To my surprise, the Clinton Street Coffeehouse barista was gracious and helpful, thoughtfully explaining which coffee drink would best complement my Acme Donuts confection. She wasn't an outlier. Six times, I carried a fresh doughnut into a nearby coffee shop and asked for a "pairing." Each time, the barista gamely took up my request. Generally, I found, the fancier the spot, the more indulgent the staff.
In Portland, there's no need to settle for either burnt coffee at a doughnut shop or dry, crusty pastries at a coffee shop. Here's how to cobble together the ultimate working stiff's breakfast.
Acme Donuts banana and lemon cake doughnut with Clinton Street Coffeehouse pumpkin latte
Southeast's Acme Donuts' mission is to "treat the poor donut like it's real food." That starts with proper ingredients, in this case a fluffy, fried cake batter filled with bunches of banana and a glaze with pleasantly sour lemon zest.
This funky, fruity doughnut was matched with an equally aggressive drink from Clinton Street Coffeehouse, the flagship cafe for K&F Coffee Roasters. K&F has been roasting in Southeast Portland since 1983, making espresso back when it was still exotic here. I was given a pumpkin latte that actually tasted something like coffee with a seedlike squash flavor—far better than the cup of orange-y goop served at Starbucks. "We use pumpkin sauce instead of syrup," says the barista. "Customers definitely like them."
Pairing: Surprisingly, it worked. Pumpkin and banana both have a mushy sweetness that came together with lemon and cinnamon to taste something like a tropical hot toddy.
Acme Doughnuts, 2929 SE Powell Blvd., 233-6688, acmedonuts.com.
Clinton Street Coffeehouse, 2706 SE 26th Ave., 238-2547, kfcoffee.com.
Voodoo Doughnut Grape Ape with Stumptown Panama Esmeralda Especial Peaberry
The famous long line at Voodoo usually forms only after breakfast hours. Not on this Saturday, with a 10-minute wait beginning even before panhandlers showed up to shake us down. The Grape Ape is a fluffy mass dosed with a tongue-blisteringly sweet grape powder that, upon entering my bloodstream, seemed to function as a mild neurotoxin.
Here, I didn't need a pairing recommendation. Only one of the world's finest and priciest coffees, Stumptown's $45-a-bag Panama Esmeralda Especial Peaberry, would do.
At the downtown Stumptown, possibly the only coffee shop in America where people frequently bring their own doughnuts, tourists queued up behind me. Given the line, the customer in front of me was politely dissuaded from ordering a labor-intensive Chemex pour-over. I pushed ahead, inspiring eager-to-ape tourists behind me to follow suit. Stumptown baristas are, of course, stone-cold professionals, and any reaction to my absurdity would be beneath their dignity.
"Sorry that took a little longer than normal!" the barista says as he hands me my cup.
Pairing: Perhaps you'd expect that dunking a big, purple sugar loop into a $6.50 cup of exquisitely subtle Esmeralda would be a perverse pleasure. I just felt dirty.
Voodoo Doughnut, 22 SW 3rd Ave., 241-4704, voodoodoughnut.com.
Stumptown Coffee Roasters, 128 SW 3rd Ave., 295-6144, stumptowncoffee.com.
Coco Donuts chocolate-covered espresso bean doughnut with Coffeehouse Northwest cafe mocha
The shiny, little Coco Donuts shop's eponymous creation is a modestly sized raised circle lightly topped with rich cocoa sauce and smashed-up, chocolate-covered espresso beans. A few blocks away in this twee westside nook is Sterling Coffee Roasters' Coffeehouse Northwest.
Eyeing the doughnut, one of the gentlemanly knit-clad baristas recommended doubling down on chocolate with a bittersweet mocha. It was the best I've ever had: nutty espresso made rich with an herbal, high-cacao chocolate and a perfect head of chocolate-dusted cream.
Pairing: Very impressive. If you're cuckoo for cocoa and coffee, it's unbeatable.
Coco Donuts, 709 SW 17th Ave., 360-1456, cocodonuts.com.
Coffeehouse Northwest, 1951 W Burnside St., 248-2133, sterlingcoffeeroasters.com.
Delicious Donuts chocolate bar with Bavarian cream and Heart Coffee Roasters Ethiopia Yukro
A longtime WW favorite, Delicious Donuts is run by a delightful Laotian couple and specializes in big orders. But no request is too small, either: They happily spent two minutes giving my 90-cent chocolate bar a custom cream filling.
I brought the wispy dough to Heart Coffee Roasters, which is known for pulling its coffee beans off the heat just after they first crack to get light and delicate roasts. "Is it filled? What type of cream?" asks the barista before thinking for a moment. "I wouldn't do anything with milk—a latte or even a cappuccino—because that would be too much. And I wouldn't do espresso because you want to be able to sip it for a while. So how about a cup of our Ethiopia Yukro?"
Pairing: Heart's clean and bright brew was a nice counterpoint to the doughnut's rich, creamy filling.
Delicious Donuts, 12 SE Grand Ave., 233-1833, deliciousdonutspdx.com.
Heart Coffee Roasters, 2211 E Burnside St., 206-6602, heartroasters.com.
Annie's Donut Shop chocolate bar with cream filling and a shot of Case Study Coffee Ethiopia Kochere
Separated on Northeast Sandy Boulevard by a dozen blocks and several layers of atmosphere, Annie's and Case Study nevertheless made the most perfect pairing of the day. The linoleum-floored Annie's sells a chocolate bar with a light and fluffy cream filling—a sort of brutish New World eclair we call a "creamstick" in my native land—that's dusted with a little coconut.
Meanwhile, Case Study is rustic chic. A roasting device that looks like the sort of antique car bomb someone would plant under a Model T is front and center. "Are you up for a straight shot of espresso?" asks the barista. "I'd go for Kochere. It's a light roast that almost has a really nice stone-fruit quality—almost an apricotiness. It's gonna be really good with the coconut."
Pairing: My favorite of the day. Served with a chaser of soda water in a shot glass, a wee cup of espresso was an ebullient match for light dough, chocolate sauce and shaved coconut.
Annie's Donut Shop, 3449 NE 72nd Ave., 284-2752.
Case Study Coffee, 5347 NE Sandy Blvd., 477-8221, casestudycoffee.com.
Tonalli's Donuts & Cream buttermilk bar with Caffe Vita Sumatra Gayo River
My pick for Portland's best all-around doughnut shop, Alberta Street's Tonalli's Donuts & Cream is an old-school establishment surrounded by destination dining that does a little of everything. But the dense buttermilk bar, a glazed rectangle of yellow dough that explodes on top like a loaf of bread, is the house speciality.
Just a block down, the dimly lit Northeast Portland outpost of Seattle-based chain Caffe Vita feels much more like a bar than a coffee shop. The barista suggested the cup of the day, made with beans from a plantation near Indonesia's Gayo River. It's a syrupy roast with dark berry and a little smokiness.
Pairing: A rich, buttery doughnut needs a coffee with a little acid. All coffee has some acidity, of course, but I would have preferred something a little brighter.
Tonalli's Donuts & Cream, 2805 NE Alberta St., 284-4510.
Caffe Vita, 2909 NE Alberta St., 954-2171, caffevita.com.