Mojo Monkey Donuts: a first look

The smiling monkey beckons you inside to a sunny storefront shop and an array of artisan sweets. Mojo Monkey Donut, the former Rudie's Coffee shop on West Seventh in St. Paul, between Randolph and Lexington, has been transformed from dark punk to bright chic. The interior is aquamarine blue and white. The espresso machine gleams, as does the whirring baking equipment in the background. Small round tables are set with cheerful little floral arrangements. The shop itself is welcoming, but what really draws the people in are Mojo's cases of fried treats. No matter what hour we stopped in, the doughnuts always tasted freshly made.
Here's a sample of what we tried:

The plain cake doughnuts came with a crusty brown exterior around a plush, decidedly cake-textured interior. Made with a whisper of nutmeg, their flavor lives somewhere just around the corner from savory.

A red velvet cake doughnut was richly chocolaty, with just a hint of spice topped with a lusciously creamy frosting. A toffee variety was the same nutmeg-spiced base topped with a sweet white swath of buttery, sugary frosting studded with toffee-nub crunchies.

Toffee doughnut
Toffee doughnut
Joy Summers

The yeasted donuts were crisp on the outside and pillowy soft on the inside. A cinnamon twist was downright crunchy on the ends, gently coated in a sugar shell, with the cinnamon huskiness braiding itself in and out of every other bite.

The shop has a list of 40 or so varieties of doughnuts in its repertoire, with some standards and other specialty doughnuts available on different days of the week (though they say they are happy to make a particular doughnut any day with advance notice). The varieties include such exotic specimens as a raised ring doughnut with mango glaze and organic coconut, an apple dumpling doughnut, a mocha mousse bismarck, a new peanut butter and jelly bismarck, pumpkin doughnut holes, and their already famous maple bar with a strip of thick-cut bacon on top.

Owner Lisa Clark says she fell in love with the spot the minute she walked through the door. Although she lives in Minnetonka, she says she has always loved this neighborhood.   A onetime resident of New Orleans, she also brought with her a recipe for beignets.

The word beignet comes from the French word for "bump."  The legend of the beignet is that vendors would set up their carts outside the Catholic churches in New Orleans. The church prohibited parishioners from eating before services.  After mass let out, the hungry worshipers would spill into the streets to be met with the wafting scents of fried dough and powdered sugar and be invited to break their fast.

The beignets are made to order and only available on Saturdays.  A plate of rectangular dough puffs is delivered beneath a mountain of powdered sugar. The first bite delivers a face full of powdered sugar debris and a mouth full of toothsome, yeasty dough.  Light, but more substantial than a yeasted donut, the dough is not overly sweet.  That comes from the sugar, which after a second bite, spills down over the table, like Scarface as re-imagined by Willie Wonka.

Each variety we tasted was fresh, lush, and balanced in flavor.  Dangerously delicious, it's almost impossible to eat only one.

Mojo Monkey Donuts 1169 Seventh St. W., St Paul 651.224.0142

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