Asheville’s renewed love affair with fried dough

A HOLE NEW VENTURE: Former Tin Can Pizzeria owners Kim Dryden, left, and Caroline Whatley, right, are set to open, Hole, a doughnut shop on Haywood Road. Photo by Alicia Funderburk

Doughnuts are about as rare in Asheville as a three-piece suit. City Bakery dropped its weekend doughnuts (big as tires on an 18-wheeler). And before selling its shops, Sisters McMullen gave up its weekend batches as well.

At several Asheville tailgate markets, Sweetheart Bakery sells delectable apple butter, chocolate and lemon doughnuts so tiny they could substitute for toy tires — but unless you’re willing to fight children, it’s tough to land any of those either.

Fortunately, a few spots — Dough, Geraldine’s and Tod’s Tasties (but only on Wednesdays) — throw life rings to the doughnut deprived. And at weekend brunches, Limones offers Mexico’s doughnut, churros — long, fried dough sticks perfect to dunk in hot chocolate. Cucina 24 sometimes builds doughnuts into desserts, picking up on a national trend.

And more help is coming.

Vortex Doughnuts is hoping to open in September on the South Slope, with doughnuts that are almost pure North Carolina — boasting everything from local flour to Asheville craft beer. “’Tasty, local and twisted’ is our tag line,” says Ron Patton, who co-owns Vortex with his wife, Valerie. “The twisted aspect is our flavor combinations.”  Think crumbled malt, pretzels and peanuts topping a caramel (local) beer glaze or a donut decorated with chocolate ganache and candied orange ginger zest, a nod to Asheville’s Orange Peel.

Also, coming in October is Hole in West Asheville, serving hot doughnuts that also incorporate local ingredients like French Broad chocolate and PennyCup Coffee. Hole’s doughnuts — with varieties like cinnamon sugar with toasted almonds and sesame seeds or chocolate-coffee  — will be as idiosyncratic as Asheville itself. 

Why the doughnut dearth?

“Maybe because doughnuts seem unsophisticated,” says Ali Caulfield, pastry chef and catering manager at Dough. “Asheville takes pride in its food and a doughnut seems just normal. But it is not. It’s an art form.”

Patton is puzzled as well. “Asheville has gourmet pizza and hamburgers but not artisan handcrafted doughnuts. It’s odd because artisan doughnuts are everywhere else.”  

Still, Asheville’s bakers are optimistic that Ashevilleans will respond to superior doughnuts. Tod’s Tasties’ success is proof:  Offered Wednesdays only, four dozen — in alternating flavors like blackberry-ginger, curry-cashew and strawberry shortcake — sell out by noon.

Caulfield has had to double her batches of cronuts — doughnuts made with croissant dough. “People come in and say, ‘Oh no, they’re gone!’ I had no idea that cronuts would open this crazy can of worms. People call to reserve them.”

Fred Dehlow, owner of Geraldine’s Bakery on Merrimon, says he sells 12 dozen doughnuts on weekdays. “And we sell a lot more on weekends,” he says. “We’re even doing a doughnut wedding with a morning reception.”

Why they’re destined for a comeback

Doughnuts are reviving in part because Ashevilleans like Hole co-owners Caroline Whatley and Kim Dryden miss them.

“I loved doughnuts as a kid,” says Whatley, former co-owner of Asheville food truck Tin Can Pizzeria and a baker who left happy bellies behind in New Orleans, Rhode Island and New Hampshire. “In Baton Rouge where I grew up, it was our family ritual to get hot glazed doughnuts. In Asheville, I’ve missed being able to do that.”

Still, Asheville’s on the slow end of bringing doughnuts back, she says. “San Francisco, Seattle, Austin, New Orleans — all those cities have had really good doughnut shops open within the last three or four years. Doughnuts made with ingredients that don’t scare you have made a resurgence.”  In fact, Saveur magazine devoted the cover and much of its March 2013 issue to America’s doughnut renaissance.

“Doughnuts have wriggled their way into something more sophisticated than Dunkin’ Donuts,” agrees Caulfield. “They’re coming back all over the country. In New York, people have been paying other people to wait in line for cronuts. And they’ve been selling them on Craig’s list like black market doughnuts. It’s insane.”

Vortex Doughnuts is scheduled to open at 32 Banks Ave. in September.

Hole is planning to open at 168 Haywood Road in October.



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