Bob's Donuts (and Pastry Shop as they like to call themselves) is considered an institution here in San Francisco and they have been around (way) long enough to be considered one. It's one of those places that shows up on folks best of lists for donuts-particularly when that craving for sweet stuff hits really late at night or being that it's on that stretch of Polk-strasse that has a few bars and things--when you are kind of drunk, semi-drunk or really drunk and need something to fill a need that only deep fried will satisfy. I know for a lot of folks that is exactly what Bob's does for them, and if truth be told, 10 or more years ago I myself used to hit up the place after imbibing a few at a nearby watering hole. Over the years I've moved on (from booze) to other sweets as the proliferation of bakeries in town has grown. But even with that abundance, Bob's has remained and I was in the hood, during daylight, recently and thought as I walked by..hmm..why not see if the array in the window stands up to taste on a bright sunny afternoon as well as they would on a dark boozy Saturday night/Sunday morning.
Let's face it, walking into the place, everything feels just a bit sticky including the air. And as you look around at the formica counter from yesteryear and the tiny 2-seater tables that have seen better days, it doesn't inspire the confidence you get while staring at the selection in the window.
I'm sure the place is (mostly) clean and I don't have to worry about not having a belly full of alcohol in order to kill any germs I might pick up here. But you know, if I can eat food on the street in Cambodia I can handle a 24 hour donut shop in San Francisco--I think. Now normally I'm an apple fritter guy--a giant disc of deep fried dough with apples, cinnamon and covered in glaze--yum. But every time I see the one's at Bob's they just look too dark and over-fried. So this time I decide to get my full on sweet going and say damn to the crash that will take place later. First up was this trio
A glazed old fashioned, a standard glazed and a crumble. I love a good old fashioned and well this wasn't quite there. Ultimately it was overcooked, a little dry and too crumbly. The glaze was nice and the donut had good coverage, which doesn't always happen. The glazed was light and fluffy, though I'm gonna say it had been in the window since it had been made around 5am, which didn't do it many favors. The crumble which was the good part of this donut suffered the same fate as the old fashioned in being overcooked. It was a thick cake inside, good, but a tad too dry and crusty, bad. I would say the trick is to be around when they make them but I looked online and ideas about that are all over the place though I think I narrowed it down to somewhere between midnight and 6am-ish. Which is great if you are up late, third shift or an early riser. Alas, that is not me at this time so I guess I'm missing out. Of course they probably cook things a little past done on purpose, that way it's thick enough to soak up any booze in your stomach or balance out your giant cup of coffee.
But all is not lost as these were not all I got. One thing I've seen in their window over the years and have always wanted to try I decided to finally get and see just what it was. And here it is:
This folks is Bob's "famous" apple pan-dowdy. The lady behind the counter wasn't very forth coming so near as I can tell this is a combination strudel/apple pie. There is a pie crust, apples, raisins, cinnamon, brown sugar and a sugary glaze and what I'm guessing is a "secret ingredient"--day-old donuts. That cakey part you see between the crust and the apple topping I'm quite positive was day-olds. When you dig this apart you can see little bits of different types of donuts--including some of the ones I had above. But how is it? Well, I have to say, I actually liked it. Oddly, it's not as sweet as you think it is probably due to the granny smith apples used. And densely packing the donuts and tossing in some sugar actually adds some moistness they were surely missing. Plus the slice you get is as big as it probably looks in the picture. It's a giant, dense packed slab of goodness that will fill you up whether you are drunk or not and will definitely satisfy any sugar craving you may have.
So, what does all this mean? In the grand scheme of things not much. Bob's Donuts is one of those places you'll either love or think, eww...I'm so not going in there. Was it better when you're not drunk? I'd say that depends on what you get and when you get it. Still, if you are adventurous, get the pan-dowdy, it will definitely be a different kind of treat that's sweet to eat.