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Cheap Eats: Anna Maria Donuts

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The maple bacon at Anna Maria Donuts / COOPER LEVEY-BAKER

The maple bacon at Anna Maria Donuts / COOPER LEVEY-BAKER

I was supposed to be learning about sustainable agriculture, but all I could think about were doughnuts.

Native plant and habitat expert Mike Miller was giving me and a group of Taiwanese USF students a walking tour of Anna Maria's Pine Avenue, showcasing a new program that has island businesses growing Florida-friendly produce on their front porches, part of Anna Maria's attempt to claim the mantle of greenest small town in America. But Miller made one major miscalculation: He stopped to talk in front of Anna Maria Donuts, a bright, open café near the southwest end of Pine.

Yes, yes, I thought. Green this, green that. But where's that smell coming from? Sweet scents kept drifting above the small crowd, so strong I thought I could actually see cartoon smell lines wafting from Anna Maria Donuts' front door. Only heroic self-control kept me from bolting from the tour and tearing into a fresh dozen, Homer Simpson-style.

Anna Maria Donuts / COOPER LEVEY-BAKER

Anna Maria Donuts / COOPER LEVEY-BAKER

But I knew I'd be back, and weeks later, I am. The café is painted a gentle sea foam green, with a hand-written chalkboard menu stuck up on the right side, next to the glass-protected prep area. On the left, a small group of comfortable-looking tables and chairs sit at the ready. The crowd this morning is light but steady. Tourist families in newly purchased Anna Maria T-shirts filter in, as do young women in beachwear, all grabbing a small treat before heading out to enjoy the island's relaxed atmosphere.

It's a Friday, and one couple looks depressed. Their vacation is coming to an end, and they've already become regulars in just one week. They bid farewell to the staff and head out, dejected. Are they bummed their time in the sun is ending, or just that they won't be able to eat doughnuts anymore? If I was a tourist, it would be the latter, 'cause Anna Maria's options are sublime.

The shop only offers cake doughnuts, no yeast (I know, I know), but makes up for it with a bevy of glazes and toppings. The menu lays out your options. Pick an icing (chocolate, vanilla, caramel, maple or glazed) then select a topping (everything from chocolate sprinkles to Fruity Pebbles). Right in front of you, the staff dunks a fresh 'nut down in the icing then presses it, sticky side down, into a bin filled with the topping of your choice.

I'm always on the hunt for treats that mix the savory with the sweet, so I walk away with a maple bacon and a caramel sea salt ($1.25 each). They're both wonderful. The crust on the outside is crunchy but delicate, the cake inside still tender and moist. The shop doesn't overdo either the glazes or the toppings, which means both kinds I ordered possess a harmonious blend of sugar and salt. The caramel sea salt in particular almost falls on the savory side, its rich batter flavor punched up by the ground-on-demand sodium chloride.

I sit back, open my laptop and spend the morning working. (If you consider eating and writing about doughnuts working, that is.) A subtle breeze tickles my legs. Howlin' Wolf moans on the stereo.

Often, when I'm stuck in Sarasota's snarling traffic, or grinding through our endless sprawl, I wonder why people from all over the world come here to visit. But a morning at Anna Maria Donuts erases all those questions. I'm only here for a few hours, and I'm already in an island state of mind. Can somebody please point me to the nearest real estate office?

The caramel sea salt at Anna Maria Donuts / COOPER LEVEY-BAKER

The caramel sea salt at Anna Maria Donuts / COOPER LEVEY-BAKER

Anna Maria Donuts
210 Pine Ave., Anna Maria
896-3172 or annamariadonuts.com
This is the umpteenth entry in a weekly column dedicated to eats that are cheap. If you have an idea for a place to feature in Cheap Eats, comment below, email me at cheapeatssrq@gmail.com or hit me up on Twitter: @LeveyBaker.

Last modified: November 15, 2013
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