Top Donut – Lowell, MA

Over the past year, I’ve been pretty confined to New York City so branching out for new donuts has been a challenge. Jason has been great about getting out to places in the suburbs and neighboring towns in Connecticut, but I’ve stuck to mostly local places in Brooklyn. As the summer progresses and it feels a bit safer to travel, I’ve been lucky to spend a few weeks out of the city and explore new donut options in my home state of Massachusetts.

Top Donut (based in Lowell, MA) has a few locations in the surrounding area and is a wonderful, old school local brand that is full of minimal charm. This isn’t a craft-style shop, but one that feels more similar to the grab and go fashion of Dunkin. The flavors aren’t fancy, but rooted in classics. Wonderful glazed, powdered, and frosted options filled the shelves and the classic diner-style vibe of the shop made it feel very home-run and basic (in a good way). While I love the excitement and variety of my New York stores, the minimal and effortless vibes of Top Donut were a pleasant change of pace.

I opted for my classic suburbs order of a Boston Creme (a no-brainer in Massachusetts) and a chocolate cake donut with a butter-crunch coat. The Boston Creme was perfectly crispy and the cream was smooth and rich, but not too thick. The frosting was perfect and not over-powering as well making for the perfect balance of chocolate and custard. A top tier choice and one of the best I’ve had. The Chocolate Butter-Crunch was also stellar and perfectly proportioned. The cake donut itself was rich, moist, and full of flavor that was only enhanced by the nutty crunch on the outside. I also detected a hint of cinnamon which amplified the flavor. These two were a stellar combination that satisfied a craving and made for an overall excellent experience.

Score:
Boston Creme: 8/10
Chocolate Butter-Crunch: 8/10

International Donut Day – 2021

Image courtesy of Doughnut Plant

Happy International Donut Day! The first Friday of every June is always a fun day and gives me even more reason to splurge on my favorite treats. In the past, it was a day where Jason and I would order our weights in donuts to bring to our office for our amazing team at work. The past two years have felt a little different and while I still make sure to snag a few sweets myself, I miss the energy of walking into work with several dozen donuts and watching my co-workers gaze in amazement at all the assorted flavors.

It was always a great day that we’d always somehow forget to plan until the night before when we’d wildly place orders from our favorite spots around the city. In a remote work world, that joy has been missing, so today I’m going to share my favorite spots around the city that I hope to make more frequent trips to as the pandemic begins to come to an end.

Doughtnut Plant
The best in the city, in my opinion, for your go-to classic cake donuts. This place has been a staple since they opened their first spot back in 1994 and they continue to lead the way for NYC’s premiere donuts. Their yeast and creme brulee filled donuts are also not to miss and their unique sourdough donuts is a great option as well.

Dun-Well Doughnuts
This joint opened in East Williamsburg almost a decade ago and has been serving up some stunning vegan options ever since. Their daily menu doesn’t consist of as many wild flavors as they did in their early years, but you can’t go wrong with any of their usual options. You’d also never know they’re vegan if I hadn’t told you myself.

Doughnut Project
A new-comer to the Manhattan scene in the past few years, this spot has raised the bar on specialty, very Instagram-worthy donuts that taste just as good as they look. Often when a donut is glammed out, it can sacrifice the flavor in order for appearance, but Doughnut Project is the best of both worlds.

Fan-Fan Doughnuts
The best thing to come out of the Pandemic, donuts and probably otherwise, has been Fan-Fan opening up shop in the old Dough spot in Brooklyn. These unique flavors might be the best yeast options in the city and their rising popularity has earned them respect throughout the food scene in the city. Believe the hype on this one!

Donut Pub
It doesn’t get more classic than this spot. Open 24/7 on 14th Street in Manhattan, Donut Pub is the quintessential old-school place in the city. The countertop is perfect for a quick bite and their traditional flavors always knock it out of the park. The vibes here are unbeatable and the vintage New York charm never wears off.

Donut Wars: Battle of the Brooklyn Blackout

Dough’s Brooklyn Blackout (via Instagram)

After closing their doors before the pandemic hit, OG donut joint Dough finally re-opened in their hometown borough. Just a few blocks from their original location (now the home of Fan-Fan), the new location is a cute spot that has some old school charm with modern twists. Of course it’s hard to get the full picture of just what they envision for this location as COVID precautions still force them to only offer take away service for now, but the interior is still warm and inviting with a killer spot on Vanderbilt Ave. full of heavy foot traffic (especially with it blocked off to cars).

Along with the brand new storefront, they’ve introduced a special new donut to mark the occasion. The Brooklyn Blackout is a chocolate explosion and an absolute monster of a donut. Their traditional massive treat is made with chocolate dough and filled with a chocolate mousse that is ultra sweet and creamy. Think a jelly or Boston Creme, but pure chocolate overload. On top is a smooth chocolate frosting and chocolate crumbs to top it off. An overpowering and overwhelming sensation that is almost impossible to eat with just your bare hands.

However what’s most striking about the donut isn’t just its size and excessive features, but the direct comparison to another donut from longtime competitor Doughnut Plant.

Doughnut Plant’s Brooklyn Blackout (via Instagram)

For years, Dough and Doughnut Plant have been the reigning champs of the New York City donut scene. They seem to not only have the most consistent hold on locations throughout the city, but they also dominate the coffee shop and fine food scenes as well. For those who read this blog regularly, you should know that our devotion to the original blackout from Doughnut Plant has been a longtime favorite here, but there is a special history to Dough and the legacy of both these chains that make this saga feel extra compelling.

It seems a bit out of character to see Dough make a direct replica of Doughnut Plant’s long-term favorite. Everything down to the name itself is a direct copy. Dough’s donuts have always felt a bit intense for me, personally, and they’re always best split amongst friends or family as to get a variety of flavors vs one massive donut, so I appreciate and really value Doughnut Plant’s size and proportions.

Dough’s yeast version, while exciting, is probably best in small portions that can be shared vs the smaller, traditional option from their rival. For me, Doughnut Plant takes the cake on this one.

Score:
Doughnut Plant: 10/10
Dough: 7/10

Fan-Fan’s Chocolate Doughnut Festival

Rising sensation Fan-Fan Doughnuts in Bed-Stuy has been getting some very well deserved attention since opening this past fall and this week, they launched what they’ve billed is their first chocolate doughnut festival. Exclusively using Guittard Chocolate, the city’s best new donut shop crafted eighteen (18!) different donuts inspired from different countries and cuisines from around the world. Naturally, I couldn’t miss it. I even used a vacation day from work to be sure I could attend on the first day!

Fan-Fan always has some of the best artisanal flavors you’re sure to find in New York and their beasts of yeast are some of the best of their kind and they’re always topped with sensational toppings and flavors. Of course, the chocolate festival was no exception and perhaps spawned some of the best ones yet!

The line was already tens of people deep by the time I arrived around noon on Tuesday and anticipation was mounting. The shop is still take-out and delivery only and the majority of the space is reserved for making the donuts so capacity is extremely limited and given the insane variety of donuts, ordering was not speedy. However, the staff was sharp, patient, and more than willing to make suggestions on what to order all while providing a safe experience for those inside.

With such an overwhelming selection, I tried to slim down my order as much as possible, but was nevertheless blown away with my choices. France (chocolate eclair), Spain (churros and chocolate), Brazil (brigadeiro), United Kingdom (sticky toffee), and Argentina (alfajor) were all phenomenal and unique. The aroma upon opening the lid of the box was rich in cocoa and sweetness and it wafted with freshness. Everything was also still warm as I exited the shop. It’s a bit of a sensory overload to devour so much chocolate, but the spectrum of flavor was actually remarkable. While the presentation is stunning, perhaps the best in the city in my opinion, the taste is also out of this world. The vanilla dough was a perfect vessel for the toppings and they’re ever so slightly smaller than their Dough counterparts making the size just about perfect. Every bite was finger licking good as the chocolate melted onto my hands with each sticky, delicious bite.

Fan-Fan is the new shop on the block and pandemic story for the ages. To support a new, small business during such a difficult time is always exciting, but Fan-Fan makes the dream come true.

Pies ‘N’ Thighs – Butter Pecan Crunch

As I’ve mentioned before, living in New York City throughout the pandemic has forced me to be more resourceful when it comes to finding new donuts. Sure, the classic spots are slowly making their way back and finding ways to survive in this new normal, but getting to them all is still quite the challenge.

Scouring dessert menus and coffee shop offerings has been the best way to find new discoveries and Pies N’ Thighs, an excellent Williamsburg establishment since 2006, has one of the best unknown gems in the game. Well, maybe it’s not so unknown. New York (the magazine) has said “The best [old-fashioned donuts] are found at Pies-n-Thighs…They’re crisp-edged and properly dense, spiced with nutmeg, and sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. Buttermilk and sour cream give them a subtle tang, and, because Pies-n-Thighs partner Sarah Buck, in her delightfully quirky way, cuts the batter with a large biscuit ring, each one is about the size of a Texas grapefruit or maybe an undersize boccie ball—which, unlike big bagels, isn’t a bad thing in our book.”

Recently, I was able to snag their Butter Pecan Crunch Donut and was thoroughly satisfied with my choice. I hadn’t set out for a donut (for once), however when I remembered this was on the menu, I obviously had to get it. They also have glazed donut holes which are not to miss and great crowd pleasers if you need to share. The Butter Pecan is a raised, yeast donut and it was perfectly sweet with a subtle fried crunch which was amplified by the pecans that covered the treat. Being ever so slightly sticky gave it a sense of freshness and the crumb coating didn’t completely collapse as I began to devour the treat. Rich in flavor, but also texture, it was another excellent reminder that often the best time to eat a donut can be when you’re least expecting it.

Butter Pecan Crunch = 8/10

Four Horsemen – Maple Glaze

A few weeks ago, Jason sent me a DM on Instagram asking if I’d tried the donuts from a local restaurant’s post. To my surprise, not only had I not had these donuts from my own neighborhood, but I didn’t know the restaurant was serving them (this is a new addition to the menu post-COVID). Not only that, but the restaurant in question was Four Horsemen, a restaurant and wine bar that was opened by James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem while his band was on hiatus. It’s a place I’ve loved for a few years, but as a chic restaurant, not a donut spot.

I was immediately intrigued and made it my mission to try them the following weekend. Since donuts aren’t the main focus, the options are limited. There was only one flavor, a classic maple glazed, and they’re sold in packs of two or six.

While I still prefer cake donuts, these made-to-order yeast concoctions are no joke and the incredible freshness really separates them from the crowd. You can tell from the first bite that these are some of the freshest around and if you’re lucky to enjoy them while they’re still warm, it’s a bit of a game changer. They’re light and fluffy, with a very subtle crunch, and the maple glaze is perfectly balanced giving it a classic taste and flavor. Each donut has a pinch of sea salt on top to offset the sweetness of the maple and not let it become over powering. It’s a wonderful surprise and although it caught me a bit off guard on the first bite, it was soon the perfect match to the sugary goodness of the glaze.

It’s fun to find donuts in unsuspecting places and even better when one of your favorite bands is tied into the story. As fun as it is to hit up local donut spots and see their array of flavors, it is also a great surprise to see a donut as a dessert option on a menu or offered as a homemade treat at a coffee or espresso bar. Sometimes finding a donut when you least expect it has an even better reward. I was excited to learn about this glammed-up take on an old school classic and I look forward to the next time a donut appears by surprise.

Maple Glaze: 9/10

Royal Crown Bakery & Cafe – Nutella Donut

Royal Crown Bakery

As the pandemic continues to rage on, finding new donut shops has become challenging. It’s not as easy to get across the city and make safe journeys to new shops and try their treats as it once was and this has forced me to explore finding new donuts in unsuspecting locations. Recently, I stopped by a local coffee shop for a large iced coffee and was pleasantly surprised to see donuts in their pastry case. I am not a regular at this shop, but stop by from time to time if I happen to be on the block and this was my first time seeing donuts in the store. I asked the man behind the counter about the selection and he told me that they were from Royal Crown Bakery & Cafe in Staten Island. Naturally, I got one to go.

In the case was a rather basic looking chocolate sprinkled and one that appeared to having some kind of filling as well as some frosting, I was informed it was a Nutella donut and it was just as good as it sounded. Now, to be fair, it’s bit hard to properly judge this donut as I can only assume it was fresh, day-of, as the man behind the counter told me he was actually from Staten Island and picked them up on his way to work rather than getting wholesale delivery. Regardless, the donut was pretty good and it was exciting to actually find something new. On appearance, this was a plump, yeast donut with a slab of Nutella on top along with some powdered confectionary sugar (without the Nutella on top, it’d be easy to think this was a classic jelly donut). The texture itself was rather dry and was not as chewy as I had hoped, but the Nutella filling really brought it up a notch. This was filled to perfection and every bite had the perfect amount of that chocolate-hazelnut goodness that makes Nutella improve almost any dessert it touches. So much so that I had to question as to whether I was really enjoying the donut or if Nutella is just that good. I’m not sure this one was actually as good as it sounded, but it was still a nice surprise and satisfied not just my typical donut craving, but my longing for something new as well.

Doughnut Plant – Christmas Donuts

Doughnut Plant Christmas Donuts

As with so much else, holiday traditions looked slightly different this year. Typically, I try to get in the festive mood with seasonal treats from around the city, but that was not an easy task in 2020. Although I am still fortunate enough to have many options near me, paying visits to all of my favorite local shops before Christmas was still a challenge and I did not hit my deadline. However, the wonderful people at Doughnut Plant didn’t cut their festivities short based on calendars this year and I was still able to drop by and pick up some of their excellent Christmas-themed treats a few days after the special day.

Since I was already behind schedule, I did miss out on their Hanukkah treasures this year (one day I will finally try their epic Menorah donut and sufganiyot filled pastries) and I opted out of the Coconut Snowman since I’m generally not a fan of that flavor. Even with these exceptions, I was not disappointed and Doughnut Plant came through with a stellar selection. Every year I look forward to the Mint Christmas Tree donut so that was first on my list. Molded perfectly to shape, it has a mint green (in color and taste) outer shell (lined with little sugar-glazed lightbulbs) and is filled with a dark chocolate pudding much like their outstanding Brooklyn Blackout. Doughtnut Plant are masters of their craft when it comes to the interior of their donuts, and perhaps it’s the fact that it’s only available for a short time each year, but I always think this might be their absolute best in both appearance and taste. The year-long wait did not disappoint. Other seasonable favorites included a Cranberry (again, the inside has bits of actual cranberries in the dough) which has an incredible, vibrant glazed color and a Gingerbread which was the perfect replacement to my lack of cookies this year.

Even when everything about 2020 has felt so abnormal, it was great to still have Doughnut Plant serving up their traditional holiday classics to bring a sense of normalcy to the end of the year.

Dun-Well Doughnuts – Apple Crumb

Just before the official end of the season and with what seems to be the first winter storm on the horizon, I hit up Dun-Well Doughnuts and tried their Apple Crumb donut for one last taste of Fall.

Now technically, Winter doesn’t officially begin until December 21, so I am still a few days within season to enjoy a lovely Fall themed doughnut here in the North East. As we’ve written about previously, nothing quite captures Autumn like an Apple Cider donut and while that wasn’t on the menu at Dun-Well this past weekend, their Apple Crumb is nothing to shrug off. It doesn’t have the fried crunch and consistency of a cider donut nor is it coated in that lovely cinnamon sugar powder, but the flavor on this guy is just as pure and enticing as our other Fall favorites. With a sugary top, this creation is definitely more like a traditional crumb cake in texture and consistency and that is what, perhaps, makes it so great. It’s still the delicious and chewy texture like you can expect of any treat from these local vegan heroes, but there is a little something extra to it that gives off such subtle notes of your typical crumb cake that you can find all across the city. Once again, this donut is perfectly sweet and optimally flavored to not overpower or seem in any way fake. It’s a great way to add some variety to an already plentiful and abundant assortment of cider donuts one can find in the area and served as the perfect send-off to the season.

Score: 8/10

Fall favorites from Peter Pan

When Autumn hits full swing in the North East, I love to take trips out of the city to get a little break from the concrete and steel and enjoy nature. I love to partake in viewing the changing leaves, picking apples, getting lost in corn mazes, and hitting up farm stands for the freshest seasonal treats. It’s been a little more difficult to make casual trips this year, so when my cravings hit, I made my way to Peter Pan in Greenpoint to snag some local, Fall favorites.

I’ve mentioned several times, but Peter Pan’s classic, no frills approach is always part of their charm and when it comes to Fall favorites, this might be where they’re at their best. Classic flavors always line the shelves at the Greenpoint landmark such as Marble Crullers, Red Velvet, Boston Creme, traditional glazed, as well other frosted standards covered in sprinkles. Still, arriving in this time of year and seeing Pumpkin, Apple Cider, and Apple Fritter gives such a sugar rush of excitement.

Pumpkin and Apple Cider are two of their most basic donuts and in appearance, there isn’t anything all that special about them. However, it becomes clear upon first bite just how intoxicating these two creations can be and how flavor can really sum up the season. Apple Fritter isn’t as much a seasonal exclusive, but still fits right in with the overall vibe. The Pumpkin and Apple Cider are traditional cake donuts, deep fried, and covered in a sugary glaze. Each bite is intensely sweet, but not overpowering, and deeply satisfying. The fritter is a bit larger in overall volume with chunks of apples directly in the dough. The cinnamon sugar inside forming a perfectly gooey glob of goodness. As winter looms and global conditions spark concern, donuts are often my go-to distraction. A sweet relief, delicious distraction, and enjoyable escape. A perfect tasting to celebrate the season.