Turner's Donuts has sat at the corner of Ninth and Ninth in downtown Bradenton since 1960, and it's anyone's guess what may have changed in the past half-century. To the right stretches a long Formica counter where my wife, son and I pull up a chair. A dented metal napkin holder stands guard next to a cylinder of sugar and a shiny teapot heavy with cream. Behind us, curvy red plastic booths line a wall of tightly drawn blinds. In front of us, a three-burner Bunn machine burbles away with the morning brew, while a sign near the nearby sink proclaims, "We give fast service," and then in tiny type: "No matter how long it takes."
Around the bend glows Turner's main attraction. A broad assortment of sugary concoctions — doughnuts, fritters, cinnamon rolls, oh my! — is laid out behind spotless glass and in bright yellow racks behind the cash register. Empty white boxes are stacked nearby, ready to carry your dozen. But while Turner's is a doughnut shop, we quickly learn it's much more. The restaurant also offers a small variety of outrageously cheap breakfast sandwiches ($2.65-$3) and even some very basic lunch sandwiches ($4.25), as well as bagels ($1.25-$1.60).
First up: three of those breakfast sandwiches. Turner's bacon, egg and cheese sandwich comes on either an English muffin or a croissant. Both are delicious. I've written this before, but one of the iron laws of breakfast sandwichery is that the cheaper the cheese, the better the sandwich, and Turner's is proof of the maxim. The shop's cheese comes melted atop a folded hunk of egg and a still-crispy strip of bacon, binding everything together into a satisfying whole. The croissant version of the sandwich is great, with a slight toasted edge to the pastry to give it just a small bit of a crunch. My wife says she wishes it was toasted just a touch more, but at $2.65, cheaper than many a Starbucks beverage, it's hard to quibble.
The ham sandwich ($3) doesn't hit the high notes of the other versions. Perhaps it's just the generic meat, whose texture makes the experience a bit chewy. I'll be skipping it next time.
What won't I be skipping? Dessert. Turner's breakfast sandwiches are tasty, but I'm eager to try what's kept Turner's in business lo these many decades. Turner's was born as part of the Spudnuts chain, which used potato flour instead of regular flour, and the window out front still advertises Turner's doughnuts as "potato raised." How do they compare to regular 'nuts? Well, they're softer and chewier, without the gentle crunch you get from typical yeast-raised or cake varieties. Tasty enough when married to a maple glaze ($.80), but I still prefer the crispy bite of Turner's more traditional apple fritters ($1.25). The shop's honeydew cake doughnut (also $.80) is delish, but can I taste honeydew? No, I cannot. Another winner: Turner's French doughnuts ($.80), or "buggy tires" as my wife calls them. In contrast to the other pastries, those are airy and light, with a slightly undercooked cakey flavor.
While we chow down, the front door provides a steady diet of dings, indicating new customers. Fire trucks rumble by outside as older gentlemen in trucker hats and families from the neighborhood select their breakfasts. Clearly, Turner's is doing something right. Most of the customers this Saturday morning know exactly what they want even before they step up to the register. With its no-frills vibe and its startlingly cheap options, it's no wonder these folks love Turner's, and it's no wonder Turner's has been in business as long as it has.
902 Ninth Ave. W., Bradenton
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter:@LeveyBaker.