Muriel’s Donuts (Lebanon, NH)

Every year for National Donut Day, several of my coworkers celebrate by going out and buying a bunch of donuts for the office. And no, while Dunkin Donuts is damn near ubiquitous around here (and indeed, even gives out free donuts today with a beverage purchase), we drove right by the Dunkin Donuts… we had a much greater destination in mind: Muriel’s Donuts, some of the best donuts to be found for literally hundreds of miles.

Muriel’s is a bit of a shibboleth for separating the seasoned Upper Valley residents from visitors or new arrivals, since it’s not exactly the most prominent of businesses. Instead of being located downtown or in one of the area’s business districts, Muriel’s is tucked away in the basement of an apartment building in a quiet residential neighborhood behind Sacred Heart Catholic Church; a nice little neighborhood of old mill housing and small homes that, unless you are seeking donuts or visiting someone, you probably had no reason to visit. But inside that basement, behind the modest storefront, Muriel and her family have been cranking out some excellent donuts for over 50 years (they opened in 1967). Heck, the place is actually a recognized “Historic Landmark

Muriel’s has some challenges: in addition to finding the place, it’s got limited hours: nominally 10am to 1pm, although my experience is that you need to add an “-ish” to those time. Muriel herself runs the place (she used to be helped out by her husband and sonds, who unfortunately all have passed away over the last several years), and on a daily basis she’ll make up between 30 and 60 dozen donuts, all hand-rolled and cut (on an impressive, ancient butcher block), cooked in small batches in 100% pure lard, and then, for the filled or powdered varieties, prepped to order as customers ask for them.

But after a short wait in line (there’s almost always a line), you get to the front, you order up your donuts (right now, at $9 per dozen), and if you order jelly sticks, even get to see Muriel run the little gear-fed machine that injects each jelly stick to order. Then, you get to take your bag of donuts, already showing the grease stain, back to your car.

Indeed, if I had to come up with one word to describe a muriel’s donut, the word would be “fritter-like”. The batter is an almost cake-like batter that, when carefully fried in the lard, results in an exquisite combination of the slightly sweet cake-like interior yielded to a shockingly light and crispy exterior (as much as one can use “light” describing something soaked in lard). In short, it’s donut excellence of a unique sort: I’ve had many a great donut over the years here at Offbeat Eats, and while Muriel’s isn’t always my favorite (for example, Muriel’s doesn’t do glazed or frosted donuts), it’s a uniquely good variant of the class bakery good.

In short, Muriel’s donuts are worth seeking out. (And, for more info, the Valley News did a great article on Muriel’s back in April).

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