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Curious Louis: In search of the perfect doughnut

Andwele Jolly best donut
Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio
Andwele Jolly asked 'Curious Louis what is St. Louis's best donut?'

Andwele Jolly is a trained physical therapist, an administrator at Washington University’s School of Medicine and an all-around doughnut connoisseur. In high school he could eat 12 doughnuts in a sitting. (Good thing that he ran track at the time.) Jolly has lived on two continents and in numerous states and has sampled doughnuts throughout the land. He says St. Louis’ love for the deep-fried delicacy stands out.

Jolly recently asked Curious Louis: What is the best doughnut in St. Louis? So St. Louis Public Radio decided to launch its own skiff into the battering storm of debate and to take Jolly with us.

Now, this area has lots of places to find doughnuts so we had to narrow the field. From the start, we eliminated grocery stores and chains -- sorry, Krispy Kreme and Dunkin Donuts. We wanted handmade doughnuts from local, independently owned shops across our region. Even so, there was no way that we could sample all the richness the area has to offer. So, with Jolly's help, we selected several neighborhood shops known for quality classic doughnuts and that have made best-of lists in the past. 

Strange Donuts Best Donut
Credit Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio
Bea works at Strange Donuts and is a self-described "fan girl" of the shop.

Following Jolly’s lead, we focused heavily on dough-quality. Was the doughnut dense? Was it soft on the outside or crispy?  Did it have an oily consistency?  Did the dough melt on the tongue? How did the dough interact with toppings, fillings, additional flavors?  Was the doughnut just all-around ridiculously good?

Seriously, we ate a lot of donuts for just one morning. 

Our journey started in north county but soon headed south, specifically to south St. Louis, which just may be the epicenter of doughnut excellence in our region. Here’s where we went and what we learned:

  • Old Town Donuts, 508 S New Florissant Road in Florissant  – Cake doughnut with powdered sugar.  Fantastic dough, dense and soft. Good balance between sugar and dough.
  • Strange Donuts, 2709 Sutton Blvd. in Maplewood – Strawberry shortcake doughnut. House-made strawberry jam filling paired with not-too-sweet icing and a thick fluffy yeast dough. Just nonsense. After finishing one, Jolly got a second for the road. (Full disclosure: We hadn't originally planned to visit Strange Donuts, as it is not a classic old-fashioned doughnut shop, but friends and family threatened murder if we left it off the itinerary.)
  • Donut Drive-In, 6525 Chippewa St. in St. Louis – Closed!  But Jolly swears by the powdered cake doughnut. He says Donut Drive-In is like a second home. This reporter is already planning his visit.
  • Eddie’s South Town Donuts, 4701 S Kingshighway Blvd. in St. Louis – Basic glazed yeast doughnut.  Good balance between dough and icing.
  • World’s Fair Donuts, 1904 S Vandeventer Ave. in St. Louis– Basic glazed cake doughnut. A classic. One of St. Louis’ oldest doughnut shops. The business was founded in 1934, according to Peggy Clanson who can be found behind the counter every day they’re open.
  • John's Donuts, 618 S. Broadway in St. Louis – The apple fritter.  According to John’s employees, they sell more apple fritters than any other doughnut.

After three hours, six doughnut shops, and more than a dozen consumed donuts (and some brought back to the office), we came to the conclusion that “the perfect doughnut” depends entirely on the consumer.  It’s a question of taste, pure and simple. How do you like your dough? How do you like your toppings? Are you looking for something out of left field or a traditional no-nonsense experience?  Really, the only way to find the best doughnut in St. Louis is to try a bunch and see which one works best for you.
That said: The strawberry shortcake doughnut at Strange Donuts was our favorite.  It was also the size of your face. 

Should you embark on a similar journey, Jolly has some pro tips:

  1. Eat a protein-solid breakfast. If you binge only on donuts, you will sugar crash. A  healthy breakfast can help halt that descent.
  2. Bring water. Although coffee is certainly a solid complement, water will keep you hydrated and improve digestion.
  3. Be active. The number of calories you take in have to be expended or they just add up.

John's Donuts Best Donut
Credit Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio
"I'm 70 and I eat donuts every day," said John Pearcy, owner of John's Donuts where we ended our quest.

We're hardly the only news organization that has researched this question. If you want more suggestions about where to go for the best doughnuts, check out these articles from the past two years.