Donuts are simple. You sweeten some dough, fry or bake it and add a fill or glaze (or both). They usually have a hole, but don’t have to.
They are also big business with 20+ donut-specific shops within city limits, according to Google. Corpus Christi has national chain donuts, regional chain donuts, a growing local chain and several one-offs. This number doesn’t include supermarkets and gas stations which have a mass-produced dozen ready for you anytime.
Donuts are a great, once-in-a-while breakfast alternative where nutrition is forsaken for pure pleasure, but America’s obsession with sugar and cheap food has torn the donut’s simple design apart as trend-setting chains add as much sugar as possible and ship pre-cooked donuts to be heated, glazed and served.
Gates Donut Shop still does everything the old fashioned way and, as is often the case with recipes, you can’t ignore how it was done once upon a time…especially when it tastes this good. Gates opened in 1939 and moved to their iconic walk-up/drive thru Alameda location in 1969. For 75 years, their bakers have arrived at 2:00 am to get the first donuts out the door by 4:30 am.
“The sign says we open at 4:30 am, but we put the donuts out as soon as they’re ready which may be a little earlier,” said manager Aaron Thomas Gates. “There’s always someone there to buy the first one.”
And that is the secret. Hand-made food made fresh. To elevate the Corpus Christi food scene, a diner that intends on paying for the food they order should never accept anything else. They should lead the conversation with questions about where the food comes from, how it is made, and what ingredients are being used. Was that donut (or lettuce or hamburger patty or pizza sauce, etc) made/grown/formed here or did it come off a truck? If the answer is off a truck, it’s not good enough for the restaurant and certainly not for you…if you’re looking for the best food in town.
Gates says the most popular donut is the regular (yeast) glazed but The Gates Glazed Cake Donut is what you should try first. It is one of our 40 Things to Eat in Corpus Christi. We are avoiding the age old yeast v. cake donut debate here, but the cake’s dense texture, not-too-thick-or-thin coating of glaze and superior dunkability put it on the list.
The Gates Glazed Cake Donut is heaven with a hole and, at 55 cents, the least expensive item on our list. For just over a dollar you can get two perfectly fried and glazed tickets to paradise. With a little willpower you can hold it down to only two.
You’ll find all your favorites at Gates—iced, filled, twists, cinnamon buns, kolaches—and the proper way to order them is to park the car and walk to the window. Leave the drive thru (and longer wait) to the uninitiated. You never know who you’ll meet in the ‘Gates line’ so be prepared to chit chat. Then it’s your turn. The bakery blast of aroma that hits you right in the face is the appetizer as you inevitably order more than you should. (One more point for the cake donut: it tastes better a few hours later when you stumble upon the leftovers).