Coffee with milk

World's Fair Doughnuts,
1904 South Vandeventer Avenue;

World's Fair Doughnuts

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Two doughnuts sit side-by-side on the desk, one with chocolate icing, the other with vanilla icing and cinnamon crumbles. Behind the doughnuts, in a Styrofoam cup, is coffee with half-and-half. This morning's breakfast seems perfectly imagined, predestined even, as though every event that's ever come before, from the discovery of fire to the invention of the wheel, from the Crusades through the witch trials to Leaves of Grass, from the Charleston to the jitterbug to the electric slide and beyond, has been leading up to this moment when these two doughnuts and this coffee would enter into being and land on our desk. World's fair, indeed.

Oh, World's Fair: sweetness and indulgence, tempered with milky warmth and wrapped in comfort. Since 1976, the south-city mainstay has offered up classic doughnuts, the Platonic ideal of the Midwestern American treat, like a door is a door or a table is a table.

World's Fair of our heart, you have watched us grow, have seen the lines on our face deepen. You have answered our morning whims, have nursed our hangovers, have fed our one-night stands, have greeted our desperate grogginess with patience and grace. We've waited for you to open in post-rave twinkled frenzies, giggly and awed by your doughnuts; on soft spring mornings we've picnicked on your creations in Tower Grove Park. We've crawled from bed to car to counter and back, watched cartoons and drank your coffee.

And each time, Peggy Clanton has greeted us with a Zen-like smile and as many doughnuts as will make us happy. Her husband, Terry, who opened the store, plays God in the back, conjuring doughnuts day after day as though they were springtime buds on a tree, ever-coming, ever-present, everlasting. Chocolate and glazed, long john and fritter, jelly-filled and custard-filled, cinnamon twists and blueberry cake doughnuts. It's like he's merely the branch, the conduit, and the doughnuts pass through his hands. His cake doughnuts are fried quickly in very hot oil, which creates a crisp but delicate shell. They're not at all greasy; we set one on a piece of paper and it left no grease stain.

The coffee seems to pass through the vintage Bun-O-Matic as though the machine were a pump drawing liquid from the ground. There's nothing gourmet about it. What kind of beans they use is a silly question. It's ground coffee, 1970s-style. But it pairs with a silken glazed doughnut like a lamb shank pairs with a Grand Cru burgundy, like a port transforms a creamy blue cheese. Peggy tops it with a "sip lid" for on-the-road enjoyment, and sets it on the counter.

Their brew has little or no "aroma" per se, but if you slosh it around and sniff hard, it has a faint almond smell, with no bitterness whatsoever. We like our coffee white, and the red-headed Clanton gives a generous pour of half-and-half which turns it tan and further dissipates the flavor. The result is a hot drink that's less insistent than, say, a cup of Kaldi's, and more like a coffee-flavored tea.

She grabs a tray of fresh doughnuts from her husband. They keep coming, these creations, these blossoms, keep pushing through the thin veil that separates being from nonbeing, which separates an idea from an object. Each sits in the display case awaiting its fate, one in a line of all the doughnuts that have ever been, and all that ever will be. In the immortal words of Walt Whitman (who was writing of "unseen buds"): "Billions of billions, and trillions of trillions of them waiting/(On earth and in the sea—the universe—the stars there in the heavens,)/Urging slowly, surely forward, forming endless,/And waiting ever more, forever more behind."

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