Deep in Maine, Artisanal Doughnuts

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Photo by Samantha Given-Dennis

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Every college town has a spot where locals and students, whatever their differences, come together to commune over food. It's usually a diner or a café, and in the pines of central Maine, it's a diner that's called a café. The Kennebec Café, named after the Kennebec river, is located in Fairfield (pop. 6,573, mostly blue collar families and the occasional moose) and also serves adjacent Waterville (pop. 15,605, including the 2,000 barefooted students of Colby College).

The Kennebec Café serves the usual greasy-spoon fare--eggs, home fries, coffee so strong it's nearly solid--but it's the special page tucked into each menu that lets you know this is no ordinary diner. By the time you've made it to the shop's unassuming exterior--I thought it was closed when I saw it--you already know: Kennebec owner and proprietor Ann Maglaras hand-cooks some really good, sustainable doughnuts.

"I don't really care for sweet stuff," Ann says, and it shows: Her creations are a far cry from the sugar-delivery systems produced by Krispy Kreme and Dunkin Donuts.

Ann has been behind the counter six days a week since opening the store seven years ago with husband and co-owner John. The two met when John, a cross-country trucker for National Starch and Chemical, became a regular customer of The Eating House, where Ann then worked.

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Photo by Samantha Given-Dennis

Central Maine is a place where Souter-style New England understatement and back-country flannel folksiness come together. Like the other Mainer old salts who line up outside before every 5 a.m. opening and hunch over their coffee and doughnuts until closing, Ann and John are at once the friendliest people you've ever met and the most reserved. That ethos comes through in Ann's doughnuts. "I don't really care for sweet stuff," Ann says, and it shows: Her creations are a far cry from the sugar-delivery systems produced by Krispy Kreme and Dunkin Donuts. This allows the natural sweetness of her flavors, usually based on a single, locally produced ingredient, to shine through: peanut butter, raspberry preserves ("razzle dazzle"), applesauce, molasses, lemon, carrot, fresh blueberries picked from the famous Maine farms of Wyman's, even squash.

Of the 21 flavors, none defines the Kennebec Café better than sweet potato, which comes to the table steaming and topped with a thin maple glaze. The cake is moist without being too heavy; the fried outer layer cracks without being too dry. The flavor is complex, even layered, with the savory sweetness of the potato complemented perfectly by the mild smokiness of the maple.

Ann is proudest of her chocolate, which she notes uses real chocolate rather than the chocolate-based powder in most doughnuts. It's surprising to bite in and find the full, bitter flavor of dark chocolate. But more than any ingredient, Ann swears by what isn't in her creations: preservatives, chemicals, or artificial food of any kind.

"No preservatives in none of these doughnuts," she says. "You don't need to worry about none of that glowin' at night stuff."

The Kennebec Café
166 Main St
Fairfield, ME 04937
(207) 453-4478

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Max Fisher is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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