I’ve been very fortunate to be able to start traveling again and visit new places after spending most of the past two years hunkered down in Brooklyn. Recently, I headed to Northern California and was able to make a stop at Donut Farm in Oakland, the East Bay’s premiere vegan donut shop.
Founded in 2006 by Josh Levine (a local legend known for founding the iconic punk venue 924 Gilman Street), the shop has grown over the past decade and a half from a daily wholesale business serving local eateries and coffee shops to a few brick and mortar locations of their own. The first official retail location opened in the SF Ferry Building in 2010 and a few years later they opened a spot in Oakland which has become the home of their Organic Vegan Donuts. There is also now a store in LA as well.
Arriving at the Oakland location, the giant sign out front gave off the feel of the stores punk ethos and roots (the font, in particular, reminded me of Sebadoh) and inside, you’re greeted with a DIY vibe. With racks, trays, and kitchen supplies galore, there is no hiding the magic and energy that goes into creating these treats. The store is very much down to business and wastes no time with fancy designs or decor.
Traditionally, Donut Farm is a vegan cake shop, but dabbles in yeast treats on the weekend. On my visit, I loaded up on a dozen selections ranging in flavors like Chocolate Cookie, Matcha Green Tea, Philz Coffee, BLM Blackberry, Maple, Salted Caramel, and Cinnamon Sugar. The round, petite, vegan options were bold and buzzing with flavor. The hardened frosting gave each bite a marvelous crunch and elevated the extreme, vibrant flavors to a new level. Each one packed a hefty punch that left you satisfied to the fullest extent. Perfectly chewy and moist, it was hard to pick a favorite, so instead I marveled at all that was in front of me.
It’s always hard to rank such vast varieties, but it does feel safe to say these are the best vegan donuts I’ve ever come across and my only disappointment was that I wasn’t able to try even more options.
Despite our love and passion for finding new, exciting donuts in and around New York City, it’s not often that we get to find and explore new opportunities together. This was a bit easier when we worked together, but ever since the pandemic hit and work changed, we mostly keep each other posted via texts. However, on a lovely Sunday afternoon in August, we were able to schedule a trip up to Beacon, NY to try Glazed Over Donuts, a place consistently ranked as one of the best in the Hudson Valley.
Situated along the bustling Main Street in Downtown Beacon, Glazed Over is a pretty popular spot (or at least it was on this particular Sunday) and it’s setup is pretty unique. Instead of being greeted with a usual menu or display case of options and flavors, Glazed Over does something pretty different.
Upon entering, you’re greeted by a bin of clipboards and pens so you can select your order and hand it over to the cashier when you’re ready to order and pay. It seems simple, but it’s a bit overwhelming, especially if it’s your first visit and you’re not prepared (a rookie mistake on our part).
With the exception of the “Donut of the Day,” everything from Glazed Over is made custom to order. On each clipboard, there is an order form to complete and select your options. Everything starts as a “naked donut” (which essentially means a plain vanilla cake donut) and you select a glaze, a topping and a drizzle.
Marc: I felt pretty unprepared here and the growing line behind us made me choose quickly, but I went for a chocolate glaze with pretzel toppings and a salted choc-caramel drizzle for one and a maple glaze with a graham cracker topping and no drizzle for my second. Jason, what about you?
Jason: Yes, I felt a lot of stress upon entering, and the order form didn’t help! It felt like we were about to play Yahtzee or Clue or something. And it took me a minute to see the “Donut of the Day” board, at which point I felt relieved! I also had my partner and child with me, and we eventually figured out that one family order form was better than three. We ended up with two “Donuts of the Day” plus a chocolate donut with Oreo topping and raspberry glaze.
Marc: We both generally favor the actual quality of the donut vs its general appearance. Overall – how’d you feel about the taste?
Jason: I was really into them, honestly. Being made to order adds a freshness that I’m not used to, and I thought they tasted great – a light donut with really high-quality toppings. I didn’t realize that they are smaller donuts though – not really “minis” but not full-size either – or I would have ordered more. Did you know they were on the smaller side?
Marc: I was also unaware, but luckily ordered two for just myself and felt ok. I think if the line hadn’t started to grow, I would’ve put a little more thought into mine, but for a first visit, I felt pretty satisfied. Plus, it’s a great excuse to go back now that we know the process.
Jason – 9/10, definitely worth a visit but maybe do a little pre-work or don’t be ashamed to step out of line to check the “Donut of the Day” and work on your order. Marc – 8/10, I got pretzels on my chocolate caramel donut and they were a little stale, but the freshness of the dough really made up for it.
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
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.
Donut selections from Rise in Wilton, CT
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.
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.
Last month, I hit the road to Cape Cod, which is now a bit of a late summer family tradition. While there, I always try to visit the Chatham Village Cafe and Bakery, which to me is the ultimate local, small-town donut destination. This year, it was a little different with social distancing, but I was so glad the bakery was still open. When I walked in, the first thing I saw was an employee walking from the kitchen to the front of the shop with a stack of fresh jelly donuts (“just made this morning”), and I knew it was going to be a great visit.
There’s just something about grabbing a donut (or maybe multiple donuts) and an iced coffee then sitting outside in the sunshine that is so perfect. This year, we even saw a couple (along with their dog and their cat) who we saw last year as well. When my daughter said hello, they mentioned that their dog Whitney whines in the morning until they go to the bakery. Amen, Whitney.
Jelly and Boston Cream donuts from Chatham Village Cafe and Bakery
This trip, we also tried a new place called Old King’s Coffeehouse in West Yarmouth, Massachusetts. A newcomer founded in 2019, Old King’s is much more than a donut shop, serving tons of breakfast and lunch items. But keep your eyes peeled for the donut case at the front counter, which has a daily selection of classic (Old Fashioned) and more modern (Maple Bacon) flavors.
Cinnamon Bun and Maple Bacon donuts from Old King’s Coffeehouse
Finding these local spots – especially in an otherwise sea of Dunkin’ Donuts in Massachusetts – is always such a joy. Support your local donut shops, my friends!
Let’s be honest, Cape Cod is known for lots of great food and as a native New Englander, my memories of visiting the Cape are mostly filled with lobster and clam chowder. Returning as an adult these days, it’s become quite apparent to me that local donut shops (that are specifically NOT Dunkin’ Donuts) are hard to come by the further you head out down the Cape. However, Hole in One Bakery is a local mini-chain (of sorts) that offers up some delicious baked goods and proves to be a solid option for donuts when in a pinch.
With a few locations up and down the Cape, I popped in to their Eastham joint just before closing to snag their remaining options for the day. This spot lands on the classic, old fashioned style donuts spectrum, but they do seem to have more crafty, artisanal options during the day that I was bummed to have missed. I went straight for their Cinnamon Sugar donut and it was delicious, old-time delight. Wonderfully chewy dough brought home the old school charm and it was beautifully dusted in a cinnamon sugar powder that enhanced every bite. Perfectly coated, excess powder never fell off the donut or covered my mouth, which is always a great highlight when enjoying this style. Their plain option was rather dry and not too flavorful, but would probably be best paired with a hot cup of coffee (not really my vibe). Even at the end of the day, the cinnamon sugar tasted amazingly fresh and was a perfect afternoon pick-me-up.
The local charm of the shop and ability to nail a classic was enough to satisfy me and leave me intrigued for future visits.
Last weekend, I was traveling for a family event and stopped off at Honey Dew Donuts in Mansfield, MA. I learned that it’s actually a chain (corporate and franchise) localized in New England, with 145 locations from Rhode Island to New Hampshire.
Honey Dew Donuts – Mansfield, MA
The idea of a “local chain” isn’t that common in the donut world anymore – while we have a few chains in NYC, most donut shops today are either ultra-local (single location) or national (Dunkin’, Krispy Kreme, etc.) – so it was cool to check out Honey Dew.
The Honey Dew experience felt like Dunkin’ with nice upgrades built in – the customer service was ultra-friendly and helpful and the donuts themselves were much higher quality. I wanted to try a bunch of different flavors, so I got a dozen, and I asked the employee helping me for recommendations. She was more than happy to assist, and reminded me that anyone getting a dozen donuts in Massachusetts better not forget a Boston Cream. And when their signature “Mansfield” donut was sold out, she gave us the last three donut hole versions instead.
I tried a bunch of flavors, and my favorites were the Chocolate Honey Dip, Blueberry Cake (I always try blueberry) and Cinnamon powdered. The first two reminded me of the Peter Pan/Donut Pub style (deep fried plus sweet glaze), but on the lighter side, while the Cinnamon was my favorite. It was super light and almost refreshing.
Overall, it was great to support a business like Honey Dew that has been going for so long and has had success with the multi-location regional model. I’ll definitely be back.