Friday, August 14, 2009

My Donut Diet

Yes, you read that right. Donuts can help you diet. Of course there’s a catch. What were you thinking, that donuts have suddenly become healthy? But it’s a wonderful catch. One all humanity should experience at least once.

They’re not just any donuts. They’re Frog Hollow donuts.

Deep in southeastern New Jersey, there stands a small cottage in the shadows of a thicket of oak, ivy and Virginia creeper. It’s so unassuming that the uninitiated pass right by.

When the Patterson family is inside baking up donuts, the “open” banner flies under a “donuts” sign that any self-respecting Madison Avenue suit would find comically small. The founder, Joseph M. Patterson, his son, Joseph R. and miscellaneous other Pattersons have been churning them out there since the elder Joseph opened the place in ’71. Long before there was much else in Greenfield, N.J. – years before the Wawa, the pizza place and the hardware store sprung up down the street.

The locals can spot the “open” colors from a mile. Sometimes you swear you don’t need the banner. You think you can smell them frying away, when the wind’s blowing just right. (Donut lust plays tricks with the brain.)

You wait for that banner like a kid waiting for Christmas. And the payoff is 10 times better than anything Santa Claus ever stashed under a tree. In the pantheon of donut perfection, the Frog Hollow vintage stands head and shoulders above the rest. No contest, turn off the lights, call the cops, period.

For years the front door didn’t latch. It had a doorknob but there was no point turning it – you just gave it a shove and in you went to the quiet, dark-wood cool under the shade. They fixed the doorknob years ago but I still am not used to actually turning it.

You make your way to the counter, temporarily blind as your eyes have not yet adjusted to the darkness. Joe R. is usually doing the baking duties these days, flanked by his wife, Deborah or one of the kids. But a few days a week Joe M. still mans the counter, as he has for over three decades.

They are happy to see you. We’re happier to see them. After all, we’re the ones that are leaving the place with a bagful of Frog Hollow Donuts. You catch up on things. One recent morning, we chatted about the high school marching band and the recent change of leadership in its boosters club. You savor this small talk. We’re proud to be the object of envy for the tourists who drove two hours or more to stand in line behind us. It’s a chance to broadcast a message of unbridled glee: we're locals and we can get Frog Hollows any time we want.

Well, not exactly. Which is a key reason they are officially diet food.

Frog Hollow is only open a few days a week during the tourist season. If you want a Frog Hollow in the dead of February, you simply can’t have one. Score one for the diet.

Second – the Frog Hollow donut is so sublime, so completely, unabashedly superior to any other – they simply destroy your desire for lesser attempts. That insipid, sweet, boring second-rate stuff they sell in gas stations, chain donut stands and supermarkets won’t even turn your head, once you’ve sunk your teeth into the crisp, creamy bliss of a Frog Hollow. The Frog Hollow donut empowers you to walk right by.

That's my kind of diet food.

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