Friday, May 8, 2009

Even Homer Would Be Drooling

Mmmmm, donuts.

One day, out on my lunch break in Massillon, Ohio, I happened to stumble onto a small donut and pastry shop located in a strip mall in a completely out of the way location. Always on the lookout for interesting and unusual places, I walked in to check it out. I'm so glad I did.

I am talking, of course, about Johnnie's Pastry Shop located at 232 Federal Avenue NW, Massillon, OH 44647. The phone number is 330-832-9666. There is no website at this time. Don't get this Johnnie's confused with the Johnnie's just outside of downtown Canton. They are in no way related (trust me, I made this mistake only once), though I'm sure the latter is a fine place to visit as well.

The first thing you notice about the donuts at Johnnie's is how nice and large they are. They looked quite good even though I knew they had been sitting in the glass display cases since that morning. Looking over my choices, I noticed they had several filled varieties and asked the counter person to explain the different choices. When she got to the custard filled with a chocolate glaze, I stopped her right there. "One, please!"

Initially I thought it was a tad expensive that that the donuts were one dollar each, but when she finally handed me my little bag with my donut in it, I was taken aback at how heavy it was. These donuts are about twice as big and twice as heavy as the ones you'll get at your local Dunkin' Donuts or Krispy Kreme store.

I debated on whether or not to wait until later to eat my donut since I had just had lunch, but when I got back in my car I decided to eat my sweet treat right then and there. It was at that moment that I discovered the magic of Johnnie's wonderfully rich and eggy dough with just a hint of cinnamon spice. And they were filled with the most fantastic pastry cream that was sweet but not too sweet. I was instantly hooked and I realized that there was no doubt that this was SO worth the money.

Fast forward to today. Realizing that it had been a while since I had one of their donuts, I decided to grab lunch at a small Chinese place near Johnnie's so I could drop by and pick up an assortment of their goodies for your viewing (and my eating) pleasure.

Here is the box from the store:

And a shot of the assorted donuts I purchased today:

There is a custard filled, jelly filled, glazed, and one of their famous Danish crullers. Now lest you, gentle reader, think I am silly enough to try and eat all four donuts, don't worry. The resulting stomach ache and sugar coma would've made writing this review impossible. After photographing each one, I split them up with work colleagues who were all too eager to scarf them down. Although, to be fair, I've had these enough times that I could probably describe each and every one without having to taste them first. But, in the interest of culinary science, I pushed myself to re-taste each variety. I know, it sucks to be me.

Let's talk about the high notes of each of the donuts. Here is a shot of the exterior and interior of the custard filled:

Do note that the glaze on both the custard filled and jelly filled are going to look a little wonky. Unfortunately, they sat in my hot car on the ride back from lunch and the glaze more or less did what glaze does at that temperature; it melted. When you get them at the shop, I assure you they have a much nicer finished look to them.

This is just an amazing combination of wonderfully tender dough along with the vanilla pudding-like texture and flavor of a good pastry cream. After my initial visit, I talked to one of the counter people about the incredibly deep yellow, almost goldenrod, color of the donut and she said it was due to the number and quality of the eggs that are used in the batter. No artificial coloring is used at all.

Additionally, all their donuts are fried in lard. I'm assuming it is hydrogenated lard as that would be the more common product. I didn't want to push the counter person too much further because she had already started getting a glazed look in her eye when I asked about the frying fat used. In any event, the donuts always have a clean fried flavor without any of that "used oil" smell or taste. And even though they are fried, they are never greasy.

Next up, the jelly filled:

This uses the same egg-rich batter as the custard filled, but is injected with a seedless raspberry filling and glazed with a vanilla glaze. While the custard filled has always been my favorite, if they are out of those (and many times by noon they are), I am certainly happy to have one of these in its place.

Third on the list is the simple glazed donut. Not being quite as complex as the other donuts, these only cost $0.80 a piece.

There are no competing flavors in this donut. When you break it apart, you see the yellow eggy goodness and when you give it a sniff? Eggs, eggs, and more eggs! It almost has a brioche like quality to it and even more to a point, a Rich Man's brioche. Like I mentioned earlier, there is just a hint of cinnamon spice in the batter, too. In fact, if you look closely at the dough, you can see little specks of it. Amazingly tender, this really is a wonderful example of a simple glazed donut. And while I do like a hot glazed Krispy Kreme right off the line every now and again, Johnnie's glazed donut is much more restrained on the sugar and in the end, a more balanced product.

Finally, the specialty of the house, the Danish cruller. These are available with or without chopped peanuts:

This is similar in flavor to the plain glazed donut, only in cruller form. Because the two sides of the cruller are a little thinner, these tend to dry out sooner than a glazed would. Then again, if chopped peanuts are your thing, this guy is the one for you.

The one type of donut that I wasn't all that impressed with in past visits were the creme sticks. But I don't fault Johnnie's for that. They use the same wonderful donut batter for the donut itself. I'm just not a fan of the "creme" that most pastry and donut places use. Something about sweetened vegetable shortening just doesn't appeal to my palate.

I was originally going to end this write-up with:

"So, if you happen to be in the Massillon area and looking for an outstanding donut experience, I heartily recommend Johnnie's."

Um, no. I've changed my mind. Strike the above sentence.

DRIVE to Massillon and buy yourself some of these outstanding donuts. I think you will love them as much as I do. Just make sure you get there early enough to ensure that the custard filled chocolate glazed haven't sold out.

And if driving all that way seems like too guilty of a pleasure just for donuts, stop by the Riverbank General Store on your way back to pick up some wonderful Hartzler dairy products like milk, unsalted butter and ice cream. They also have organic grains and grass-fed meats as well as locally produced honey and maple syrup.

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