Clearwater Travel Plaza

Good donuts in a gas station?

Hear me out.

I guess the donuts from Nelson Bros. aren’t technically inside a gas station — rather, they’re next to it. But they’re in the same building, all part of the wonderfully fabulous Clearwater Travel Plaza. For many years, I’d driven past the Clearwater Travel Plaza without giving it a second thought. It’s right off of I-94 in Clearwater (hence the name), and is on the way to my family’s cabin. Yet it took me nearly 20 years of making that drive to Alexandria to finally realize just how much donut goodness was inside.

Before we dive into the donuts, I need to expand on the Clearwater Travel Plaza situation a bit. It’s one part traditional gas station, one part restaurant, one part arcade, and one part bakery. I can’t vouch for the restaurant, but I didn’t get a sandwich from the deli once (separate from the restaurant) and recall it being good. What I can definitely vouch for is the bakery.

The best thing about the bakery at the Clearwater Travel Plaza — Nelson Bros. Bakery — is the variety. Whether you like cake donuts (I do), raised donuts (not my speed), fritters (sure, why not), muffins, cookies, caramel rolls, and more, they’ve got it here. There’s truly something for everyone. My wife’s favorite pastries are ones with cinnamon. My son loves sprinkle donuts. I’m a cake donut fan myself. Nelson Bros. has all of those. They also make some gigantic-sized donuts and other pastries. Like, as big as your face. Because sometimes you just need a donut that doubles as a steering wheel.

On my most recent visit to the CTP (I don’t know if anyone’s calling it that, but I’m starting the acronym), I wanted to get a sampling of some of the donuts there. I went with my standard glazed old fashioned, plus a maple cake donut and an apple fritter. My son got his go-to of a sprinkle cake donuts, which he wouldn’t let me try. I told him I needed to taste it for the blog, but he doesn’t really get what a blog is, so no dice for dad. I tried some of my wife’s glazed fried cinnamon pastry, which was tasty.

The favorite thing I ate was the maple cake donut. A nice texture to the dough, and the right amount of maple frosting on top. The fritter was the runner-up of my three items. Sadly, the old fashioned was a bit disappointing. It was a tad dry and on the thinner side as far as old fashioneds go. Did I still eat it? Of course. It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t the best old fashioned I’ve ever had.

Needless to say, Clearwater Travel Plaza (or CPT if you prefer) is worth the stop if you’re driving on I-94 north of the Twin Cities. It just goes to show you that sometimes a donut hotspot is more than meets the eye.

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