It wasn't Willamette Week's intention to limit our taste-off of Portland's best cinnamon rolls by gender. But by happenstance, only dudes—seven of 'em—came down to the conference room for a blind taste test of the nine rolls we'd sought out one cold Friday morn. So we bro'd out, as bros are wont to do, eating big ol' rolls of puffy, sugar-sopped dough while (naturally) exchanging vulgar jokes and braggadocio about sexual conquests.
A female staffer did question that methodology afterward, positing that women perhaps prefer gooier rolls than men. She was summarily ushered into the conference room to taste from the wreckage, ultimately confirming the dudely findings.
All rolls were ordered from the counter as "two cinnamon rolls" within the same two-hour window and served unheated and unlabeled. Consensus was strong—ideas about the platonic ideal of cinnamon rolls are apparently much more consistent than, say, pizza—so we're pretty comfortable saying that this is how Portland's best cinnamon rolls stack up.
Tasters: Aaron Mesh, Ben Waterhouse, Casey Jarman, Martin Cizmar, Brian Panganiban, Corey Pein, and Nick Johnson. (Audited by Hannah Hoffman.)
338 NW 21st Ave., kensartisan.com, 248-2202.
The rolls: Giant orbs of puffy brioche dough with a mild sweetness and a hint of spice with the warmth of cinnamon.
Comments: "That's obscenely good dough."
"It tastes like Cinnamon Toast Crunch."
"That's giant, I'd never be able to finish it, but it's great."
6330 SW Capitol Highway, bakerandspicebakery.com, 244-7573.
The rolls: Baker & Spice's version is called the Katie Bun and is more like a croissant than a cinnamon roll. Tasters liked this tower of weightless dough with a light dusting of powered sugar, though it's not a substitute for a great cinnamon roll.
Comments: "This is the possibly homosexual European cinnamon roll they fear in red states."
"It's just a tall croissant with cinnamon on it, but it's delicious."
4834 SE Division St., provence-portland.com, 233-1121. (Second location at 1824 NE Alberta St., 284-6564.)
The rolls: Shiny, dark-brown spirals, somewhat underdone in the center, with a very sweet, translucent icing.
Comments: "I like the nuts a lot, and it's very buttery with a nice flavor."
"It's kinda raw, it needed to be in the oven for another three minutes."
7820 SW Capitol Highway, fatcitycafe.net, 245-5457.
The rolls: Large and dense, these came wrapped in tinfoil and felt like a baseball in the palm. The size of the roll necessitates having to bake the outside until it's pretty dark, which divided tasters.
Comments: "This is what I'd expect from a small-town bakery."
"The icing is very sugary. It's kind of fried on top, too—it's like a state-fair elephant ear."
"Most elephant ears aren't so large."
539 SW 13th Ave., 224-3323.
The rolls: We actually tried three varieties of cinnamon roll from Sugar Mamas, given our recent glowing review ["All In the Family," WW, Nov. 23, 2011]. All were in the middle of the pack. Mamas is more of a restaurant than a bakery, and these rolls, which are soaked in sugary sauce that pooled in the bottom of their containers, probably would have fared far better fresh from the oven.
Comments: "It's mushy. There's no distinction between the frosting and the dough."
"The one is very cinnamon-y—it tastes like Big Red gum—and the other, with bacon, is very smoky and has very little cinnamon."
"It's just goopy, and there's way too much sugar."
3930 NE Hancock St., fleurdelisbakery.com, 459-4887.
The rolls: Fleur De Lis has a sterling reputation, so tasters were shocked to learn these dense and flavorless rolls came from the Hollywood bakery.
Comments: "These are very processed seeming."
"These remind me of Little Debbie—which is not necessarily a criticism, as I have enjoyed several Little Debbie pastries in my life."
"Two words: shelf stable."
1138 SW Morrison St., saintcupcake.com, 473-8760.
The rolls: Pale, dry little undercooked biscuits splashed with watery icing. Universally despised by tasters.
Comments: "This tastes worse than it looks, and it looks pretty bad."
"Did they use salt instead of sugar?"
"This is just jarring. They're like Popeyes' biscuits, but gross."
- Biggest: Kenâs Artisan (by size) and Fat City (by weight).
- Prettiest: Baker & Spice.
- Homeliest: Saint Cupcake.
- Moistest: Sugar Mamas.