It has been almost two decades since I lived in the South, but certain foods still take me back to my Nashville youth. That's especially true of glazed Krispy Kreme doughnuts, the signature product of the company founded 74 years ago in Winston-Salem, N.C. So I welcome the news that a Krispy Kreme has finally opened here, at 2019 Deming Way in Middleton. The doughnuts I remember are for sale there, and some of them are very good.
Though it's not as if I've been Krispy Kreme-deprived. For years I've been buying the company's doughnuts at local Open Pantry stores, and I've spotted them at Woodman's, and here and there.
The main change that comes with a bona fide Krispy Kreme restaurant is Hot Now. That's what a neon sign says, and when doughnuts are being fried and glazed en masse by (at most Krispy Kremes) the big machine, the light is turned on so passersby can see it. Often the machine is practically in the middle of the restaurant, behind glass. Drooling people watch it in action.
But doughnuts aren't fried at the Middleton store. They're delivered from the West Allis Krispy Kreme, and in Middleton they're glazed in something called a tunnel oven, which is a ways behind the counter. You can still watch doughnuts marching out of it, but as a spectacle, it's not the same. Even so, I can't tell a substantial difference between hot doughnuts from the tunnel oven and the traditional hot Krispy Kreme.
Can I tell you a secret, though? I think the hot, glazed Krispy Kreme doughnut is fine, but I think the cold one is fine, too, maybe better. True, the hot doughnut is marvelously light, as beignets are, and eating one is like eating sweet air. But I can only eat so much air.
My main qualm with the hot Krispy Kreme doughnut may have to do less with the item itself than with the hoopla surrounding it. I remember eating hot Krispy Kremes when I was a kid, but I don't remember Hot Now being a big deal. It became a big deal in the late 1990s, as the company grew rapidly and cultivated the mystique of that neon. Its effect can be Pavlovian. People went nuts when that light came on. From coast to coast, new Krispy Kreme stores were mobbed.
When the frenzy was at its height, in the early part of the 2000s, you couldn't watch TV without hearing a Krispy Kreme joke. The company went public, and by 2003 the stock had quintupled in value, to $48 a share. Fortune declared Krispy Kreme the hottest brand in America.
It was around this time that there first was talk of a Madison-area Krispy Kreme. In 2004, the city's Plan Commission approved a site near East Towne Mall. But then Krispy Kreme went through a series of setbacks. The government probed its finances. Serious accounting problems were discovered. There were lawsuits. Layoffs. The low-carb diet fad didn't help. The company lost money and closed stores, and the Madison one didn't open. These days the stock trades at about five bucks a share.
And now, almost inexplicably, we have a Middleton Krispy Kreme franchise, which shares a building with a FedEx Office. Inside there are a handful of forlorn-looking tables, but this is clearly a takeout concern.
What's to eat? Doughnuts, and a few related products, like doughnut holes and apple fritters. There is nothing savory, and I can get behind the purity of that vision. To drink there is soda, milk, juice and coffee. Krispy Kreme touts its drip coffee, which comes in rich, smooth and bold roasts. But the bold I tried wasn't so bold. It was more like weak fast-food coffee that had been sitting too long.
There are espresso drinks, but I won't be ordering the featured Kaffe Kreme again. It's a latte whose sickeningly sweet Original Kreme flavoring obliterates any trace of espresso. Some frozen drinks are called Krispy Kreme Chillers. The flavor of the Berries & Kreme Chiller I tried was overwhelmed by the melting ice. I didn't linger over it.
But you don't go to Krispy Kreme for lattes and Chillers. You go for the doughnuts, and they are quite something. The regular glazed is classic, but my favorite is a glazed doughnut with a layer of chocolate on top. The sugar doughnut is an enjoyable surprise - it's almost not sweet. The glazed cruller has a fine overtone I can't quite identify. Vanilla? The maple-glazed doughnut is a nice variation on the chocolate-glazed one. I like the chocolate cake doughnut very much, and the same is true of the cinnamon bun.
I'm less enamored of a doughnut filled with custard, which reminds me of Jell-O pudding, and I don't mean that in a good way. A doughnut with candy sprinkles is pretty to look at, but the texture of the sprinkles doesn't go well with the pastry.
Then there is the pièce de résistance, the chocolate iced kreme filled doughnut. I don't know what all they're putting in that sweet kreme, but a) it makes my teeth hurt, and I do mean that in a good way, and b) it combines with pastry and chocolate to make what must be the most decadent doughnut on the planet. If I ate two of those, I would start vibrating.