Every day I eat oatmeal.
You’re probably assuming I also love needlepoint and PBS, too, but I’ll defend my breakfast to the grave. It costs pennies, can be adapted to any season (pumpkin spice or apple cinnamon, anyone?) and tastes absolutely delicious. So ask my roommates, in the morning I am one happy camper sitting Indian style on the couch while eating my bowlful of oats.
Given my allegiance to oatmeal I have no idea why I volunteered to write about donuts, let alone the new shop called Strange Donuts. Considering they specialize in crazy creations with names like “rainbow pony” and “Bart’s revenge,” this was so much more than a jump from Quaker quick-cook to Scottish steel-cut.
So on Wednesday I headed to Maplewood, muttering the whole drive that these donuts better be worth the wrench thrown into my morning routine. When I pulled up there was a line snaking out of the small storefront. Good sign number one, quickly followed by number two, which was the intoxicating smell of the freshly fried donuts wafting various flavors of sugary glazes and toppings into the morning air. Maybe a change of pace will be good for me after all.
I found my place in the queue, stealing sips from my thermos of coffee as we inched closer to the door where I saw good sign number three – the giddy smiles of everyone clutching their boxes of Strange Donuts as they fumbled for their car keys on Sutton Avenue. I witnessed numerous first, second, third, fourth and fifth bites taken behind steering wheels where privacy was feigned by the walls of cars and foiled by un-tinted windows. From the shameless shows of devouring I saw, I bet hundreds of car interiors are going to be as bespeckled as Strange’s paint-flecked walls by remnants of chocolate sprinkles, cookie crumbles and sticky smears of marshmallow.
Once inside, I stared up at a chalkboard listing the day’s selection of “classics” and “creations.” As I wondered what “Grandma’s kiss” would taste like translated through a pastry, there was a gap in the crowd and I had my first proper view of the display case. Good sign number four – the donuts were in fact strange looking, but in the best way possible. The sticky glazes were an ideal adhesive to cement things like Fruit Loops, crushed Butterfingers and graham cracker crumbs.
I honestly had no idea what to order, so I let a couple of people pass in front of me as I took in the options. As I watched a couple of donut deals go down, I couldn’t help but be impressed by how many people came into Strange and were welcomed like old friends. The shop has only been open for about 2 weeks, but you would have thought that Corey Smale and Jason Bockman had been manning the counter in Maplewood for years. One woman got an apology because they had run out of her favorite, the Long John, but they were confident she’d love their riff on Boston Cream. Another got a sneak peak sample of their newest creation for, a donut called “brisket and gravy” made with barbeque from the local joint Sugarfire Smokehouse. Her reaction reassured that this will be a big hit with the late-night crowd this weekend. It could not have been more evident that love for Strange Donuts was mutual, my good sign number five.
Having finally realized I could stand there all day without making any kind of a decision about what to order, I enlisted in the help of the guys behind the counter. As I asked what possibly possessed the three of them to open a donut shop in St. Louis, Jason plucked six of his favorites for my box while I got the answer.
Co-owners Smale, Bockman and Tyler Fenwick are long-time friends who recognized an untapped market for creative donuts. They knew establishments like World’s Fair and John’s would have their loyal customers, but nobody was daring to put fried chicken on a waffle/donut hybrid. Looking at the success of similar business models, such as Voodoo in Portland and Gourdough’s in Austin, the guys knew Strange Donuts would take off here in St. Louis.
Only eleven days in and the response to Strange has been tremendous. For those determined to be amongst the first to taste a “gooey butter” or “Mexican hot chocolate” donut on their opening day, the line began forming outside at the ungodly hour of 4:30 a.m. The boys sold out before noon, closing up shop in the afternoon to prep for their late-night weekend hours, which last from 9 p.m. to 12 a.m. Thursday – Saturday. The same story played out for their second service, with a huge line stretching down the block.
Even though I could have hung out all morning perfectly content, chatting with the guys and watching the delight of customers, my oat-less stomach was growling. I played it cool leaving the store, but after quickly turning the corner I broke into an awkward trot to my Toyota.
Once inside I had to go for a bite of the “Heath Ledger, gone but not forgotten,” a moist cake donut enrobed in a coat of caramel glaze and topped with bits of crunchy Heath toffee. My oatmeal has never tasted like that. It was decadent, indulgent and definitely not a breakfast item suitable for daily consumption, but man was it good.
The rest of the half dozen donuts found a happy home in the newsroom, where the general consensus was not only that I am a god for doing a story about Strange Donuts, but also that these are top-notch pastries.
While I’m sure they wish I would write a story like this every week, at the very least I know about 10 people that will now be looking for an excuse to go to Maplewood this weekend. If you know what’s good for you’ll do the same and ditch your typical breakfast routine just once to make your morning a little strange.