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

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.

More Cape Cod donuts

Chatham Village Cafe and Bakery

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.

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.

Old King’s Coffeehouse
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!

Cover image credit: Chatham Village Cafe and Bakery Facebook page

Hole in One Bakery – Cape Cod, MA

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.

Road trip: Honey Dew Donuts – Mansfield, MA

Honey Dew Donuts

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.

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.