Tracy Letts’ new play Superior Donuts is surprisingly saccharine for the man known for such hard-hitting works as Killer Joe, Bug, and last season’s excellently acerbic family dramedy August: Osage County. As New York Times critic Charles Isherwood notes in his review, “Superior Donuts, a gentle comedy that unfolds like an extended episode of a 1970s sitcom, is a warm bath of a play that will leave Broadway audiences with satisfied smiles rather than rattled nerves. Don’t construe the sitcom comparison as a simple sneer. Who doesn’t like to spend the occasional evening, clicker in hand, with a few episodes of a beloved old favorite?”
If Donuts seems a bit thin for the follow up to a Pulitzer Prize-winner, there’s still a lot of sweetness to go around, and some welcome nostalgia for a time when we as a society didn’t care about our cholesterol or carbs. In fact, it moved us to go to the Dean & Deluca around the block, where we had one of the best Apple-Cinnamon donuts of our lives. With that in mind, we trolled the area for other donuts in the neighborhood that pair well with the play.
Our picks below.
Image credit: Ed Levine, Serious Eats
Sullivan Street Bakery, 533 West 47th Street – Bomboloni West of New York’s Theater District, the Sullivan Street Bakery turns out fresh artisanal breads and pastries daily. Their bomboloni (Italian donut) filled with vanilla pastry cream is well worth the walk from the theater. Its refined buttery rich taste goes down very smoothly making it easy to eat more than one. Owner Jim Lahey (like Letts’ Arthur) has an artistic bend, originally wanting to be a sculptor. We’re lucky he decided to pour his inspiration into baking.
Dean & Deluca, 235 West 46th Street – Organic Apple-Cinnamon Donut This generously proportioned donut could almost substitute for a meal, and is impossible to stop eating even though it’s sized to share. The sweetness, like that in Superior Donuts, starts off very subtle but builds and builds as the flavors unfold. This is undoubtedly a very different donut than the old world concoctions Arthur (Michael McKean) serves — there isn’t even the classic donut hole — but it’s easy to bite in and taste the passion that drives him to keep going.
Cafe Edison, 228 West 47th Street – Glazed Donut For a more classic experience, head a few doors down to what’s sometimes called the “Polish Tea Room” and was the subject of Neil Simon’s 45 Seconds from Broadway. The Edison has been a mainstay for theatergoers for decades and the decor remains unchanged making it easy to grab a stool at the counter and feel that you’ve stepped onto James Schuette’s set that retains a “stopped in time” theme that permeates the play. The doughy glazed donut here is a no frills sugary treat that hits you straight-on as does the animated cast — especially Jon Michael Hill as Franco, Arthur’s young protege.
Bouchon Bakery, 10 Columbus Circle, 10th Floor – Raspberry Jam and Bavarian Cream Donut If Arthur had gone to culinary school instead of dropping acid in the ‘60s, he might have made a donut like Thomas Keller’s tour-de-force take on the classic jelly donut. This one uses a fine raspberry jam for its center filling with Bavarian cream permeating its thick, doughy insides. Since it’s only served on weekends, this donut is a good reason to book matinee tickets!
Dean & Deluca – Pumpkin Donut Because of the holiday season and its close proximity to the Music Box Theater, we couldn’t resist including another donut from Dean & Deluca. The pumpkin donut — the first we’ve seen this season — tastes like a deep fried piece of pumpkin pie. The rich pumpkin flavor isn’t overpowering but nicely builds, as does its Apple-Cinnamon cousin. It represents the family spirit of Superior Donuts, which is directed with warmth by Steppenwolf veteran Tina Landau.
Arthur struggles to preserve his family business but is forced to make a difficult decision when a friend is in need. He also finds love somewhere along the way. There are certainly moments of sappiness but Letts’ biting humor thankfully comes through, and if there’s anything more American than apple pie this time of year, it has to be pumpkin pie.