World’s Fair Donuts is located just a stone throw from Gringo Jones Imports and is one of the remaining tributes to the 1904 World’s Fair. The small, white building sits at an awkward angle at the intersection of Vandeventer and Shaw, not far from the Botanical Gardens. This is a good thing, because you never know when your interest in flowers and pastry will coincide.
“Back to the Future”
Crossing the threshold of World’s Fair Donut is like boarding “Doc” Brown’s DeLorean for a trip back in time. As I scanned the no-frills little shop, I was looking for “Doc” to come out of the kitchen with a tray of chocolate long johns and announce excitedly, “According to my calculations, we can make it back to 1904, if we all eat just one more tray of donuts.”
But “Doc” didn’t appear. Instead, we were greeted by Peggy Clanton, co-owner and longtime donut tender. She told me with pride and precision that she and her husband had been turning out handmade donuts for the past forty-one and a half years. I asked the question I’m sure she’s heard repeatedly: “What are the favorites?” She smiled patiently and pointed to the buttermilk cake variety and the chocolate long johns. She gave a nod to the blueberry chip cake and fried pies as well.
Keeping the Dough in Doughnuts
It was mid-afternoon when Cyndy and I made an unscheduled stop at the sweet little shop. We had just eaten lunch, so neither of us was hungry. Besides I rarely, if ever, eat a donut. But this was a historic spot on the City’s culinary map and, it might be awhile before we got to South City again.
As we pondered the many choices, a young man came in who worked nearby. He claimed that he stopped in everyday for a donut. Apparently, it had done him no visible harm; he looked fit and trim. We thought that was an encouraging sign. So Cyndy and I bought three donuts and felt very righteous about our restraint.
With my little bag in hand, I looked around for a seat. There were no chairs or tables. A sign on the far wall said No Loitering Allowed, so I was reluctant to lean against the wall or counter. I later read on the Internet that the idea has always been to move people in and out and not encourage socializing. But don’t look for their website. Apparently, there’s no need for cyber fiddle faddle to sell these heavenly hunks of glazed goodness.
In keeping with the time warp, cash is coin of the realm. More old signs make the point: “If you believe in credit; loan me $5” reads one; the other is more philosophical, “Cashing checks is like playing with bumble bees, too often you get stung.”
Customers came and went in a steady stream. Most of them seemed to know exactly what they wanted and made their purchase with dispatch. People in the park lot paused in their cars to nibble on their fried treats before driving off. We did too.
No doubt about it, a World’s Fair Buttermilk Cake donut should be immortalized in the Smithsonian—but with one bite missing.
1904 World’s Fair Donuts, 1904 Vandeventer Ave. Open: Sat and Sun 4a-3p; Mon-Fri 4a-6:30p. (Note the address is 1904, same as the Fair date,)