By Tim Kelly
When Joe Schneider received the group text inviting him to ride his bike in Carl Wanek’s planned Ocean City “Tour de Donut,” nobody else responded.
“I thought he was kidding,” said Schneider. “So I asked when I should meet him. When he texted me back with the time, I was shocked.”
Wanek, a 44-year-old carpenter from Ocean City, wanted to ride his bike around town and sample the wares of 12 donut shops in two hours or less.
Schneider, one of Wanek’s longtime friends, said he probably should have taken him seriously from the jump.
“Carl always comes up with some unusual plans and they always turn out to be a great trip. I’m just happy to be a passenger.”
Wanek said he’s a fan of pub crawls and food tours. He thought Ocean City needed something similar, but in line with its family-friendly image. So he went on several Ocean City Facebook pages to try to identify “every mom-and-pop donut shop or store that sold donuts” and to hit them all.
“I always feel like I can eat as many donuts as I want without getting filled up,” Wanek said. “I can eat a dozen donuts by myself in about 15 minutes.”
The two-hour time limit came into play because Wanek’s sister was in town visiting from Colorado. A Sunday breakfast for the extended family was planned, and Wanek thought it would be inappropriate to hold up the event while he chased donuts. Thus, Wanek, Schneider and a third buddy Frank Rubba set out on their 7 a.m. adventure.
Carl knew it wouldn’t be a stretch for him to eat a donut from each stop. However Joe and Frank thought it might be a bit much considering the bike ride, which turned out to be in excess of 10-miles, and the heat. So they decided to buy one donut at each place and cut it into thirds. “In this way, we would only eat the equivalent of four donuts each,” Carl reasoned.
But what variety of deep-fried treat would they be sampling? Some places have more offerings than there are donut shops in town.
“The plan was to ask the counter person for their most popular or best-tasting donut,” said Carl. “Let them decide for us.”
With that, the trio set off on their beach cruisers from Wanek’s home at North and Wesley, headed for Dot’s on 32nd Street. The planned tour was to end at Brown’s on the north end of the Boardwalk, with 10 stops in between. Could they do it?
Stage 1, Dot’s Pastry: The guys arrive at Dot’s at about 7:10 a.m., just minutes after the store’s scheduled opening. But they were dismayed to find they were ticket number 78 and 48 customers had already been served. “There were 30 orders ahead of us,” Wanek said
Schneider said he thought there was no way they could do this in two hours. “But Carl is the eternal optimist and his schemes usually work out.”
The good news: the line moved quickly and the reward was a cream-filled powder donut which spoke more about Dot’s popularity than ticket number 78 ever could. “You could see why Dot’s has such a loyal following,” Schneider said.
Stage 2, Nauti: The guys pedaled to their next stop, between 21st and 22nd on Asbury. The young woman behind the counter recommended their “Mermaid Delight,” a handmade donut topped with Fruity Pebbles cereal and a vanilla glaze. “It was amazing,” Carl said in a tone usually reserved for acts of love. “It was close to that,” he said. “Fresh and warm and overall, an excellent donut. I’m definitely going to come back here again and get a dozen for myself.”
Stage 3, Mallon’s : Over to 14th and Bay the men went, to the famous go-to spot for sticky buns, and the counter person selected their most popular donut with vanilla frosting and chocolate sprinkles.
Stage 4, Cathy’s: Here at 14th and Asbury the donut-chomping cyclists deviated from letting the counter person select the variety “because Frank raved about their apple cider donuts” and kind of insisted on that one. It was good enough but left Carl drooling for a crème-filled variety he had eyed up previously.
Stage 5, Bob’s Grill, Boardwalk at 14th: The apple cider donut here was “very, very good. Outstanding!” Wanek said. “Crispy on the outside, warm and deliciously soft on the inside. The donut is telling you how fresh it is.” Upon hearing about Carl, Joe and Frank’s Tour, the donut maker told the guys “We better be number one!” Carl said he wouldn’t rule that out.
Stage 6, Bashful Banana: A health food lover’s paradise at 944 Boardwalk, Bashful whipped up a blueberry-filled confection with a “dough” of a tasty bran which was seemingly baked, not fried. “It was almost like a muffin on top, but the bottom had a hole that went about halfway through. And it was loaded with real blueberries. Definitely good for a healthy donut,” Carl enthused.
Stage 7: Audible! This was supposed to be Cub Zero at 8th and the Boardwalk, until the first glitch in the Tour occurred. They were out of donuts! Wanek had to think fast. He remembered the Forum Motel at 8th and Atlantic had a place in the lobby called Frosted that sold donuts. It was deserted when Carl walked in and checked his watch. It was 8:15. Only 45 minutes remained in the contest. “If we only got to 11 shops the Tour would have been a failure,” Wanek lamented. However, Frosted came up big –the proprietor fired up the donut machine and delivered “an excellent, fresh donut he made just for me. It was really, really good apple cinnamon donut that just disintegrated in your tastebuds. I’m stopping back there again,” he said. “Pure quality.”
Stage 8 Drip n Scoop: Zig-zagging back to 10th and Asbury, the men feasted on a vanilla cinnamon variety that was “not your traditional apple cider and a nice variation. Very, very good.”
Stage 9 Wards Pastry: Running out of time, the guys split this stage and the next one. Joe and Frank picked up an old fashioned donut here at 730 Asbury and exited the store just as Carl arrived, having snared the donut from Stage 10. Carl would also return to Wards after the tour to pick up a dozen sticky buns for the family breakfast.
Stage 10 Fractured Prune Carl grabbed the house specialty donut as recommended by the counter person, a deep-fried treat known as “Ocean City Sand.” This donut was chocolate frosted, and it was the bomb. He wrapped it up and placed it in his bike’s carrying pouch and “hauled butt over to Ward’s” from the 3339 West Ave. location. Upon reuniting, the men cut up and consumed their treats. Then they headed back to the Boards for the Tour’s home stretch.
Stage 11 Oves Beach Grill: On the Boardwalk at 4th Street, the donut maker was none other than Joe Kelly, whom Wanek had coached in baseball and wrestling. All Kelly did was cook up a fresh traditional old fashioned donut Carl said could stand with any others on the Tour.
Stage 12 Browns: Furiously pedaling toward the North end of the ‘Walk, about 10 minutes remained in the contest. Unfortunately, the line at Browns (110 Boardwalk) would take at least a half hour to navagate, Wanek estimated. “The whole idea of starting at Dot’s and working our way back was to avoid the line at Brown’s,” Carl said, but that strategy lost out to the July 4 holiday volume of visitors.
There was still hope. Schneider’s daughter and another relative worked at the iconic eatery. He ran inside, tipped each $10 and emerged with a fresh donut.
“One taste of this old fashioned with the taste of apple cinnamon “made me understand why the people wait in line,” Carl said. In all his years of living in Ocean City, he had never before tasted a Brown’s donut. “I could never see waiting for one when there are so many other great places, but now I get it. This donut melted in your mouth and the consistency of the inside was so moist and warm. An amazing product.” But was one donut worth $20? “Definitely.”
Having completed his journey, there were no high fives or celebrations. “It was kind of anticlimactic,” Wanek said. “It left me wanting to keep going. I definitely will do this again.”
From there, Carl headed back to the home he shares with wife Karin and sons Carl and Cooper. He walked in the door just as the clock struck nine .
“Karin was a little upset with me, but only because she didn’t get the chance to come along with us.”
Then, it was off for a date with the extended family where Carl ate a breakfast of eggs and bacon , a stack of “red white and blue” (strawberry, banana and blueberry) pancakes, and a cinnamon bun.
“I still had plenty of appetite after the Tour,” he said with a laugh.
Wanek said the guys had so much fun he planned to make the Tour an annual event . In fact, he was thinking of organizing a large scale version as a fundraiser for the Ocean City Jr. Raiders Football program, which he serves as President.
“I think this can be a great family event to be enjoyed by one and all.” (10.33 miles biked and burned 793 calories)