BLUE STAR DONUTS, which opened two and a half months ago in the West End, has the gleaming steel, sparkling white tile, and attractive product displays of an idealized French pâtisserie. It's nearly a surgical theater in its immaculateness, and thanks to clean rice oil and good ventilation it smells nothing of ambient grease. Bakers mix, roll, proof, and portion dough in the open kitchen, frying their brioche until pillowy and tender. They dip the airy, golden bread—a strange word for it now, but technically accurate—in both traditional and inventive coatings, fill it with freshly made creams and jellies, and make sweet puddings out of their surplus stock. A shelf lined with personal, careworn reference books suggests the individual—pastry chef Stephanie Donlan, whose name is even on the front window—at the center of it. It's a far cry from your typical doughnut shop.
The thought and work that go into Blue Star's offerings elevate them to a point where calling them doughnuts feels inaccurate; these are pastries, not the oily, mouth-coating sugar bombs you get on a dumb midnight run. I bought a chocolate doughnut from a well-known local shop to sample next to a Blue Star version. Blue Star's faintly yeasty dough showcased their rich Valrhona chocolate ganache without adding redundant sweetness; chewing it, I realized I might never have actually tasted the "chocolate" on a chocolate doughnut before. By comparison, the other doughnut tasted of carrots and wax, and the crumb quickly disintegrated into cheap mush.
About 15 different pastries are on display through peak lunch hours, at which point options dwindle until they close, usually around 6 pm. Most are doughnuts—some filled—and a few are cakes. The Guinness devil's food cake ($2.50) is moist and dense but not overly rich, coated with a generous layer of the fresh, sticky ganache. A glazed citrus poppy cake ($2.50) has a fine crumb that is sandy but not dry, abundantly filled with seeds that pop like tiny caviar. Blue Star's apple fritter ($2.75) has a thick, caramelized outer crust like a canelé, little pockets of cinnamon-stewed apples, and a sweet interior with a satisfying chew.
Of the filled doughnuts ($2.75), I've found myself re-ordering three in particular. The Meyer lemon and Key lime curd powdered version—with a mildly tart egg curd so silken they may well have taken the time to put it through a straining step—feels feather light. The Valrhona chocolate crunch has a traditional Bavarian sweet cream filling, the chocolate ganache, and lentil-sized chocolate crisps that give an interesting texture that some doughnut makers would create with Froot Loops. In an assortment, though, Blue Star's PBJ, filled with smooth jam and coated in a specially formulated peanut powder, is always the one that gets finished first. It's your childhood lunch turned into dessert, which plays with your head and makes the idea that it's still good for you a very persuasive one.
Of the standard doughnuts ($2.50-2.75), I've been able to count on the availability of a half-dozen favorites. The passion fruit cocoa nib doughnut's frosting precisely captures the prickly, alive feeling of fresh passion fruit, and the blueberry, bourbon, and basil frosting seems to have undergone refinement over time to put the basil exactly where it belongs behind the sweetness. The light, faintly caramel flavor of the dulce de leche with crushed almonds is also nicely balanced against the yeasted dough. And if you're looking for the best bacon-maple doughnut in town, Blue Star has built it, with high-quality, finely minced bacon and an understated glaze.
The fried chicken doughnut is the only item that flopped as a concept. Boneless chicken breast, fried to order, is cubed, placed atop a glazed doughnut, topped with honey butter, and served with packets of Frank's RedHot. It's hard to eat, the batter flakes off the uninteresting meat, and I ended up feeling dispirited after three bites. It's an attempt at excess that feels very out of place in their otherwise sophisticated product line.
The "open until we run out" policy is also frustrating, but likely an artifact of being new and not knowing the rhythms of the neighborhood yet. Maybe the bread puddings they've started making out of their surplus stock are an indication that they're getting closer to dialing in their end-of-day balance of waste versus shortfall.
On the whole, Blue Star's focus on quality transforms the doughnut from a blatant, guilty junk food fix into something worth appreciating. And, since it's a Micah Camden venture (Little Big Burger), I wouldn't be surprised to see more of them popping up soon.