Past Best Bakery winners are typically sophisticated pâtisseries
specializing in baroquely layered, impossibly rich cakes of gorgeous design. But this year we pay tribute to the less exalted neighborhood bakery, a shop where a request for a half-dozen glazed won't produce a contemptuous thin-lipped sneer. Not that you'd ever dream of ending an order with a mere six doughnuts at Kruta's -- the irresistible temptations behind its crowded glass cases guarantee you'll leave with an awkwardly tottering pile of stollens, cheesecakes and strudels, perhaps topped by a fresh loaf of rye and a bag of cinnamon sticks. Don't worry -- someone will help you with the door. On Saturdays, in fact, the crowds are so thick that the door seldom fully closes. Gluttonous swarms of Kruta faithful pour into the plain brick edifice, grab a plastic number -- at peak times, as many as 20 customers can be found lusting after the baked goods -- and jostle to the front to gaze longingly at what's on offer for the day. A bustling cadre of welcoming white-uniformed women -- Kruta's counter workers are all women -- promptly fill your order with startling quickness as the numbers are called. But efficiency is ultimately irrelevant: Most would happily wait hours for a taste of Kruta's gooey-butter cake (which oozes lubriciously when cut), apple crumb pie or German chocolate cake. A Collinsville institution -- although its origins are in East St. Louis -- Kruta's attractions lure East Siders from other communities as well. Extend the borders of your own neighborhood and pay a visit: You'll not go home disappointed -- or empty-handed.