Portland doesn’t need more point-of-view doughnuts. Auteur visions are everywhere, from Pip’s made-to-order, community-minded minis to Matta’s electric green pandan beauties. We just want them. Especially now. Dear god, especially now.
So, of course, we had to taste—and rank—everything at Fills, which opened downtown in mid-October. Quick conclusion: Portland’s charming donutland has a new destination – the first local shop to stake its reputation the Berliner school of doughnut thought.
The Berliner is known throughout Germany under different names (don't get us started). You may know it as a jelly donut – a German invention first recorded in the cookbook, Kuchenmeisterei (Mastery of the Kitchen) in 1485. Think fist-sized, yeast-raised, deep-fried bun hiding an ooze of jelly, custard, or sweet cream, its rounded surface glazed or sugared, and no holes allowed. That’s the classic definition and the jumping off point for Fills, a contemporary shop gambling all on quality ingredients, hand-formed doughnuts, and creative fillings.
So far, the more untraditional flavors rule. But even when playful, Fills doughnuts taste refined. Despite their ample size, they're neither heavy nor cloying, keeping sugar levels in check. The buns, made with a natural levain starter, are pillowy enough to sleep on. But fillings are the star here, seven options for now, plus seasonal specials and wild cards.
Ideas are forged in an unexpected think tank. At the helm: 30-year-old Los Angeles bakery alum Katherine Benvenuti, with her heaven-forbid-an-ingredient-comes-from-a-jar ethos, and veteran Portland chef Leather Storrs, the funny, freewheeling co-host of Cooked with Cannabis. Benvenuti, it should be noted, is currently crushing it at her new Bakery at Bar King.
“It’s important to do fun things,” says Storrs, formerly the chef of Noble Rot and the short-lived molecular cooking misfire, Rocket. “But deliciousness is more important. No cereal toppings for us. We like being seasonal; we like an evolving menu.”
Still, I’m most excited about Storrs' daring savory experiments. Like, hello pimento cheese Berliner. This might be a world’s first. Recently, Storrs busted out a mod chicken liver mousse Berliner, its exterior iced in fruity grape moustarda and fried onions. Bring it on! Also watch for breakfast eggs sandos made on a plain, sliced Berliner.
For weeks now, I've been test-driving Fills' collection, aided by two members of my quarantine house posse, Julien and Hannah. Here’s how they stacked up.
#1 Maple Bacon and Butterscotch
We were ready to rage-eat this Berliner and stick it with Voodoo Doughnut pins. Couldn’t the pandemic kill off the maple bacon thing? But wait … this is fantastic. We lunged at a second bite with such fury, I feared a knee injury. A powershot of deep, rich, smoky butterscotch custard greets you. Take note: This is true butterscotch, not butterscotch flavor—good butter, pan-browned in homemade caramel. Fills up the ante, deglazing the pan with single-malt scotch. Rising on top: a light wash of maple syrup, cream, and white chocolate. Turns out, bacon is not an obscenity here, but a garnish, a final exclamation point, an exhilarating little hammer of porkiness—sweet, smoky, salty, chewy. Call it the smoking jacket of donuts. We wanted to swirl it.
#2 Chocolate Hazelnut
Not the usual Nutella battering ram gut-bomb (which we love, make no mistake). Benvenuti aims for the elegant here, transforming the state's beloved nuts into a hazelnut praline paste, which gets whipped into a rich, creamy, earthy custard. For contrast on top: a fine dark Valrhona chocolate glaze embedded with roasted hazelnuts. It tastes like Oregon and Portland, what Julien calls “our lumbersexual donut.”
#3 Cheese Plate for One
This rotating series cleverly transforms the elements of a cliché, the cheese plate, into a Berliner, inside and out. A recent Spanish “plate” put the cheese inside (a great fluff of house-made manchego cream) and the fruit outside (Storrs' quince leather, made from local fruit, and torched to order, so it melted and clung to the surface. Dancing on top: Marcona almonds. It marched over the tongue like desire. Up next: fruit inside (roasted pear butter); cheese and nuts outside (burnt balsamic caramel glaze, gorgonzola, and walnuts).
#4 Pimento Cheese
Call it a genius bagel alternative—a sesame-coated Berliner chock full of whipped pimento cream cheese, a faint hot honey riding on top. Definitely has that Portland cult food vibe—weirdly wonderful. We'd like it even more if those sesame seeds were more darkly toasted into a force-field of crunch. A girl can hope.
#5 Masala Chai
Hard to argue with milky-brown pastry cream rippling with big, warm, pumpkin pie spice vibes. Especially when spilling—thick and creamily—from the center of a vanilla-sugar-clad donut. Fills taps local Soul Chai Masala to get the job done. “Holy hell,” snorted a friend via text.
#6 White Chocolate Passion Fruit
This is one tweak away from being an object of desire. The passionfruit white chocolate ganache pops, and the blizzard of housemade Tajín sugar on top adds a textural dimension—you literally hear the crunch on first bite. One quibble: Tajín, a Mexican seasoning blend, is prized for its burst of salt, chiles peppers, and lime, but the magic is muted here. Passionfruit and chiles are a killer combo. Add a heat ray and this Berliner wins gold.
#7 Boston Creme Pie
Everyone loves an eclair-like, chocolate-glazed, custard-filled doughnut—just ask the Dunkin’ people or Massachusetts, where Boston Cream Pie is the state donut. “It’s a necessary evil,” admits Storrs. Already at Fills, it's outselling other options by a mile. We like the addition of flaky salt spike on top (everything within Portland’s city limits, by law, must have a sprinkle of local Jacobsen Salt). Otherwise, this is a solid, well-balanced take, nothing more, nothing less.
#8 Cinnamon Apple
My favorite Berliner at Fills’ summer pop-up came on like an exalted jelly doughnut, plush with house roasted apricot jam. Sadly, no jam-filled options roam the menu right now. Benvenuti’s plan for local grape jam died with summer's wildfires. Standing in, for now: a big, bright, tangy intensity of apple butter, tasting somewhere between righteous applesauce and apple pie, thanks to two distinctive heirloom apples, Mountain Rose and Ashmead's Kernel. It may not drive you wild but it will surely make you smile.
1237 SW Washington St.
Wed-Sun, 8 a.m.-2 p.m.
Take-out only; masks required