My Pilgrimage to Psycho Donuts

I love donuts. Donuts rule. In the classic Donut v. Bagel debate, I’m always the first to declare myself #TeamDonuts. However, I’m late to the artisanal donut party. Like any lover of the fatty, O-shaped morsels, I know what mecca is: Voodoo Donuts in Portland, Oregon. While I’ve scanned their menu numerous times and salivated at many an Instagram pic, I know I won’t realistically be getting there anytime soon.

Instead, I’ve had to focus my research on the best Bay Area donut destinations. Google tells me there are really two places that do the artisanal donut thing right: Dynamo Donuts in San Francisco and Psycho Donuts in San Jose. Being a terrible city driver, I set my sights on Psycho Donuts.

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Before I tell you about my experience, let me emphasize precisely how much I wanted those donuts. Psycho Donuts isn’t exactly close to my home. It’s a 45-60 minute drive depending on traffic. Moreover, I was willing to make this trip alone. While a solo pilgrimage for mere donuts might seem pathetic, even tragic, a friend of mine suggested  such a journey could be considered heroic–which was all the encouragement I needed. Casting myself as an empowered and independent woman of the 21st century, I eagerly plotted my donut getaway. Yet, as it worked out, I did end up bringing a friend. Psycho Donuts is only a stone’s throw away from my favorite shopping area (another thing I’ll drive miles for), and my visit fortuitously coincided with a ladies’ shopping trip.

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Boy, am I glad I brought a friend. Psycho donuts does NOT deserve the honor of ushering me into the world of empowered, unaccompanied eating. It was a tremendous disappointment, and I needed all the support I could get. At first glance, it seemed all right. The shop’s facade recalls a Halloween shop–like one of those shoddy Spirit stores with spooky decorations in the windows. Inside, the staff wears nurse uniforms, while the room is filled with creepy relics and portraits of disturbed “psycho” people. And to top it off, there’s a plush, white three-walled structure labeled “Insane Asylum.” I had the eerie feeling I was walking into a scene from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. (Just kidding, I totally did not feel like this.)

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Unfortunately, a fun theme does not a delicious donut make. When I arrived at 6 PM, the case was picked over and nearly empty. I guess flavors like “Nutella the Hun” and “Canadian Morning Squeal Meal” don’t make it past the morning rush. I had to settle for “Rocky Road” and “Desserted Island.” While certainly a feast for the eye, “Rocky Road” was pretty underwhelming when it actually reached my mouth. Billed as a “cake donut,” it hovered in that murky territory between cake and yeast donuts–not quite doughy enough to be yeasty but not quite sweet enough to be cakey. As for the marshmallow and nut toppings: well, that’s all they were, flavorless adornments to a pretty unstable base. “Desserted Island” was better. Delightfully doughy with just the right ratio of sugar, cinnamon and coconut, its only shortcoming was that it wasn’t anything revelatory. It was forgettable, dare I say “desert”-able.

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While I know I probably missed out on the best of what Psycho Donuts has to offer, I feel like I picked up enough to get a general idea. Frivolous toppings and fancy names don’t replace the basics. Fundamentally good donuts can hold themselves up. In fact, I live near a donut shop that does the basics exceptionally well. Psycho donuts has the extra accoutrements but lacks the fundamentals. An ideal artisanal donut shop would have the fundamentals mastered and use the extra embellishments only to add nuance.

So, alas, my personal quest for donut fulfillment continues. If I’m being honest with myself, I’m still holding my breath for Voodoo Donuts.

Post and Photos by Kirsten Martin. 

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