When I moved to Hamilton a few years back, I started my first job in the city tucked into a north Hamilton neighbourhood in between John and James Streets north. Contrary to what some people may think, Hamilton’s North End is a wonderful little pocket with a strong and proud community. You can even see some North Enders sporting T-shirts that say “The North End. Hamilton’s best kept secret.”
And it’s true! The neighbourhoods have that characteristic lower city Hamilton charm. They’ve got old Victorian homes that hug the bay and waterfront. There’s easy access to some great hidden Hamilton treasures, like the Bayfront Trail, the outdoor ice-rink at Pier 4, Hutch’s Harbour Front, Hamilton Harbour Queen Boat Tour, The Harbour Diner and Grandad’s Donuts, a fine donut establishment I was fortunate enough to have stumbled across.
The particular Grandad’s I refer to is the one located on the corner of Burlington Street east and James Street north kitty corner from the Port Authority. It is a true North Hamilton staple -just ask anyone who lives in the neighbourhood. On any given day you’ll likely see a crew of construction workers lined up getting their early morning or late afternoon Grandad’s fix. Or you might see the usual crowd of friendly north end regulars teasing and joking around with one another at the donut counter over their coffees and delicious donut treats.
Their donuts, unlike most donut chains these days, are made fresh daily from scratch right in the Grandad’s kitchen. Specialty donuts like the Ghostbuster -think éclaire meets Boston cream, never cease to blow my mind. With its light and slightly crisp donuty exterior and its soft and smooth melty-whipped fresh cream interior, dipped into a bath of chocolate goodness -it’s no wonder that I can never resist getting just one whenever I’m in the neighbourhood.
With its 70’s rusty orange decor, yellow booths, and a counter top you can cozy up to the with old-school bolted-to-the-ground stools, its retro familiarity reminds me of donut shops from when I was growing up as a kid.
Grandad’s even has those classic fountain juices; peach and lemonade that flow from an eternal waterfall of fruit juiciness within their glossy clear plastic viewing containers.
To be honest I have a soft spot for this place not just because their donuts are the best donuts in the city, but also because I’m somewhat sentimental for nostalgic places like this one, and these days I find places like this are becoming harder to come by. When you can sit at a counter, whether a stranger of not, order your coffee and chat with the people sitting next to you and the friendly staff, you know you’ve got something special.
Although I no longer work in the North End, I do on occasion feel the need to satisfy a craving for a Grandad’s donut and coffee. I’ll find myself willing to make the trek by bike or on foot and without skipping a beat it’s like I never left the neighbourhood.
Grandad’s Donuts could very well be Hamilton’s best-kept secret. Hamiltonians be proud of another original homegrown Hamilton donut fixture. If you have yet to check out this gem it is most certainly worth a trip to the North End. Buy a dozen and grab a coffee. You won’t regret it, and you will surely be greeted with a warm hello and welcome from staff and customers alike.
You find the extended and beautifully edited article here in the Hamilton Spectator!
* Grandad’s Donuts, 574 James Street north