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Cheap Eats: Dough in a Box

Frills-free, California-style doughnuts in Marietta

When Sublime Doughnuts opened back in 2008, Kamal Grant's unorthodox gourmet doughnut creations reignited Atlanta's fried dough lust and paved the way for places like Dutch Monkey Doughnuts in Cumming. What was still missing, however, was a solid doughnut place without the frills. A good old doughnut shop akin to the ones you find on any street in Los Angeles. Unbeknownst to many — thanks to regulars that purposely kept it a secret — such a place existed and was around well before Sublime or Dutch Monkey: Dough in a Box (3184 Austell Road, Marietta, 770-436-5155). And, just in case you're wondering, no, the name is sadly not a parody of the Lonely Island "Saturday Night Live" skit featuring Justin Timberlake.

Jesus and Dannia Balestena bought Dough in a Box almost a year ago from the previous owners, a couple they befriended while they were regular customers. Along with the business came the recipe for the California-style doughnut, which, until now, has been an elusive find in these parts. A California-style doughnut is a very specific specimen, nowhere near the disappointing melt-in-your-mouth-in-two-bites version of a certain well-represented Southern doughnut chain. A true California doughnut will knock you out with its heady just-baked freshness the minute you open a boxful. It leaves little grease behind in the box or on your fingers. It's yeasty, which means it stays intact after each bite and can be savored rather than mourned for having gone too quickly.

At Dough in the Box, there are around 28 varieties of these California-style doughnuts. Jesus bakes them early every morning and, sometimes, another batch later in the day. A dozen only costs $6.75 and a single doughnut with a cup of coffee is $1.70. You really can't go wrong with anything you order here. Boston cream doughnuts have a thick layer of chocolate frosting and the filling hints of vanilla without being cloying. Powdered doughnuts filled with lemon curd are fine, but the vanilla filling tastes like wedding cake frosting. It is a beautiful thing to behold. Nearly every order is topped off with glazed doughnut holes so fresh and lofty, you'll eat three before realizing what you've done. Cake doughnuts come plain but the chocolate-frosted version encrusted with chopped nuts is so much more sinful. A simple glazed doughnut exemplifies the prowess of the simple doughnut-making establishment. It is light, perfectly glazed and not too sweet. When it's topped with a little baby-pink strawberry frosting dotted with bits of strawberry flesh, it brings back fond memories of childhood.

Everyone talks about the fritters and it seems like they're what the owners are most proud of. However, I kept arriving well after the fritters had sold out. My husband trekked there early one morning to see what all the fuss was about, and after ordering way more than we could ever eat, a regular customer warned him, "Watch out. You're going to get addicted to them." One bite of a crunchy apple fritter covered in thick white sugary glaze and, yup, I was hooked.

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