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Man Seeking The Shot: A Trip to Dynamo Donuts

UPDATE: Four Barrel Coffee is roasting their own coffee and Dynamo is now using it. I haven’t run a more recent review of the coffee, but see my reviews of Four Barrel for some suggested insight into what you might expect.

Name: Dynamo Donuts
Location: 2760 24th Street (b/w Hampshire and York), San Francisco, CA
Rating: 4

I had three good reasons to visit Dynamo Donuts this past weekend. The first is my deep and undying love of donuts and the fact that with a few exceptions, San Francisco lags a bit behind in the gourmet donut department, at least when compared to other top-rate culinary cities.

Second, Dynamo is presently the second place in the city to serve Stumptown Coffee. Of course, the coffee is Stumptown by way of Four Barrel Coffee. Dynamo is Four Barrel’s first client and Four Barrel is Dynamo’s. And, when Four Barrel (eventually) starts roasting, Dynamo will be serving Four Barrel. Got that?

Third, Dynamo Donuts was the agreed upon rendezvous for what was fast becoming a clandestine meeting of the palates. For weeks prior to this visit, I had been communicating with the author of the San Francisco espresso encyclopedia, Coffee Ratings, and its affiliated blog, The Shot. Greg and I had been flooding each others inboxes with emails planning what we jokingly referred to as a Siskel and Ebert moment for coffee. I wondered, however, (and am not entirely offended by the idea) that our meeting might come across to others as something closer to Statler and Waldorf.

Greg and I met up mostly on time (OK, I was a few minutes late). We immediately moved into ordering mode – an espresso (and some donuts) for us both. While we chatted about about coffee and waited for our drinks, I couldn’t help but scope out the coffee equipment.

Highly notable for such a tiny little donut stand is the enormous four-group LaMarzocco Linea that dominates the tiled counter.  A couple of espresso grinders sit to one side while a couple of large coffee grinders, french presses and an airpot occupy the rear counter.  Big bags of Stumptown coffee fill the shelves while four, glass cake dishes filled with donuts sit over to one side by the cash register. The proportion of coffee to donuts was considerably different than I expected, but then I noticed that the official name is Dynamo Donuts and Coffee!

Our Hairbender espressos arrived with a gorgeous layer of dark chocolate colors crema with a little bit of flecking. Greg and I began to businly take notes. I have to admit, I started writing but quickly found myself describing the espresso I had tried a couple of weeks before at Four Barrel. It was orangy bright, with that signature spicy-sweet underlayer. If pressed I suppose I might say that it was a hair less orangy and perhaps the sweetness was closer to brown sugar than molasses, but I could easily be making this up. Greg and I agreed that we’d be hard pressed to tell the difference between this Hairbender and the one at Four Barrel.

I later tried a cup of the French Press coffee – a Panamanian that I didn’t get the details on (possibly the Carmen Estate based on Stumptown’s current line up). I found that the coffee had a nice brightness to it and a smooth chocolate quality. It was good but nothing exceptional, but I had also consumed a fair amount of coffee by that point in the day.

Oh, and then there were the donuts. Greg and I both ordered a chocolate, which I had ordered before at Four Barrel – I couldn’t resist it again. The spices – chipotle, cinnamon and a little salt – of the chocolate donut work perfectly with this rich, moist chocolate cake style donut ($2.50). The vanilla donut ($2) was less dense, closer to a raised donut in texture. The vanilla frosting was neither too sweet or rich. Both of them were excellent.

Some posters on Chowhound have complained about the $2 to $2.50 price tag, pointing out the plethora of $.75 cent donuts elsewhere in the city. I certainly understand their distrust of potentially overpriced donuts and don’t mean to denegrate other venerable donut institutions. I am a huge fan of Bob’s Donuts, have a soft spot for The Jelly Donut, and wouldn’t dare take King Pin’s name in vein, but Dynamo offers something different than these old-school sugary-fried dough treats. This creation is a whole food wunderkind of premium, local organic ingredients that finally gives premier donut institutions like the Doughnut Plant in New York a solid run for their money. Doughnut Plant still reigns supreme but Dynamo is doing quite well given that it only opened a few weeks ago.

Greg and I continued to talk coffee. The weather was gorgeous and it was a pleasure to stand there at the coffee counter. It even conjured up images of standing at some coffee bar in Italy. I suppose the major exception to that notion was the fact that we were surrounded by tacquerias and Mexican wedding dress shops.

I suppose this choice of location is my only real concern for Dynamo’s well being.  It’s located deep in the heart of the mission and I wonder how many people in the neighborhood are willing to purchase this type of donut. If you build a better donut, will they come?  As if to answer my cinematically inspired question, a car pulled up and out popped a family of four. They clearly weren’t from the neighborhood but had read about Dynamo in a magazine and were desperately looking for these good donuts. As I was leaving, I couldn’t help but notice that car they had arrived in was an unmarked police car! Some things never change.

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