Urban Donut Trail
I’ve got to say, I love living in the great city of Louisville and I love donuts. Because today is National Donut Day, I found a way to combine both of those things: The Urban Donut Trail.
Back in November of 2012, the New York Times, playing off the world famous Kentucky Bourbon Trail, introduced the world to the Kentucky Donut Trail. But in the years since, the Urban Bourbon Trail, featuring the great distilleries of Louisville, has also been created. So, in celebration of National Donut Day, and with thanks to Do502’s Donut Recommendations, I introduce you to the Urban Donut Trail: 10 shops, about 80 miles of driving, and it took us just under 4 hours round trip from our office on Poplar Level Road. The shops we visited are:
- Bussmann’s Bakery
- Clifton Donut Shop
- Heitzman Bakery
- Hi-Five Doughnuts
- Honey Creme Donut Shop
- Jeff’s Bakery
- Nord’s Bakery
- Panaderia Y Tienda Guadalajara
- Plehn’s Bakery
- Sugar & Spice Donuts
This isn’t just a theoretical list and map. That’s not my style; we did this thing. The Prima Donut Brigade and I took off in my trusty Donut Mobile a few ticks after 7 this morning. Here’s a rundown of our quest:
Our first stop of the day was to the tried and true Nord’s Bakery. They made the original Donut Trail list, and they are a regular staple in our office. As always, we were greeted by quite a line because our whole city loves their donuts. The maple bacon donut got some protein in my body in preparation for all the forthcoming carbs and sugar.
We hit Nord’s first because they’re incredibly popular in Louisville and that maple bacon donut usually sells out quickly, especially on Fridays and weekends. But even if you don’t get one of them, the rest of their selection will not disappoint. We also picked up a sprinkle cake donut, which was stellar.
Next was a quick jog up to Indiana to hit Jeff’s Bakery. They’re a ways out of town: exit 6 off of 65-N, then a few more miles. However, a trek is worth it to get this shop, and because they are open 24/7, you can go whenever you want and avoid traffic. Donuts at Jeff’s are enormous, amazing, and delicious. I went with the Strawberry Honeymooner (and peach, and more sprinkles. Hey, it’s a holiday.).
Honey Creme Donut Shop
Our third stop, Honey Creme Donut Shop in New Albany, has been making donuts for over 65 years but I had never heard of them before our trip. Goodness gracious, I’m glad I have now. The super friendly employees told me to try their samoa donut and I’m not about to argue with the experts. After the first bite I think I was taken up into sweet donut heaven. Or I fell into a sugar coma - we’ll have to check the video on that one. This is a sweet, quaint little shop with a huge selection and a huge Texas Donut. Maybe next time, Honey Creme, maybe next time.
Hi-Five is a food truck, so be sure to check out their website for their location. This morning they were at the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts, and what a performance it was. We met the Dough-Hemoth (I see what they did there) - a massive, $8 donut covered in chocolate sauce, strawberry glaze, coconut, chocolate chips, potato chips, and sprinkles. I think I saw some peanut butter action happening in the food truck too. The flavors meshed quite well, and the donut itself was quality to begin with. I’m not big on gourmet or trendy foods, but they might just have changed my mind with a donut big enough to be a full meal. And the two ladies working were super cool too!
Bussmann’s wins the award for best location, they’re right next to a gym. Walking up from the parking lot, it was like an angel on one shoulder and devil on the other. I chose the angel, which of course, is always donuts. We were told to get a pretzel, which was a solid recommendation. It’s reminiscent of a classic glazed, but with a flaky, croissant like texture. Bussmann’s finished out the front 5, so we continued onward and upward on the last half of our mission.
Clifton Donut Shop
Hands down, my favorite donut is an old fashioned sour cream. And I’ve been holding out until we got to Clifton Donut Shop this morning to get one. They do the classic well; if it ain’t broke, there’s no reason to fix it. Unfortunately if you show up about 9:30, the early birds get the donuts. They were out of the old fashioned and all cake donuts. But they had some tri-nuts which were an adequate consolation. Also, they had pigs in a blanket - a hot dog and cheese wrapped up in a donut. I’ve never heard of such a thing, but apparently it’s really delicious. Consider it added to my bucket list.
Continuing from Clifton into St. Matthews, we stopped in at Plehn’s (pronounced Plains) Bakery. There’s nothing plain about them; they’ve been around since the 1920’s and there’s an obvious reason why they’re still booming. So many confectionary sirens were singing for my attention: cakes, cookies, ice cream, and an old school soda fountain. But this is donut day, we’re on a mission. Make sure you take a number at the counter when you walk in, otherwise you’ll show up at your dinner party without the chocolate babka. Instead of buying a lesser babka, just bring donuts. We got the french donuts with white frosting and they were everything a french donut should be - crispy on the outside and light and fluffy on the inside.
Coming into the tail end of our carb-infested voyage, #8 was Heitzman Bakery on Bardstown. They’re even older than Plehn’s, having been in Louisville since the 1800s and have 4 different locations around town. Surprisingly, this was my first time at any of the stores.
They were the only store giving away donuts for donut day, so three cheers for that (and 3 free donuts for us!). I got my old fashioned donut here, and relaxed and enjoyed it on their little pink couches (isn’t that a John Mellencamp song?).
Sugar & Spice Donuts
Sugar & Spice had everything nice. Sweet doughnut glory, that selection. Somehow, my two donuts turned into a half dozen; I couldn’t not get them. Funky monkey, cookies and cream, oreo cheesecake, moose tracks, cotton candy, and some other crazy flavor that I can’t even remember. Some people use novelty to hide poor quality; that’s not the tactic of Sugar & Spice. Their donuts are great! Even after trying 8 other donuts, I still loved the cookies and cream. I didn’t want to finish, but there was an Audrey Hepburn quote above the register, “Nothing is impossible, the word itself says I’m Possible.” That’s donut inspiration if I’ve ever heard it.
Panaderia Y Tienda Guadalajara
I would not have thought of going to a panaderia for donuts, but I’m sure glad Do502 put this on their list. Thankfully they’re not as sweet as their American counterparts, so it was a good way to end our trip. There were so many options like conchas and and churros, but I had to stay strong and finish well with a true donut. The orange one it was. And it was definitely different than all the others, but in its own special way. It was drier and crumblier and really quite delicious. It would have been awesome with a good cup of coffee, which Louisville has plenty of as well.
After our 10 shops, I feel like I’ve celebrated National Donut Day to the fullest - Carpe Donut. And we brought back a pile of awesome donuts for the office. I tried 10 different donuts that all have their own flair, which is truly the Louisville way. Hi-Five had insane toppings; Heitzman’s was simple and classic. I think my favorites were our first two stops, Jeff’s and Nord’s, but Melina argues Sugar & Spice or Panaderia Guadalajara and Kha says Clifton. From the donuts we brought back, our office is all over the map on which is best.
There’s not a clear favorite that I can recommend; you’re going to have to travel the whole trail on your own. As you’ll see, each shop, donut, and employee you’ll encounter has their own personal flair and character. Some day soon, take a morning to follow the Urban Donut Trail. Go slow, enjoy our great city, and get to know these shops. You may gain a few pounds in the process, but it is well worth your morning.