I keep hearing that donuts are the new cupcake. Maybe that's true in other places where a good donut is a novelty, but in Memphis, there's a wealth of locally owned shops offering great donuts, and it seems to me classic always transcends trendy.
What follows is a survey of donut offerings in the area. It's incomplete, to be sure, and just begging for another go 'round.
Big Bite Donuts (1996 S. Houston Levee #102, 457-7092) in Collierville opened in March and has a lot of moxie. First, they have a teenage girl dressed as a donut alerting potential customers to the treats inside. Second, their hours are "Open every day at 5:30; Closed when out of donuts."
Although Big Bite is in a strip mall, the interior is nice and cozy. Colorful paintings line the walls, a side counter offers seating, and a makeshift omelet station is set up by the door. Donut pricing starts at 89 cents, which is on the high end, but there are several unusual flavors to choose from. When asked what the big seller is, owner Chris Chiozza replied, "They all sell the same." A must-try is the iced red-velvet donut topped with Bavarian cream and drizzled with chocolate glaze.
If the coffee you drink is just as important as the donut you eat, then Café Eclectic (603 N. McLean, 725-1718) is the place for you — donuts are just a small part of their menu. Starting the day off with a Mayan cappuccino and a pumpkin-spiced donut is pretty nice. Cafe Eclectic opens at 6:30 a.m. every day and sells a small variety of cake donuts — chocolate glazed, blueberry glazed, cinnamon sprinkle, regular glazed, and chocolate and vanilla sprinkle. (Blueberry is the most popular, except in the fall when pumpkin rules.)
They also offer the least expensive donuts in town, selling for just 55 cents each. When asked why they're so cheap, employee Seth Hendricks hypothesized, "Because they're not good for you?"
Donald's Donuts (1776 Union, 725-5595), which is open seven days a week from 4:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., offers the most "old school" donut experience in town. The vibe comes from the diner-esque look of the decor and the long counter where you can sit and enjoy your donut on a stool.
Donald's always has a small mob waiting to place their order, but the line never stretches far enough to make you reconsider going inside. The service is fast and friendly, maybe the most well-oiled operation in town.
Glazed and chocolate raised donuts are the big sellers here, but there's a wide variety for those in the mood for something different, and prices start at 65 cents. Donald's is also known for its kolaches (pigs in a blanket) and breakfast tacos, both of which offer a little more sustenance for those who need to function after the sugar high wears off.
For those unpredictable donut cravings, head to Gibson's (760 Mt. Moriah, 682-8200), which never closes. Ever. (They also have the best sign.) The cooks come in at 10 p.m. and work until 8 or 10 the next morning — and more like noon on the weekends. That should give you an idea of how many donuts Gibson's sells. "We sell more than we can count," offers Melissa Wilbanks, a cashier. The busiest times are on weekend mornings when the under-5 crowd takes over and at 11 p.m. each night when the sale starts. Sale donuts go for $1.40 for a half-dozen rather than the usual 60 to 75 cents each.
In addition to serving expertly made donuts, Gibson's has a lot of personality. Owner Don DeWeese likes to keep his regulars on their toes by throwing doughnuts to them across the store with little warning. He'll also let you sneak a peek in the kitchen to see how the donuts are made if they aren't too busy. On your birthday, he'll even make you a Texas Donut that's the size of a cake.
Another new donut shop is Oh! Susanna's (1016 W. Poplar, 861-4404) in Collierville. It's bright and cheery inside and seems to be specializing in family fun. A long table at the front is covered with toys for little hands, and a big-screen TV advertises birthday parties that include "donut school." (They also make specialty donut birthday cakes that are sure to make anyone smile.)
Oh! Susanna's is open from 5 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and from 5 to 10:30 a.m. on Sunday (closed on Mondays). The large dining room is very inviting, and customers are welcome to use the free wifi while enjoying a cup of organically grown free-trade coffee. Donuts start at 79 cents, and there are also other pastries and muffins available. For those in need of something savory, there are sausage bite sandwiches.
Around the corner from Oh! Susanna's is Sam's Donut Shop (392 New Byhalia, 850-5602), which has been serving donuts for more than 10 years. It's in a small strip mall next to a gas station and has limited seating. The staff's big smiles make up for the small space. Customers come in and out with smooth efficiency. The store opens at 5 a.m. each day and closes at 2 p.m., except on Sundays when it closes at noon. The donuts start at 69 cents, and besides glazed and chocolate, the old-fashioned cake donut is the big seller. They also have the most colorful variety of sprinkles in town. Remember to bring cash. Sam's doesn't accept credit cards.