Does it make me a weirdo that I absolutely love mornings? Okay, maybe not all mornings, like today when I woke up to my obnoxious phone alarm in the middle of a deep, deeeep sleep – the kind that has been eluding me for over two weeks now and that I embraced way too zealously for a mid-week workday – but in general, I would describe myself as a morning person. I love the possibilities of a new day. I love waking up refreshed and languorously lazy, to a clean house and bare feet on hardwood floors, wrapped in cozy blankets burning candles to The Kinks. I love sleeping in on Sundays, watching the light come in through the curtains of my bedroom window before making a steaming pot of french press coffee with cream and sugar, before the rest of the world has awoken.
I’ll grab a book and flip through the pages; fully rested with a clear head and a calm heart, I am able to enjoy a few chapters before getting dressed in my leggings-and-something-comfy weekend uniform to start the day.
The only thing that could make these magical moments even more wonderful, besides brunch and flowers and infinite pots of coffee, is my all time biggest weakness: donuts.
I am obsessed with them. They are probably my most favorite delectable treat, so photograph-able, a cake disguised as a breakfast food, masking frosting with blueberries and breakfasty names like “coffee cake donut” and “apple crueller.”
Being in New York City means that there is never a shortage of food options, and donut delights are no exception. Whatever your mood, whatever your fancy, you’ll likely find it somewhere in the concrete jungle, beckoning you with its sweet sugar glazes, neon colored pink frosting and rainbow sprinkles, or creme-stuffed, crumb-topped deliciousness.
After much dedication, research, and weekend wanderings with fellow donut lovers (aka twenty-something girls with Instagram accounts), I’m proud to present my review of five of the most popular donut outposts in the city; but as any good scholar will acknowledge, my scope (and time and calories and budget) is limited, so there are myriad options to explore that I haven’t yet been to and so of course, won’t be mentioned. That being said, I’m pretty confident in the final breakdown – and I saved the best for last. If I missed a real gem or if you have any suggestions – feel free to post in the comments! My heart (and stomach, but probably not my waistline) will thank you.
5. The Doughnut Plant (Chelsea) – 220 W 23rd St, New York, NY 10011
I’d heard so many good things about the unique flavors and sheer variety of donuts at The Doughnut Plant that when my brother – a fellow admirer of the art of dough – was in town for a visit, we decided to make a special trip down to Chelsea from Astoria to pick up a dozen to enjoy over the weekend. When I say variety, I mean it – you can choose from yeast, cake or filled; square or round; full-sized or miniature. With flavors like matcha green tea, chocolate chip cookie with pecans, peanut butter banana, black and white, coffee cake, Brooklyn blackout, and pistachio (to literally name just a few) the options were endless. We were particularly excited to try their specialty seasonal flavors, including pumpkin spice (obviously) with pepitas and Candy Corn.
Delightfully delectable? …..not so much.
I don’t know if the biggest turnoff was the literal interpretation of candy “corn” and the resulting unsweetened, goopy, thick, corn-flavored pudding inside, or the sickeningly sweet glaze crusted onto stale dough.
We both tried to hide our disappointment for fear of offending the other and ruining the experience, so we just smiled, and said our “mmm, good!’s” and optimistically looked forward to trying a couple of other flavors. Each one led us to the same conclusion: Disappointment!
The peanut butter and banana was literally dough stuffed with unsweetened peanut butter and banana mush. It tasted like a sandwich. The pumpkin, again, was literally just pumpkin – nothing that made it particularly tasty or noteworthy. We recruited others in our judgment – the look of politeness and the strained swallowing said it all. We tried every flavor, but we didn’t even finish the dozen over the course of three days and three mouths. There is something seriously wrong with a person who turns down – or worse, doesn’t like – donuts! In this case, it wasn’t our fault; I’ll blame the nominal “donuts.”
4. Dough (various locations)
I tend to associate objects, smells, foods, and music with certain people and memories. This can be both a good and a bad thing. I can either instantly be whisked away to one of my favorite places on earth at the mere sight of chocolate hazelnut Baci Perugina, or be sent down the Spiral of Despairing Memories when a certain song comes up on my playlist. I don’t think I’m unique in this, but I do think that my loyalty to past memories – both good and bad – tends to color my perceptions and experience of the present.
Dough, like Ben’s Pizzeria and Kesté, is one of those places. My first roommates in NYC – a certifiably insane German couple who I literally had to threaten to call the cops on – were obsessed with Dough. They would go to my favorite bagel place right around the corner from our apartment every Saturday morning and bring back bagel sandwiches and a chocolate or cinnamon donut, shipped in freshly each morning from the original location in Brooklyn to various Dough outposts (including said bagel shop) throughout the city.
While I will forever associate Dough with my
psychotic ex-roommates, I will say that every time I’ve ever split one of these huge donuts with a friend, I’ve always enjoyed it. It’s a step up from Doughnut Plant in that the doughnuts actually taste like, well, donuts. And you don’t regret eating them. My only complaint is that they are slightly over priced and overrated for what they are. Sure, they have some unique flavors, the magenta-flavored hibiscus donut being their most popular, but they focus only on raised yeast donuts without much variety in between for other flavors or styles of donuts. Nothing filled, nothing cake-like – just large ovoid rings covered with a lightly-sweetened glaze that, after a while, tends to blend in and taste like any other glazed sugary treat without much to distinguish its flavor. I wouldn’t turn down a Dough donut if someone offered it to me (blasphemy!), but I wouldn’t go out of my way to order one either. I would rather save my calories for something a little more decadent.
3. The Doughnut Project (West Village) – 10 Morton Street, New York, NY 10014
I’ve been to The Doughnut Project a few times over the last 18 months and have to say it’s one of my favorite places – more for the presentation, customer service, and ambience than anything else. The first time I went was last summer, when one of my girlfriends and I popped in after a nearby brunch to this adorable little shop tucked away on quaint Morton Street in the West Village. It was summer, and the seasonal flavor of the day was Peach Pie. Normally, that would not be my first choice for a doughnut, but it looked so delightful that we both opted to try it out – and were not disappointed. I’ve been back a couple of times since then to try other flavors. Pictured above is their PBJ 2.0 doughnut – a yeast doughnut filled with whipped peanut butter and raspberry jam with a raspberry glaze on top.
While normally I am obsessed with all things peanut butter flavored, this one was not my favorite – the peanut butter was deceptively unsweetened, almost salty. My sweet tooth was not having it, perhaps because it had expected the sugary rush of peanut-butter-resembling-frosting as opposed to simple peanut butter. I will say, though, that everything else about this doughnut, including the jam and frosting, was delicious, as are their many other flavors. My favorites were, surprisingly enough, “The Bronx” donut (lightly glazed with olive oil and black pepper – top row center in the photo below) and Beet and Ricotta (sweetened and whipped ricotta filling with a sugar beet glaze, dead center).
2. Peter Pan Donuts and Pastry Shop (Greenpoint) – 727 Manhattan Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11222
Now we’re starting to get into some serious doughnuttery. Not to be confused with Doughnuttery in Chelsea Markets – another place to check out on my ever-extending, somewhat elusive NYC To-Do list.
Peter Pan Donuts is a place for serious donut lovers only. It’s the place you go to when you’re craving some good old-fashioned, sugary sweet donuts without all of the fancy schmancy hipster flavors you’re not sure you actually like/want to order at some of New York’s “trendier” donut places. It’s a doughnut shop with a 1950s vibe, reminding you of the long-forgotten era of diners and dives and sour cream old-fashioned glazes with coffee in Styrofoam cups and red stir straws. I couldn’t figure out which of the donuts I wanted to try most – so my girlfriends and I picked a few flavors each to eat on the spot, and I returned to take a few more home to enjoy and share over the weekend.
This beauty was filled with an airy sweet creme, lightly frosted and crumb topped and dusted with powdered sugar. It was wonderful and like everything you would expect it to be.
The only downside to Peter Pan is that, unfortunately for me, it’s located in Greenpoint, Brooklyn – which is a bit of a trek from Astoria (not geographically speaking but logistically speaking – subways are designed to go into and out of Manhattan, so inter-borough travel from Queens to Brooklyn is complicated, if non-existent, and often requires travel into Manhattan. But I digress). Adding to this the fact that you should probably get there early so you can guarantee a decent selection (as they are always crowded and quickly sell out), and Peter Pan becomes a once-in-a-while treat. Again, my wallet and waistline are probably thanking me for this. So it COULD be a benefit depending on how you look at it!
1. The Donut Pub (West Village) – 203 W. 14th St., New York, NY 10011
On an episode of Louie, Louis CK once described to a date that he knew of “a place on 14th Street that’s the last shitty little diner in New York” – referencing the authenticity and grit of a New York long lost to yuppies (Bros? Lululemon wearing yogi moms? Bougie Upper East Siders?) and gentrification. He asked her to accompany him to said 24-hour diner for some late night, post-date donuts. Me being the big Louis AND donut fan that I am, I did a bit of sleuthing and discovered The Donut Pub.
It’s exactly as described.
Open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week since 1964, The Donut Pub is nothing remarkable, nothing that stands out from the crowd. Tucked under a nail salon, it is as unassuming as the deli and scaffolding surrounding it on West 14th Street. It might not be the fanciest. It might not have the trendiest flavors, the greatest location, the chicest interior, or the longest line. But it does have the most delicious donuts, rightfully earning its spot as the best donut place in the city.
Just look at the donuts above.
No frills, no games. Choose from an assorted selection of old fashioned glazed donuts, plain donuts, red velvet cake, chocolate glazed, blueberry cake, sour cream, french cruellers, raised, powdered sugar, creme filled – you name it. If you can picture an ornery woman named Ida or similar with curly red hair and an apron, chewing gum and writing down your order with a pencil and pad next to a leather booth and a jukebox, you know exactly the type of place this is and the type of breakfast fare you’ll find here.
My sweet tooth loves buttercream frosting, and this place had the perfect donut to accomodate: “Birthday Cake.” Incidentally, this was the donut all of the children order every time they come in, but I have no shame. Order it I did. The frosting was dense and sweet – exactly how I like it.
Perhaps my favorite thing to be found at The Donut Pub is their black and white cookies, the best I’ve had in the city (rivaled only by Zabar’s on the Upper West Side, which are delicious but miniature sized. It’s not a black and white if it’s not the size of your face!)
One of my favorite things to do when I first got here and was adjusting to the city was to take myself out on dates. Some Sunday mornings I would wake up early enough, grab a coffee to go, and take the train to W. 14th Street, where I would eagerly ascend the stairs from the underground and cross 7th Avenue to the Donut Pub. The older lady who runs the place on weekends literally couldn’t care less about speed or the proper order of waiting on who got in line first, but she did serve up some delicious counter-side diner donuts and coffee. On these lazy Sundays I would enjoy my donut at the bar stool, then take a black and white to go, walk down 6th Avenue, and head towards Greenwich Village, grabbing a cappuccino at Caffe Reggio on MacDougal Street before parking myself at a bench in Washington Square Park for the rest of the afternoon to people watch, read, and listen to music.
The unpresumptuousness of The Donut Pub, its comforting and familiar donuts reminding me of childhood and home, and its proximity to my favorite section of the city have earned it the number one spot on my list of donut places in NYC.
1. Domnique Ansel Bakery (Soho) – 189 Spring Street, New York, NY 10012
Because it’s such a well-known New York City pastry icon, no donut list is complete without at least a nod to Domnique Ansel’s famous “croissant donut,” better known as a Cronut. With the famed 2-hour lines beginning as early as 7am on weekends for one of these bad boys, boasting the shape of a fried donut and the flaky layers of a croissant, I’d heard about the cronut even before moving here. Naturally I knew it would be a place I would eventually try given my penchant for sweet things and a stubborn immunity to waiting in lines for things way longer than I should.
We were fortunate that the lines weren’t too long when a former coworker and I decided to meet up early before work to see if we could get our hands on the raspberry chocolate cassius flavor of the month.
The takeaway? Beautiful and sugary, but definitely not worth the wait, the over-inflated cost, or the calories. The hype was real but the experience was lackluster, and I don’t plan on going back any time soon. But at least I can permanently cross this one off my bucket list.
2. Homemade vanilla sprinkle donuts!
There are some days that you just want a donut. There are also some days when you don’t ever want to leave your house because that requires washing your face and putting on real clothes. It’s unfortunate when those two days are one and the same.
Enter homemade donuts.
I can’t say that they are as good as the real deal, but they are adorable and fun to make, cute to serve for guests and hit the spot in a pinch! For the recipe I used for these baked cinnamon vanilla donuts, click here.
Donuts are always a good thing. They make people happy. They can alleviate bad situations. They are good surprise gifts for your girlfriend when she’s mad at you.
*Except when they’re not:
*Editor’s Note: My mom literally JUST sent me this picture while I was in the middle of writing this blog post (unbeknownst to her) and I couldn’t resist including it. Be careful out there, folks. Anything and everything can kill you, even frosted joy.