The hours advertise, “until sold out.” This is the most important thing to know about the Doughnut Vault in Chicago, Illinois. From this single fact, you can deduce that (1) the donuts must be good if they always sell out, and (2) you need to wait in line. A long line, for a long time.
My boyfriend is obsessed with donuts and almost always manages to visit a new donut shop when we go on trips. But in this case, he dispatched a minion. I was sent to the Doughnut Vault for a double-chocolate yellow cake donut, the daily special on Saturday, September 28, 2013, because Mon Chéri had already decided that this was the best donut flavor he would ever eat. “DOUBLE. CHOCOLATE. and YELLOW. CAKE. What am I all about? Contrast!”
Alas, he was in Chicago for a class that began at 9am and the Doughnut Vault didn’t open until 9:30am. Being the caring girlfriend that I am, I realized that agreeing to wake up “early” on a Saturday morning to trek across an unknown city and obtain a donut for my studious boyfriend would earn me major Girlfriend Points, which I could cash in for leniency later that day when I’m spending an hour deciding which dress to wear to dinner at Moto. (Strategy, folks, is the secret to many a harmonious relationship.)
So I woke up early as planned, but then I fell back asleep. (Unplanned.) By the time I rushed out of the hotel and onto to Michigan Ave, I had just enough time to make it to the Doughnut Vault as long as I didn’t get lost.
… As long as I didn’t get lost.
Notwithstanding my dean’s list GPA, I inherited my father’s sense of navigation, which is to say that I couldn’t find my way out of a torn paper bag. You’d think the Midwest’s intuitive grid-like roads would have a quick learning curve, wouldn’t you? But I’ve spent years trying to wrap my mind around Boston, where the roads scribble (“street planning by the British,” my father says dryly, his London accent faded by sixteen years spent in the States) and my mind instinctively rejected the simplicity of Chicago’s layout. Add Chicago’s skyscrapers playing pinball with my phone’s GPS signal, and I was up a creek.
It took all of five minutes before I didn’t know where I was, and roughly in another seven more I was actually lost. Another twenty or so passed before I resorted to asking random strangers for directions.
How lost did I get? I stumbled upon onto the set of Transformers 4. THIS IS A TRUE STORY. Without violating any confidences, I can now confirm those donuts were meant for Bumblebee and Megatron. I did not partake. Instead I returned to the security guard—where we may or may not have shared a laugh about the mixup, I may or may not have signed certain disclosures, and you may or may not see me briefly driving a sports car in the film. But I digress. My mission awaited.
I finally came upon a long queue snaking around the corner of a building. “Is this for the donuts?” I asked, as if my luck would allow it to be anything else. After 45 minutes of speed-walking and occasionally running, now I was looking at 35 minutes standing in line. I closed my eyes and wished for a bench or a pillow, or a pill that would numb me from the waist down. The dozens of donut-hungry people in line before me would no doubt buy up all the daily special double-chocolate yellow cake donuts, and my trek would be for naught.
Acceptance began to set in, and I relaxed. There wasn’t anything I could do. So instead of hyperventilating, I began chatting with the guy in line behind me, and lo and behold, he has a travel blog! “The Wandering Sheppard.” (You should check out his review of the Doughnut Vault too!) I don’t attend blogger meetups, so despite reading food blogs frequently I can count on one hand the number of other bloggers I have met offline. Those instances, like this one, were pleasant coincidences.
Eventually I approached the storefront’s entrance, a short and narrow hallway with a man behind a counter at the end. Did they have double-chocolate yellow cake left? Yes. Yes, they did. And since I knew I would be hungry on the return flight to Boston the following evening, I bought far more than just the single double-chocolate yellow cake donut that had been my mission.
BEHOLD. One buttermilk old-fashioned, one vanilla glazed, one chocolate glazed, one gingerbread “stack” of three, and two double-chocolate yellow cake.
That’s right. Nicole returned victorious with not one, but TWO (2) double-chocolate yellow cake donuts. +1000 girlfriend points. My boyfriend marveled over how the chocolate glaze on one of the double-chocolate yellow cake had pooled in the center—he had a story about this, involving a childhood friend and North Carolina and, coincidentally, the Transformers, but this blog is about my adventures and not his—and then he devoured both with a male satisfaction that made my entire trip worth it. But of course my boyfriend wasn’t going to eat six donuts all by himself, and I wasn’t going to suffer all that hassle and not get some donut love for myself. The chocolate donuts were his, but the rest were mine.
I was intrigued by the variances in size. With three to a “stack,” the gingerbread donuts were the smallest. The old-fashioned buttermilk and the double-chocolate yellow cake special were medium-sized, and the vanilla and the chocolate glazed were quite large.
Ironically, although the buttermilk are called “old-fashioned” and the special was actually called “cake,” the gingerbread donuts were the most cake-like. They came coated in sugar and but were still moist enough to have a pillowy texture. The gingerbread are sold by the three-donut “stack” ($3). The vanilla glazed ($3) is the closest to your quintessential glazed donut. With teeny-tiny specks of vanilla bean throughout the coating, the vanilla flavor is present but not aggressive. Yet as much as I loved every glossy, sticky inch of vanilla glaze, the mouthfeel of the old-fashioned buttermilk ($2) was actually my favorite.
I brought the box of donuts on the plane back to Boston. My boyfriend grumbled his way through the entire airport, as the large box served practically as an additional carry-on, but I held fast that I would only part with my hard-earned donuts if and when Homeland Security pried them from my broken grasp.
Alright, now I’m craving Doughnut Vault. I have to stop writing this post before I buy a plane ticket back to Chicago.
INFORMATION as of August 2013
401 1/2 N. Franklin Street
Chicago IL 60654