If you’ve ever been nostalgic for that friendly neighborhood eatery populated almost exclusively by quirky regulars and senior citizens, then the tiny and rather elusive ice creamery that is Washtenaw Dairy, may be just what you’re looking for.
Infrequently advertised and with a website that looks like it was designed by a high school graphic design student, the Dairy has been running successfully since 1934. Situated on a neighborhood corner on W Madison, a block past South Main, Washtenaw Dairy is known for its delicious hard-serve ice creams, walls of refrigerated shelving stocked with take-home gallons of ice cream and other dairy products, and it’s casual, no-frills atmosphere. But the main reason I go to Washtenaw Dairy, the reason that ever since last year I have been obsessed with the place, is not the ice cream, but the donuts.
Although you may never have found yourself lucky enough to explore the food scene of ever-predictable Canton, Ohio, let me assure you that wanting a good donut in this culinary desert is nothing sort of impractical. The locals flock to a small chain called MaryAnn’s Donuts, which, similar to Washtenaw Dairy, is heavily supported by the senior citizen population with the addition of teachers wanting to reward their class with a box of doughy treats. And although MaryAnn’s offers a wide variety of donuts, from cream sticks to jelly filled to classic glazed, each pastry is about as big as your outstretched hand and as dense as a brick.
It should be no surprise therefore, that until coming to Michigan I hated donuts. Then came Washtenaw Dairy. Beautiful in its simplicity, it is so far the only place that actually sells donuts the way they should be. Made fresh every morning, the donuts are small, round, in general, found in one flavor – cake – and iced with various toppings including chopped peanuts with maple glaze, white icing and coconut, chocolate glaze, and maize and blue sprinkles. Occasionally other flavors are offered in align with the season, currently such as pumpkin and apple cinnamon.
But all of this has little to no significance on how amazing Washtenaw donuts really are. Never before had I come across a donut that was crispy. And I don’t mean “krispy” as in Krispy Kreme’s supposedly melt-in-your-mouth recipe, I mean actually crispy so that it reminds you that donuts are made by deep-frying dough. As simple as this concept seems to be, that is, when you fry something it gets crispy, I’m never seen or tasted a donut that crunched when I bite into it. Almost akin to what you’d imagine a deep-fried cupcake to be, the texture of these donuts is remarkable. When you break the shell the inside is cakey, sweet, and moist, but combined with the crisp of the outside and the hint of smoothness from the fry oil, the effect is something that is literally mouth-watering.
Best of all, each donut costs only 60 cents - try getting that deal from any other bakery in Ann Arbor. And if you’re buying in half-dozens or more, there is an additional discount per item. A note of caution however, for although Washtenaw stays open until 8pm, they make their donuts fresh in the morning so by evening a little of the lightness and crispiness is gone. But since they open each morning, 7 days a week, at 5 am, there’s always an opportunity to snag one from a fresh batch before starting your day.
It seems a little unfair not to focus on Washtenaw Dairy’s primary product, their ice cream, but as temperatures drop and any warm, dry place become a safe haven for wind-whipped college students, it’s nice to know that they’re serving more than just ice cream. So regardless of whether you stop by in the evening for a small scoop of Moose Tracks or get up early enough to share a black coffee with the retirees, you should, with all seriousness, pull your pocket chain together and try a donut. It may just change your fried dough standards forever.