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

Rise Doughnuts – Wilton, CT

Rise box

It’s been just over a year since Rise opened, so it’s about time that I wrote about them! Rise has become nothing short of a phenomenon – opened during the pandemic in a schoolhouse turned restaurant turned donut shop, Rise has captured the attention of both Wilton residents and donut fans all over the Northeast US.

The origin story of Rise is an interesting one – chef Hugh Mangum, along with his partner and children, started and run the business together. Mangum is famous for his other-than-donut culinary work – he’s the founder of Mighty Quinn’s BBQ and has appeared all over Food Network as a Chopped competitor and regular judge on Beat Bobby Flay. Rise began as an at-home experiment with sourdough starter, then transitioned to a Sunday pop-up at Parlor in Wilton, then to a temporary home at The Schoolhouse at Cannondale on weekends, and soon will move to its own dedicated space, still in Wilton.

And the donuts are quite the experience. I’ve been lucky enough to visit Rise three times since they opened, and the 45-minute trek from the NYC suburbs to Wilton has been worth it every time. At the Schoolhouse, Rise has only been open Friday nights and Saturday and Sunday mornings, and only until they sell out. So getting there at open is pretty key, and there is always a line waiting, even when I’ve arrived 10-15 minutes early.

Rise donuts are yeast-based, and just full of flavor. What always catches my attention are the icings, fillings and flavorings because they truly reflect great culinary skill and always pop. Rise also produces an apple fritter, which they sometimes pivot to other fruits like roasted pineapple and peach. I tend to focus on the donuts, I think because I’m spoiled by the apple fritter from MAD Donuts and have trouble accepting others. Donut snob, I know.

These are some of the great donut flavors I’ve tried in my visits to Rise:

Brown butter vanilla bean – A Rise staple, it’s a perfect glazed donut. Light, not too sweet and full of vanilla flavor. You’re fine just getting a bunch of these.

Aztec cinnamon – This is my favorite Rise donut, also a staple of the menu. It’s like a jacked up cinnamon sugar, wildly intense in flavor with crunchy cinnamon bits on top. Others have said the flavor is too strong, but I love it (I learned from this article that they add a touch of cayenne for balance and kick). Definitely at least give it a try.

Dark chocolate sea salt – Maybe the perfect chocolate donut? I am saying perfect a lot, but I think they’ve done it. I usually find chocolate iced donuts way too sweet, and even though I relished them as a kid, I tend to avoid them as an adult. But the mix of dark chocolate and savory sea salt delivers a great balance here. Goes great with cold brew. If you are skeptical about chocolate donuts, give it a try; and if you love them, this should impress.

Boston cream – OK, this is not my jam but everyone I know loves it. Rise takes a unique approach to this classic, using their vanilla whipped cream as the filling instead of the traditional custard. My family adores this donut, and I’ve heard other great feedback about it, so I am a supporter. It takes a lot for me to vouch for a filled donut.

Blood orange – I’m often wary of citrus anything, but I really liked this seasonal menu item. The icing was really bright and flavorful, and cut through the other sweetness. This flavor is not always available, but I really enjoyed it and generally recommend their fruit glazes.

Roasted blackberry – I begged the team at Rise to feature this on a Sunday (when I tend to visit, but the menu is usually more limited compared to Saturdays), and when they did, I made the trip to check it out. I wasn’t disappointed. Like the blood orange, the blackberry was fresh, biting and delicious. I could have gone for a little more intensity in flavor, but I’m still all-in on any of their fruit options.

The “rise” of Rise Doughnuts has been a great story for so many reasons – it’s a business built during the pandemic, a true family business bringing together parents and kids, and proof that craft donuts can be successful outside of big cities. It also has an interesting “cult” following – Rise has no website and for a long time didn’t even appear on Google Maps – it exists almost exclusively on Instagram. In this GMA video, Mangum said, “people want to be the ones that discovered their favorite band.”

I highly recommend checking out Rise if you are in the area or can make the trip. They are currently open Friday nights, Saturdays and Sundays until they sell out, and soon will be moving to their new location at 28 Center Street in the heart of downtown Wilton.

#FritterFriday #RiseTribe

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.

MAD Donuts pop-up last weekend

MAD Donuts

Last Sunday, I was excited to hop in the car and drive up to North Salem, NY for the latest donut pop-up by MAD Donuts, White Plains’ own artisanal donut specialist. We’ve written about MAD Donuts before, and it’s exciting to see owner Matt scheduling these pop-ups.

Matt truly is a special talent – his yeast donuts are always light and airy, and his toppings and fillings well-balanced, flavorful and never too intensely sweet. Also, his apple fritter remains the best I’ve ever had, despite some good competition here in the NYC area.

For this trip, I pre-ordered the pop-up five-pack, which included one each of these donuts – matcha white chocolate, hot chocolate, vanilla bean glazed and Bailey’s filled, plus one apple fritter. It was fun to try each of them and to share them with my family.

Starting with the apple fritter, it continues to impress every time I have one. I’ve realized that a good fruit fritter for me is defined by two factors – whether I primarily taste dough or filling, and the quality of the filling itself. With Matt’s fritter, I always taste apple, not just deep-fried dough, which I like. With some other fritters, I have to fight through bites of dough to finally discover the filling. And the filling itself is always outstanding – intense apple flavor that’s not overwhelmingly sweet and is very clearly homemade.

The rest of the box was also strong – Matt’s vanilla glaze is a study in delicious simplicity, basically a perfect donut. The hot chocolate donut was interesting and balanced – bittersweet chocolate icing studded with mini marshmallows and a dollop of marshmallow fluff that my daughter took care of before I could try it. My wife was excited about the Bailey’s filled donut and I knew it was good when there was only one bite left for me. It delivered with a smooth, flavorful filling and great visual appeal with chocolate curls scattered on top. The only miss for me was the matcha white chocolate, maybe because I’m not a big fan of either flavor. But I admire Matt trying new things.

It was great to have MAD Donuts again and I’m really happy Matt is back after a really tough year. He is great at what he does, and it’s important for us to have local bakers sharing their creativity with others, and especially outside NYC. MAD Donuts has an upcoming schedule of pop-ups – keep an eye on Instagram and their website for the latest dates and locations.

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

Uncle Leo’s Not Just Coffee and Donuts – Wilton, CT

Uncle Leo's

Alert! Alert! Donut Club has officially been taken over by an amateur donut reviewer. Hi everyone! My name is Diane and I’m a big fan of Marc & Jason’s work here. I recently visited Uncle Leo’s Not Just Coffee and Donuts in Wilton, CT and wanted to share a quick review.

Uncle Leo’s has two locations in CT – one in Redding and one in Wilton. Since the one in Wilton was closer to me, I took a quick trip over to see if this was a hidden donut gem. It was quick and easy to get to from Stamford, CT – my hometown. Given their name, I should’ve realized Uncle Leo’s would offer far more than just donuts. I’d classify it more as a traditional deli that just so happens to also sell donuts versus a donut shop that offers other items. After reviewing the menu and since I hadn’t eaten breakfast yet, I decided to order a bacon, egg, and (swiss) cheese on a toasted english muffin, with a coffee, and of course, 1/2 dozen donuts.

Uncle Leo’s offers both cake and yeast donuts. As a cake donut lover, I got a few more cake donuts than yeast. Of the cake variety, I opted for a traditional chocolate glazed, a red velvet glazed, a red velvet glazed with cream cheese frosting, and a traditional blueberry glazed. From the yeast variety, I ordered a traditional glazed and a black raspberry jelly. My eyes also landed on a coffee crumb cake in their glass case, which I had to have too!

Here’s how I’d break things down:

  • BEC & Coffee – Solid 9/10
  • Coffee Cake – 5/10
  • Chocolate Glazed Cake – 5/10
  • Blueberry Glazed Cake – 7/10
  • Red Velvet Glazed Cake – 5.5/10
  • Red Velvet Glazed with frosting Cake – 6/10
  • Black Raspberry Jelly Yeast – 8/10
  • Classic Glazed Yeast – 8.8/10

Overall, I think Uncle Leo’s is a better deli than it is a donut shop. Some might argue it’s hard to mess up a BEC, but I’ve had some bad ones, and I appreciate it when it’s made exactly as I ordered it (well done bacon, well toasted, well done egg). I’m also a bit finicky when it comes to other people putting half & half in my coffee because it’s rare for somebody to make it exactly as I would – but Uncle Leo’s did not disappoint! It was perfect.

I’m not sure if the cake donuts were made that day, but I rated them lower because they were pretty dry inside. Good glaze, but pretty dry nonetheless. That being said, the yeast donuts really surprised me! They were light and fluffy and simply delicious. I couldn’t get enough. I’m also not a big jelly lover, but the black raspberry jam was bomb. The coffee cake also seemed a bit dry and let me down.

Overall, if you’re ever in the area, I definitely suggest popping in for breakfast or lunch, with a side of some delicious yeast donuts! The staff working in Uncle Leo’s were also very accommodating and lovely to talk to.

Well, that’s all folks! Thank you for letting me jump in and share my first official donut review. Until next time – D4 is out!

Galloway’s Bakery – Scarsdale, NY

Galloway's banner

I probably should have reviewed Galloway’s a long time ago considering how close it is to where I live in the NYC suburbs of Westchester County. Better late than never I guess, so I headed to Galloway’s this past weekend and had a great experience.

Galloway’s Bakery has a great history, starting in the Westchester town of Bronxville originally as luncheonette, then moving north to Hartsdale to become a bakery only, then finally moving to its current location in Scarsdale, NY. Galloway’s is in its third generation of family ownership, now owned by Shannon Galloway.

Galloway’s is like so many of the small business donut shops we review here – they are doing their best to make things work during the pandemic. Being an SMB is tough enough, then add the need to keep employees, customers, and – in this case – family members safe, and things can get really challenging. The good news is that Galloway’s seems very supported by the community, sometimes with customers waiting outside to get in.

I visited pretty early on a Saturday, so I only had to wait for a minute outside before heading inside, where I was met with shelves and display cases of all kinds of baked goods. I was pretty overwhelmed (in a good way), so when the employee behind the counter asked how she could help, I just blurted out, “Do you have donuts?!” Obviously that’s why I was there, so I started sweating a bit behind my mask. But the employee was super kind and offered to make me a six-donut sampler box, to which I enthusiastically agreed.

Once I saw the hand-tied white cardboard box, I knew I was in good shape. The sampler included an Old Fashioned, Cinnamon Old Fashioned, Cinnamon Sugar, Glazed, Jelly and Powdered Jelly. Galloway’s is known for its jelly donuts and I could see why – the filling is super unique, very balanced and not too sweet. I tried to figure out what’s in it (currants?) but no luck. Cinnamon Sugar and Glazed were my next favorites – both were light and airy, just how I like them. I’m normally not an Old Fashioned superfan, but the cinnamon version was pretty great. I swear I tasted some “fall flavors” other than just cinnamon in the dusting, but my family said I was crazy.

I’m glad I finally tried Galloway’s and really enjoyed my donut box. Next time, I hope to be less of a deer in headlights and see what else might be worth trying. I’ll definitely be getting the donuts again.

Side story – while I was waiting for my donut box, another customer came in and had a specific request – a vanilla cake with chocolate frosting. The employee helping her checked with the baking team and while they had the cake, it wasn’t frosted. They agreed to frost the cake while the customer waited – customer service and kindness that made an impression on me.

Galloway’s Bakery is currently open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and is cash only. You can follow them on Instagram.

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.