The following donut adventure led me far off my beaten breakfast path. On a normal morning, I eat bafflingly healthy things like kale smoothies and whole grain porridges topped with local eggs, avocado, and pickled vegetables.
But a notion came over me the other day as I drove with my husband out toward New Wilmington, PA. As we rounded a rural lane and sailed past another idyllic pasture filled with sheep, I wanted a donut. I got on Yelp right then and there. But it was Sunday, and it was late, and there were no donuts to be found.
The next day the urge to find and eat a donut didn’t stop, and it made wonder why it had started in the first place.
I knew it had something to do with the idea of a random road trip through a small town. It had to with the corn stubble in the fields as we drove by. Silos and small hardware stores. Not-yet-open vegetable stands and homemade signs for free kittens. The trip itself created a longing for hometown in me. And my hometown is Beaver Falls, PA. Known, arguably, for two things: Joe Namath and Oram’s Donuts.
I set out to find some excellent local donuts. Donut as destination. This is what I found.
Rust Belt Mill Town: Oram’s Donuts, Beaver Falls, PA:
I called ahead to ask my parents what time I needed to be at the donut shop to–for sure– get a cinnamon roll. The conclusion: 7:30 am. On a Tuesday. This meant leaving my South Side Slopes home at 6:30. It was dark out. And freezing. Worth it? It was absolutely and totally worth it. These cinnamon rolls are made from the original Oram’s family secret recipe, and when the sheet pan displayed in the front window is gone, you are out of luck. No more cinnamon rolls for you. The rolls are as big as your face and taste like a dream, if your dream is of a light, fluffy glazed pastry floating through perfect cinnamon clouds. And although you might still think you’re dreaming, it’s true. The cinnamon rolls cost $1.20 each.
Hilly Outskirts: Better-Maid Donuts, Crafton Heights, PA:
Word on the street was I had to get to Better-Maid before 8:00 am if I wanted a full selection. Few know the shop by name because the sign on the side of the pink house at the top of Steuben Street hill just reads: Donuts. But really, who needs a name if you sell out by 8:30 on a Saturday? And that is where they were headed when I arrived with my bleary-eyed husband and visiting brother-in-law at 7:25. There was a line. Almost out the door. A line of big burly men, one who still had on his flannel PJ bottoms. The two guys behind the counter were yelling in that way Western Pennsylvanians can yell and not be mad or mean: “Buy donuts! The game’s at 1:00! We wanna get outta here!” (March Madness, Pitt vs. Florida.) They were going fast. We bought a dozen. The crispy sweet highlights here were the vanilla frosted coconut cake donut and the glazed cruller. Our mixed dozen with a Post-Gazette added in came to $9. Better-Maid: 412-921-9526; 1178 Steuben St, Pittsburgh, PA 15220
To the Country: Clark’s Donuts, Venango County
My friend Phil offered to buy some Clark’s donuts and bring them to me, but admitted that he would eat them all before he arrived. So we set the alarm. This time for 5:30 am. We were on the road by 6:00, and winding our way through beautiful farmland by 8:00, the sun peeking up through the tree-lined hills. Clark’s is housed in a delightfully charming shop. Their specialties are peanut butter and maple frosted. I loved both. My favorite combination being the peanut butter frosted vanilla pudding donut. Squishy and delicious. My husband’s being the maple frosted peanut butter cinnamon roll. We bought a mixed dozen to share later with friends: $6.15. The sugar rush combined with the big travel mug of coffee we brought along carried us through until lunch: A healthy salad lunch. Clark’s Donuts: https://www.facebook.com/ClarksDonuts; 814-677-7336
7150 US 322, Cranberry Township, Venango County, PA 16319
Donut Robot Mark II: Valencia Donuts, Valencia, PA
By now I’m sure you’ve realized that I’m not here to present hipster donuts. This article does not seek out Voo-Doo Oregon bacon-covered miso maple cronuts. No. My donut exploration was occupied with small-town nostalgia and is made up of old-timey donuts made earnestly and eaten earnestly by people who know how to get up early on a regular basis. But let’s say you want a donut, and you don’t want to set your alarm? Let the Donut Robot Mark II do the work for you. At Valencia Donuts the little round cakey pastries ($1.18 each) are made to order. You can watch them as they glide through the stages of the small industrial revolutionary machine and pop out the side, hot and fresh. You are in charge of your toppings. I ordered a blueberry donut. I watched it cook, and then I asked for lemon frosting and walnuts. It was handed to me in a little paper boat, which sailed me right to donut nirvana at 10:00 am. Valencia Donuts: https://www.facebook.com/ValenciaDonutCo; 724-903-0400; 1177 Pittsburgh Road, Valencia, PA 16059
I’m done eating donuts for a little while. I can still feel the sugar coursing through my veins. My drives toward glazed deliciousness were wonderful and nostalgic and something that I needed to do to reconnect with where I’m from. I highly recommend a road trip through the Western Pennsylvania donut terrain.
Do you have a favorite donut shop? We’d love to hear about it in the comments below.