Yes, Dottie's Doughnuts Are To Die For, But So Is Her Diner Fare

I went for the doughnuts, but like so many dining adventures, I have become hooked on the rest of the menu.

That's the effect Dorothy Sperry's food at her 1950's inspired Dottie's Diner in Woodbury and Dottie's 2 in Waterbury seems to have.

Sperry, who owns the two restaurants with her husband Ken, has become famous for her incredible doughnuts, those made-from-scratch mounds of gently fried, cake-like batter with real toppings including spicy cinnamon, semi-sweet chocolate and lip-smacking powdered sugar.

These are not your drive-through-window, mass-produced morning sweets, but rather the carefully prepared confections reminiscent of a time when weekends included a stop at the local bakery for a dozen fresh off the bakery rack.

These doughnuts, which easily become an obsession, have been featured in more books about diners and restaurants than can be mentioned here, have racked up dozens of "best of" awards in magazines and online lists, including CTNow's 2014 "Best Of" list, Connecticut Magazine's "Best of" 2014, and as the grand-prize winner on Food Network's "Donut Showdown" show.

But doughnut making is just one of Sperry's strengths in the kitchen. Among the restaurant offerings are other award-winning creations, such as her doughnut bread pudding, chicken pot pie and meat loaf, all of which have been showcased as "best" in a variety of publications and by a variety of food critics, including the well-known culinary couple Michael and Jane Stern.

"I do like to cook, and a lot of the recipes are family recipes," says the personable Sperry, whose exuberance seems to be one of the secret ingredients her dishes.

But Sperry is no apron-clad, short order cook who just happens to like the kitchen. She and her husband come with some fierce professional pedigree.

Sperry was the restaurant manager at Washington's tony Mayflower Inn for many years, and her husband held several positions there as well, including head of human resources.

"I wanted my own place, a place with really good food that was affordable and that I could be proud of," says Sperry. "It can be done."

The Woodbury location is in the landmark Phillips Diner space. Sperry was quick to add her own menu items to the Route 6 location eatery when she and her husband bought the place eight years ago, gradually integrating her own dishes that have become signature menu items. Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, Sperry has given customers a reason to come other than the doughnuts.

For breakfast, the "must haves" include her buttermilk pancakes.

"We do not use any pre-prepared mixes," says Sperry, whose pancakes are with flour, buttermilk, seasoning and a brown sugar that gives them an exotic sweetness.

On one visit, breakfast includes the weekend "wrap" special, a whole wheat wrap filled with fresh-from-the- garden vegetables, home fries, egg and Nodine's smokehouse bacon, while on another, it was picture perfect eggs Benedict with spinach, tomato and smoked salmon.

"I use clean pans, not the grill," says Sperry. "Cooking the eggs in their own pans make them taste better."

Lunch menu items include grilled chicken pesto on a croissant and a fresh veggie wrap stuffed with avocado, sprouts, cucumber, carrots, tomato and spinach.

Her discriminating culinary roots are most evident when it comes to dinner. Dinner offerings during the week at the Woodbury location are a mix of wonderful, tasteful comfort food and dishes you might more likely find on a high-end restaurant menu, including two kinds of chicken pot pie: the original Phillips Diner version featuring only chicken; and Sperry's version with chicken and vegetables and served with mashed potatoes and gravy.

Feeling more sophisticated? There is the pan-seared salmon or trout, shrimp fra diavolo, grilled hanger steak and veal parmesan, all artfully presented.

Like any good diner, there are milk shakes, ice cream floats and the bottomless mug of coffee, as well as the more trendy latte, espresso and cappuccino.

Dessert? Well, there are always those doughnuts (I know, I know, but they are so good that thousands are made each day), but check the pie board ( and then try to choose just one).