Harold’s takes the cake (doughnut) in CoMo war

The breakfast game hasn’t been the same since the two shops opened last year.

Once upon a long time ago (last year, to be exact), two shops of a similar nature opened in Columbia, and the town’s breakfast game has never been the same since. That winter warmed up with the debut of Harold’s Doughnuts and Strange Donuts, which craft creative concoctions from scratch early every morning. With an abundance of all these starchy sweets, it can be hard to choose which shop’s to consume. After thorough analysis and scientific methodology (read: stuffing my face), I have begrudgingly reached a conclusion to fill the holes in the “doughnut war” once and for all.

Harold’s Doughnuts

Besides bearing the proper spelling of the confection’s name, Harold’s brings a strong fight to the doughnut battle. With their fluffier-dough-uppercut and their bigger-size-sucker punch, Harold’s already has a one-up on Strange. It also helps that the shop was grandfathered into coziness with its background story rooted in owner Michael Urban’s family. He named the shop after his grandpa Harold, whose mother made homemade doughnuts. This history mixes well with their cozier, softly lit atmosphere and friendly staff.

Coffee This is an important doughnut and breakfast staple that cannot be overlooked. When paired well, the coffee-and-pastry combo can be a breadwinner or a deal-breaker for any bakery. Harold’s blend is literally “Harold’s Blend” by Columbia’s own Fretboard Coffee. It is a nice, well-rounded medium roast with slightly smoky and nutty undertones. The flavor is not so bold that it overpowers the doughnuts and stands well on its own.

Glazed This classic stands as a true test for doughnut-making. Getting a glazed doughnut wrong is like taking points from Gryffindor; it just violates the natural flow of things. Luckily, Harold’s glazed beauties withstood the test. Their nonchalant flavor is just as mellow as a glazed doughnut should be; it doesn’t stand out, but it is fluffy, doughy perfection with just a little gooey glaze to sweeten it up. They give the classic the justice it deserves.

Craft I tried quite a few of the craft doughnuts and was delighted to find even and balanced flavors that meshed well together. Nary a one was too dry or unsatisfactory. The best? The chocolate peanut butter cake doughnut. Although rich and borderline decadent, the flavors did not overpower each other and quenched my Reese’s craving promptly. The worst? Although the blueberry citrus cake doughnut was a little off (too much blueberry, not enough citrus), I was more disappointed with the maple bacon doughnut. The bacon was fresh and crispy, but its smoky savor clashed with the sweet maple, which was hardly detectable.

Nevertheless, Harold’s impressed me more than the last time I tried their creations. There is no striking out for them this round.

Strange Donuts

Much like the slang-strung title betokens, Strange Donuts is both strange and too hip for the classic mom-and-pop feel Harold’s rocks. The store is of St. Louis origin and shares a space downtown with Seoul Taco (also from the Gateway City). Inside, the atmosphere is a little colder and industrial. It was desolate when I visited on an early Saturday morning. But if the craft’s the game, Strange has a couple of power hits stored up.

Coffee This “Strange Brew,” as it is christened, has a tantalizing twist on a dark roast. Despite Strange’s website clearly stating this as a Kuva coffee, they were advertising Kaldi’s upon my visit. Regardless of the mystery roaster, the roast itself was smoother and not as savory as Harold’s. There were definite fruity undertones, which deviated from what I would normally drink, but it matched the sweetness of the doughnuts perfectly.

Glazed Even Strange’s classics have a weird way about them. Straying from the traditionally fluffy and homemade glazed doughnut, this one is lighter and fruitier (remember when I said the coffee matched the flavors? Everything is fruit here). It was a taste I would try again, but, honestly, it fell a little short of the glaze glamour Harold’s offered and was reminiscent of a store-bought confection.

Craft (or “New Creation”) To offer a valid comparison, I purchased a lot of doughnuts similar to those I had eaten at Harold’s. I had been originally pulling for Strange Donuts’ sweet victory, but their doughnuts did not stand up as well as Harold’s. Their maple bacon “done,” as they call them, had more of a maple flavor than their competitor’s, but the bacon obviously came pre-cooked out of a box (I work at Shakespeare’s Pizza and, sorry to disappoint, but we use the same bacon bits). Surprisingly, it tasted better, but the lack of freshness threw me for a severe, torturous, 10-hour Nyan Cat-like loop. Their gooey butter doughnut (a staple St. Louis flavor, through and through) tasted Paula Deen-approved (too much butter, not enough gooey). It was as bland as Kristen Stewart’s acting. Now that I ripped that bandage off, I have to say that their cake doughnuts were everything a cake doughnut should be. Soft, crumbly and moist with just the right amount of flavor. The best one? The key lime doughnut. It tasted like the middle of summertime with a meringue-esque frosting to balance out the tartness. The worst? The black forest doughnut. Despite its fancy cherry compote (or jam...I’m not sure which one it was) and cocoa powder dusting, it tasted like a chocolate doughnut with vanilla icing; it was good, but it just missed the mark.

The battle was rough and espoused many casualties (namely my diet), but the clear winner was Harold’s. Its atmosphere was more inviting and it's doughnuts more enticing. It didn’t win Inside Columbia’s Best Place to Get Doughnuts two years in a row for nothing. The most important thing to remember, though, is that the true winner is just doughnuts. Whether old-fashioned or odd-fashioned, that’s something to pour some sugar on.

Edited by Katie Rosso | krosso@themaneater.com

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