Randy's Doughnuts - Inglewood - Los Angeles, CA
I grew up in a doughnut town. As soon as I was capable of grasping a tiger tail, I relished trips to our local doughnut shop. Not just because the mixed aroma of weak coffee, fried dough and sugar was the next best thing to freshly baked chocolate chip cookies for a kid, but also because when my mom picked out a dozen doughnuts to take home for the day, I could sense the joyful gravity of this ritual.

Sunday doughnuts were a gift to all, an adult’s admission to her child that yes, bad foods taste good, and we all deserve a bite now and then. And in southern California, doughnut shops – invariably run by immigrants seeking a foothold in local business – were the American intersection of class and craft over Formica tables, pink cardboard boxes and small styrofoam cups. To my faithless eyes, the doughnut counter was a holy place, where people of all colors and car models shared five minutes of small talk as their fingers sauntered from one doughnut to the next.

Fresh Strawberry Raised Doughnut - Doughnut Plant - New York, NY
The newest wave of fancy doughnuts in this town attempts to elevate the doughnut to gourmet status. In the case of Doughnut Plant‘s raised doughnuts, this means plastering gummy, dried-out doughnuts with overwrought glazes. Their “fresh strawberry” is nice enough as a frosting, but in a New York minute it’s revealed as little more than sugar shock. Biting into this one feels like eating a doughnut straight out of an episode of The Simpsons.

Toasted Sesame Raised Doughnut - Doughnut Plant - New York, NY
The toasted sesame glaze has a more distinctive flavor, but its accompanying doughnut is still clunky, with no spring to its texture and a marked lack of fluffiness. Doughnut Plant’s raised doughnuts exemplify why I used to avoid raised doughnuts altogether, and no measure of inventive topping or filling will change that fact when I’m paying $2-$3 a pop.

Oatmeal Cake Doughnut - Doughnut Plant - New York, NY
Cake doughnuts, however, are Doughnut Plant’s strong suit, and this oatmeal cake is a marvel. Balancing sweet, toasted, nutty and fruity flavors, it’s also texturally complex; between the bits of toasted oat, salt-inflected crust, and morsels of fruit baked into the dough, it’s nothing short of a baker’s masterpiece.

In gaining my respect, Doughnut Plant loses my loyalty. Its best cakes – the chocolate “blackout,” the tres leches, and the creme brulee – stray just far enough from what I connect to as the American doughnut to make me feel awkward using the word “doughnut” to describe them. I like cake, but I have no use for ring-shaped cakes with a doughnut hook when what I really want is a box of crusty old-fashioneds, a mug of coffee, and a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Doughnut Grease Ring - Dough - Bed-Stuy - Brooklyn, NY
Brooklyn’s Dough makes a much better case for the fancy doughnut. No less gourmet than Doughnut Plant, the $2 raised doughnuts at Dough carry themselves with the same decadent vibe, as evidenced by the ring of grease that turned this sheet of waxed paper into my window to weight gain.

Hibiscus Raised Doughnut - Dough - Bed-Stuy - Brooklyn, NY
One bite into Dough’s hibiscus raised doughnut reveals something fundamentally different. Far from re-branded cake or dressed-up mediocrity, it’s truly a yeast doughnut on another level: moist yet fluffy, with an almost crisp exterior and just enough spring to make each bite last until it melts onto the tongue. The hibiscus frosting has a bright, fruity flavor that starts with a tart punch, then offers a brief brush of sweetness before receding perfectly into the wonderful, familiar flavor of fried, yeast-raised dough.

Lemon Poppyseed Raised Doughnut - Dough - Bed-Stuy - Brooklyn, NY
Likewise, Dough’s lemon poppy is a pronounced twist on a traditional glazed raised. Not as in-your-face-fruity as the hibiscus doughnut, but essentially following the same approach, its tart lemon flavor rides a wave of sugar with a sense of restraint. The proportion of glaze to doughnut ultimately emphasizes the doughnut, not the glaze, and this substantial tire of a doughnut is good enough on its own for this approach to be a winner.

Chocolate Earl Grey Raised Doughnut - Dough - Bed-Stuy - Brooklyn, NY
Dough’s chocolate earl grey drapes a hefty coat of milk chocolate frosting on top of an already hefty doughnut, making this one impossible to imagine as a morning ritual. Still, it’s suitably luscious as a midday dessert. A brush of aromatic earl grey is present in the frosting on its own, but once it merges with the doughnut, subtleties vanish and it becomes an oversized paean to the chocolate frosted rings I would eye from across the counter as a kid.

Doughnut Holes - Dough - Bed-Stuy - Brooklyn, NY
Dough’s doughnut holes are the best option for those looking to take the greasy edge off of the full-sized rings. Like a good batch of homemade hush puppies, they’re pleasingly irregular, and one of Dough’s homages to the doughnut’s simplicity. Paying $1.00 for four of these might stab at my strip-mall-raised heart, but in a doughnut shop with this much character, I’m more than happy to point at the basket and add a few to my order.

I don’t doubt that fancy doughnuts can be incredibly delicious, but my favorite doughnuts – fancy or not – are still the ones that inspire a sense of common uplift. When things come full fried circle, I’ll remember the doughnuts that elevate not the dough, but the customer – just as they did, dozens at a time, on the shelves of my own Americana.

Doughnut Plant
220 West 23rd St.
New York, NY 10011
305 Franklin Ave.
Brooklyn, NY 11205
kathryn April 26, 2011 at 11:04 am

Theory: a town can be a doughnut town or a bagel town but not both.

I thought while Dough’s doughnuts had a better texture than Doughnut Plant’s yeast-raised doughnuts, they were awfully big and heavy. I could eat about 1/2 before not waiting any more. Way too sweet. I don’t feel the same way about Peter Pan, though.

James Boo April 26, 2011 at 11:20 am

Peter Pan is another story entirely… those are doughnuts that never die :)

I couldn’t eat more than one of Dough’s doughnuts at a time, but I thought that their intensity was well executed – like doughnut as seductive, deep-fried pastry. Because the doughnuts were so big, the glazes never overstayed their welcome.

James Boo April 26, 2011 at 11:23 am

Speaking of too sweet, why aren’t there any old fashioned or buttermilk doughnuts popping up alongside the fancy raised and cake doughnuts? Do people really not like plain, buttery, double-crusted doughnuts? I get the feeling doughnut plant could make a serious sour cream if they wanted.

hungry April 26, 2011 at 2:07 pm

This is awesome. I’m adding Dough to my soon to come Doughnut Trail.

Sorry, this might be a dumb question but: what do you think about spelling doughnut as donut?

James Boo April 26, 2011 at 2:12 pm

I’m not that much of a quaker :) Doughnut, donut… it’s all good!

Amy Mills April 26, 2011 at 2:48 pm

Love love! I was so hopeful when we entered … and then UGH — at least for the strawberry & toasted sesame varieties. I’ll have to try DOUGH the next time I’m in town!

James Boo April 26, 2011 at 3:25 pm

Kathryn does have a good point, Amy – Dough’s doughnut is still pretty over-the-top (I just happen to think it hits that mark better), so your best bet for truly great doughnuts is probably still a visit to Peter Pan :]

Noah April 26, 2011 at 4:32 pm

I propose a one Simpson’s quote minimum in food blog posts for all eternity. James, I’m sure you’ll agree that this is a perfectly cromulent idea.

I like Dough, but Kathryn is right– they’re a little heavy. Also, some flavors are better than others. I particularly like the dulche de leche and lemon poppyseed.

Peter Pan might be my favorite though. That sour cream donut left me speechless. Has anyone tried the potato donuts at Wonder City, i.e. Brindle Room? When fresh fried, they’re very close.

James Boo April 26, 2011 at 4:50 pm

You, say something heavy? That’s unpossible!

Peter Pan’s sour cream is one of my top three doughnuts of all time. Are the Brindle Room doughnuts anything like Shopsin’s fresh breakfast doughnuts? Since you say potato, I’m guessing no, but I’m starting to look forward to a burger + doughnut outing…

kathryn April 27, 2011 at 12:22 am

Balthazar has sour cream waffles, more sour cream doughnuts sounds good to me.

BTW, the strawberry CAKE doughnut at Doughnut Plant is great.

Rodzilla May 4, 2011 at 9:53 am

I’ve always had sort of a vendetta against Mark Isreal after watching his weird ass behavior on Throwdown. Nice to see a legitimate review of the offerings.

Kris May 7, 2011 at 3:02 pm

I read this blog it’s a joke LOL!!!! Comparing Dough to Doughnutplant is like comparing Prada jeans to wrangler jeans, are you kidding me!!
First off Doughnut Plant’s doughut are by far much better in texture, taste, and style than Dough, Peter Pan and who ever else out there put together.

If you really know food, which it is quite obvious you don’t , you would realize and notice that the quality of Dougnut Plant is on a differnt level peope in the food biz are able to identify this. I’ve been trying doughnuts, cupcakes, and cookies around the city for 10 years, and work for a well know company within the food industry and to this day nothing compares to the Doughnut plant when it comes to Doughnuts and thats why I stand behind them.

And the proof is in the busy lines always and just go to yelp an see all the great ratings, and Food Network blah blah.
This website should be rating dunking doughnuts cause you palate is obvisouly not refined.
Another thing who want’s to go to Clinton Hill for Doughnuts or Peter Pan 1hour away, it’s a gheto! LOL
I tried Dough and the doughnuts are crap! It’s a big ball of greas and dough, I coudlnt get pass the texture and the eggy taste! You could also tell the flour and oil there using is crap, this is not the case with Doughnut Plant.
Anyway everyone has an opinion, I would say the majority doesn’t agree with yours! The only thing I would say doughnutplant could improve on his offering alternatives to vegans, and diabetics!

James Boo May 7, 2011 at 3:45 pm

Kris, judgments on taste are a tall order coming from someone who calls Greenpoint a “gheto,” uses Food Network coverage and busy lines as “proof” of anything, and suggests that the price difference between Prada jeans and Wrangler jeans is a valid metric of quality.

But congrats on setting the record for most exclamation points per sentence in any comment left on this blog! Clearly, you know something about expressing an opinion that I don’t.

foodocument June 27, 2011 at 1:14 pm

I second third and fourth peter pan. Plus they have the Ice cream donut sandwich! Slice those bad boys in half like a bagel and stuff with icecream. They’ll even add bacon if you flirt with the polish girls.

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