On the Drag, 2 a.m.

Austin American-Statesman - - FOOD & DRINK -

My old Im­pala came to mind this month as I mapped out the 70-mile loop for my All-Night Dough­nut Drive. Some­where in this 2 a.m.-to-sun­rise tour, I wanted to hit a Ship­ley’s with­out, you know, hit­ting it. I also wanted to pay re­spects to the home­grown hole-y trin­ity: Ken’s, Mrs. John­son’s and Round Rock. Plus Krispy Kreme and a few smaller shops.

Not a quest to anoint the best. More like a seven-stop sugar-fu­eled trav­el­ogue. So please, no shriek­ing about Gour­dough’s. They’ve got­ten their fair share of ink here. (But I couldn’t re­sist say­ing some­thing af­ter Men’s Health mag­a­zine called them out for be­ing — gasp! — bad for you. Read more at www.austin360.com/fork­lore.)

The dough­nut tour starts be­neath the head of the ele­phant de­ity Gane­sha, painted above a win­dow marked with the num­ber ‘24,’ as in ‘24 hours,’ be­cause Ken’s Donuts never closes. At 2:30 a.m. on a week­night, the place is full of sleep­less col­le­gians. There’s a dude over there in flip-flops with a bas­ket­ball jersey and a mo­hawk. Over here’s a shy guy with a girl who’s way out of his league. He ends up buy­ing, and I’m guess­ing the free dough­nuts have clouded her judg­ment.

The choco­late dough­nut holes taste like choco­late, worth men­tion­ing be­cause dough­nut-shop choco­late al­most never tastes like ac­tual choco­late. Dough­nut holes are the ca­naries in the con­fec­tionery coal mine. If they can’t cut it, get out of there. At Ken’s, they sing with notes of co­coa and blue­berry. Sour-cream dough­nuts shaped like gears have the tex­ture of velour, and if velour were food, this is what it would taste like.

The Dif­fer­ent Thing here is a tray of samosas, tucked be­hind the cake dough­nuts. The tri­corn hats of crisp dough tin­gle with curried pota­toes, and I have to re­mind my­self that this is a dough­nut story, not a samosa, kolache, crois­sant or break­fast taco story, be­cause most of these shops have at least one of those things. An­other time.

The best things at Ken’s are the plain old glazed dough­nuts, $5.50 a dozen. They’re mostly air and shell, the cot­toned breath of bread and yeast ris­ing just long enough for the flaked sugar to ex­plode, the fla­vors lac­quered

in place by a sheen of oil.

The sim­ple supremacy of the hum­ble glazed will play out in ev­ery shop on this predawn ex­pe­di­tion.

Air­port Boule­vard, 3 a.m.

Mrs. John­son’s dough­nuts can save you from the Wrath of Mom. So says Jaime Oli­vas, just past her cur­few-break­ing days.

‘I would bring them back to my mother, and it would get me out of trou­ble ev­ery time,’ she says. It’s 3 a.m., and Oli­vas is hang­ing out with four friends af­ter a night at the Kas­bah hookah lounge.

I still re­mem­ber my first trip to Mrs. J’s 26 years ago, with friends who called it ‘Drunken Donuts.’ The lady at the drive-through handed each of us a hot glazed when we pulled up.

The greet­ing still takes the shape of a vowel, an ex­clam­a­tory dough­nut ‘O’ as counter man Gopal Pa­tel hands across a sam­ple. The hot glazed is as soft as the night, and there’s joy in a rasp­berry-filled jelly bomb and a straw­berry-iced that tastes like … straw­berry.

The shop looks the same as ever, a flu­o­res­cent work­ing space with a small counter and a view of prep ta­bles and proof­ing racks, even a stand mixer with a hand crank. Dough­nuts start at $5.50 a dozen.

A Techron sign forms part of the dis­play rack, as if dough­nuts needed any kind of fuel ad­di­tive. The drink cooler is full of sug­ary Mex­i­can soda, en­ergy drinks and straw­berry milk. It’s a play­ground for your in­ner child, a pit stop for the road trip to Round Rock.

Jar­rad Hen­der­son

At Ken’s Donuts on the Drag, the choco­late dough­nut holes taste like ac­tual choco­late. You can’t go wrong with the reg­u­lar glazed dough­nuts, which sell for $5.50 a dozen.

Jar­rad Hen­der­son pho­tos

From left, Dusty Rhodes, Matt Prais­ner, Brandi Em­mer­son, Jaime Oli­vas and Lau­ren Couch dis­play the va­ri­ety avail­able at Mrs. John­son’s on Air­port Boule­vard.

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