which may or may not be tied to their famous social policy regarding cannabis. But I digress.)
The name and shape of the modern doughnut, Mr. Breakfast tells us, come from a 19th century sea captain who allegedly disliked the nuts that his mother baked into the center of his olykoeks and so poked them out. (In another version, he poked the holes so he could hang the cakes on the helm of his ship. Neither version explains why a grown sea captain was still getting his lunch packed by Mom.)
Now, whether any of that history is wholly—or even partially—accurate, I can’t say. That’s because I cut short my intensive doughnut research and got down to the more enjoyable business 0f eating the things.
Where did I get them? Why, at Dad’s Donut Shop in Wailuku (that popular variation on the spelling would make an excellent topic for Mr. Breakfast’s next essay).
Situated at the corner of Vineyard and Central, Dad’s is a walk-up stand with a couple of service windows and a sign featuring the smiling, pipe-smoking visage of Leonard D. Hart, creator, we are told, of “the original recipe.” There’s no seating, so the joint is take-away only. (Really, who sits down to eat doughnuts?) They serve some pretty decent coffee, plus sandwiches, smoothies and a few other things, but come on—you’re here to find out about the doughnuts.
First a piece of good/bad news: they’re small. That’s good because it makes an excellent little package, something you can hold easily in your hand and polish off with a single bite (two if your boss or girlfriend just walked in the room and you want to appear polite). But it’s also bad, and you already know why: small desserts—and that’s what doughnuts are, no matter how we may try to dress them up as a meal—are an unavoidable invitation to keep eating. “It was so little,” you say innocently to yourself. “I think I’ll have one more.”
Of course that one turns quickly to six, at which point, in addition to being quite full, you will have sampled most of Dad’s flavors: plain, cinnamon, powdered sugar, chocolate and four glazes—guava, lilikoi, mango (my favorite) and maple. Other than their respective coatings, the doughnuts are all basically the same: dense, slightly nutty and about the size of a child’s fist. (Hmmm, maybe not the most appetizing example.)
Wailuku is full of businesses and government offices, so it’s a great place for a doughnut shop. Behind almost every door is some young employee looking to get on his co-workers’ good side, or maybe a cranky old traffic cop jonesing for a 2pm sugar fix. Either way, choose Dad’s. They’ve got the best oily cakes in town. MTW