You'd think it was the Second Coming.First, people began calling to ask if I'd heard rumors that LaMar's Donuts was moving its headquarters to Denver and that we'd be getting our very own LaMar's Donuts store! Then the ads started. Then the dailies began publishing stories about how bagels are on their way out and doughnuts on their way in, citing LaMar's as proof.
Suddenly, I found myself craving a doughnut -- so naturally, I headed to the new LaMar's, at 990 West Sixth Avenue. But now that I've experienced a LaMar's doughnut (or four), I have a confession to make: I don't get it.
It's not just that this LaMar's chose a terrible location, a little strip mall with hardly any parking in the lot and none at all on busy Kalamath Street. While the traffic jam outside is bad enough -- no doughnut is worth dying for (okay, maybe a Krispy Kreme, but that's another chain and another story, since we won't get a Krispy Kreme store in Denver until later this year) -- inside things get truly chaotic. During a recent late-Sunday-morning stop, there was a line out the door, but no one seemed to be actually working at the counter. One staffer was sitting at a table staring out into space -- ostensibly on break -- and another was standing next to the restroom door because there was water on the floor and she needed to alert everyone to the danger; meanwhile, the manager was heading over with a mop (why was she mopping instead of managing?), and the two employees left over were out in the dining room. It took forever for someone to take our order, and then, while the woman was getting our doughnuts, she decided to move six doughnuts from one side of the tray to the other instead of just turning the tray around. It was maddening.
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We finally got out of there with a glazed, a cherry Bismarck, a Bavarian cream-filled éclair and two chocolate cake doughnuts with sprinkles. They weren't worth the wait. Frankly, I think the glazed ones at Safeway are much better -- fluffier and lighter, with a beautiful sheen and plenty of sugary glaze; LaMar's version was too cakey and dry. While the cherry goo in the Bismarck was just like thick, sugary pie filling and the doughnut was super-fresh, the cream in the éclair was bland and the chocolate on top unremarkable. The cake doughnuts were no better than standard. I've never been able to try LaMar's infamous German Chocolate Knot; on four -- count 'em, four -- stops at different times of the day, they've always been out.
After forty years, LaMar's can't do better than this? The business was started in Kansas City by Ray Lamar; you can read all about his life -- filled with the joys of doughnuts and the sadness of a schizophrenic wife -- at lamars.com. The Web site didn't tell me whether the company was having problems translating its low-altitude recipes for a city a mile high -- as anyone from anywhere else knows, you've got to do some adjusting before baking at high altitudes -- and I couldn't get the company's Chief Image Officer, Katherine Field, on the phone to ask her about the recipes, or even what I could do for my own image. (You can see Field's on the Web site, and her hair is perfect.) But I did learn that LaMar's has this deal in which any kid who gets an A on a test or homework assignment can bring it in on a Monday for a free glazed doughnut. And I also found out that the whole danged LaMar's operation has moved here from Kansas City, so Denver is now headquarters for the fifteen shops in LaMar's empire (with more expected, especially in the Denver area). But if the pendulum really is swinging back from bagels, I don't want to clog my arteries with just an average doughnut.
Fortunately, Denver has other options. There's Henderson's Donut House (10081 West 26th Avenue, Wheat Ridge), whose eclairs (Henderson's calls them Long Johns) feature the most fabulous Bavarian cream ever made, jammed inside a moist sponge with a super-sweet chocolate frosting on top. Chuck's Do-Nut Shop (614 East Kentucky Avenue) has lots of character, a great selection and never seems to be out of anything good; Esther's Sugar Shack (8127 West 94th Avenue, Westminster) makes killer cake doughnuts. And while the scene is kind of weird at Dutch Boy Donuts (6640 East Colfax Avenue) -- a recent visit there found one of the staffers slamming trays down on the counter, over and over again, which made us a little jumpy -- the doughnuts are excellent, moist and flavorful. The best I've sampled is inexplicably called "angel's food," even though it tastes nothing like angel's food and a lot like a caramel-glazed, nut-filled cake doughnut.
Dutch Boy also has a brilliant marketing scheme, offering coffee and a doughnut for $1.55 -- which, of course, is exactly what the price would be if the coffee and doughnut were ordered separately.