I remember when I used to sit on the stools in the poorly decorated Tim Horton’s donuts in the early eighties. The classic brown and yellow decor, the tattered picture of Tim Horton himself and the nameless (at least I think he was) Timbit mascot are all nothing but distant memories.
Tim Horton was a cult hero on the ice. Having played the majority of his career for the Leafs (including the last time they won the Stanley Cup), his life ironically ended as a member of the Buffalo Sabres in a traffic accident on the QEW after a game against his old team.
What I remember the most are the doughnuts. The apple fritters were like fingerprints; no two were the same. You could look at a batch and, like a cloud, find one that would like Pierre Trudeau, Ernie Whitt or the thing growing on the face of the old woman serving you behind the counter (see below if you don’t want to take my word for it). They had apple, cherry and blueberry turnovers the size of pirate hats and the once famous strawberry tarts which seemed seasonal anytime of year.
Since then, the explosion of the Starbucks-lead cafe concept and rapid expansion of the Tim’s franchise meant that the creative, heavy handed tendencies of the local bakers have been replaced by the cookie cutter approach meaning that a dutchie looks the same whether you get it in Yellowknife or at Queen and Bay.
As a result, I’m always looking for this delicious treat in other places. Whether an old school honey cruller at a small town ma and pa shop or a yeast-raised treat at gourmet boutique hidden within a urban bazaar, finding a good donut is well worth the trip. Needless to say, I was excited to see that Von doughnuts was down the road from a restaurant I was dining at that evening. Despite an Alberta clipper, I began the three block trek down Danforth in efforts to get there before it closed at 6. When I walked in, I had the pleasure of meeting the owner who proudly described the daily doughnuts available. She also informed us that she works 60 plus hours a week which likely explained the sign on the window looking for an evening baker. She also explained a sort of barter system that existed among local businesses. For example, she often trades doughnuts for Pizza Libretto’s thin crust pies.
The variation of doughnuts with witty names (such as enjoy-mint and one night stand) differs depending on the day of the week. I decided to opt for a variety (half dozen for $18) which included the following:
Pucker up Sucker (bottom left)– The owner cited this as one of the more popular. The curd was delicious and pure, leaving out the excessive sweetness that exists with most lemon filling, resulting in a fantastic balance. It was also ingenious that the curd was spread throughout the middle of the doughnut like a sandwich. Jelly filled doughnuts at Tim Horton’s are like a lottery; you either hit the jackpot or get a smigin of filling which may or may not be the flavour you actually ordered.
Peanut Butter Jelly Time (bottom right)- The worst part of this creation was the fact that Peanut Butter and Jelly Time song (including Brian from Family Guy dressed up in a banana suit) got stuck in my head. Otherwise, It was surprisingly balanced and not over sweet.
Creme Brulee (top left)– Smart in concept but less explosive than its box mates.
Butter tart- (bottom middle) I didn’t understand this one. I think efforts failed in the attempt to reduce the signature sweetness of a butter tart. Maybe you’re best not to mess with this Canadian favorite.
Spicy Bourbon Cracker Jack (the duplicate)- By the time I ate it, I had forgotten it was spicy and was pleasantly surprised at the reminder. This was a great combination of snack nostalgia, subtle heat and just enough sweet.
I like the doughnut movement much more than the cupcake one. I think a deep fried piece of dough is a much better blank slate for creativity and VON has no lack of it. The passion of the owner, coupled the creativity of her wares makes VON doughnuts an exciting destination. Despite trying 5 varieties, I feel I have just scratched the surface. After all, I haven’t had the opportunity to try the Dill-Dough (ok..that didn’t sound right), which is normally served on Friday and Saturday or any of the seasonal treats that magically appear here and there. Although I don’t think I will ever again see the day where I can eat an apple fritter that looks like Madonna in Desperately Seeking Susan, I can still get some solace knowing there’s dill-doughs and one night stands to keep me happy.