Serious Eats: New York
Fast Food International: Tim Hortons
Editor's note: In "Fast Food International," Krista Garcia will take us around New York to the many international fast food chains that have landed in the five boroughs.
Country of origin: Canada
Locations worldwide: 3,596 in Canada and the U.S.
NYC locations: Nine in Manhattan, one in Brooklyn
Some international chains seamlessly adapt to New York City; others botch the spirit of the hometown original. Canadian doughnut shop Tim Hortons has always been a fun pit stop when traveling north of the border, but after underwhelming experiences in both Brooklyn and Manhattan, I'm sad to report that this franchise falls into the latter camp.
Last July, Tim Hortons—started in 1964 by a hockey player of the same name and as entrenched in Canadian culture as McDonald's is here—commandeered a handful of NYC Dunkin' Donuts locations after disputes with Riese Organization, the parent company. The transition didn't attract much attention.
To many New Yorkers, coffee is coffee and doughnuts are doughnuts, regardless of the name on the door. Speed and value are what commuters care about. But Tim Hortons on its home turf has seating and a menu of sandwiches and soups that also lure lunch and dinner crowds. Diners sit and linger.
The downtown Brooklyn Tim Hortons does have a few tables since it's wedged into an urban mini-food court along with Pizza Hut, Nathan's and KFC. This lack of star billing didn't fill me with hope for classics like their flaky butter tarts and maple-iced specialties. On a Sunday afternoon, the glass display case was alarmingly barren with only a few ancient chocolate-glazed specimens holding ground on the bottom rack. Strike out.
Maybe Manhattan would be more fruitful? A standalone Tim Hortons occupies a tiny takeout counter across from Madison Square Garden. They did have a better, albeit limited, selection compared to the Brooklyn branch, but oddly, the famous Timbits, or doughnut holes, were nowhere to be seen. Company literature states that a minimum of eight varieties will be offered at all locations.
The one saving grace? Canadian maple doughnuts. As a Northwest transplant (who's been here over a decade) one of the first things I noticed after settling in NYC was the glaring lack of maple bars. The oblong doughnuts, coated in a golden brown maple frosting, are a bakery staple in Oregon and environs. To be honest, the painfully sweet pastries aren't my favorite by a long shot, but for nostalgia's sake I'll always eat these treats if I stumble on them.
And Tim Hortons is a master of the maple doughnut. They may not come in bar form—one style they carry is the typical round raised doughnut with a hole covered in a maple glaze, the other is the pictured custard-filled version akin to a Boston Cream—but these baked goods capture the essence of Canada and are just foreign enough to remind you that you're in an establishment born in our friendly neighboring country.
Various locations throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn
About the author: Krista Garcia is a freelance writer and librarian (who does not work with books). Being obsessed with chain restaurants and Southeast Asian food, she would have no problem eating laska in Elmhurst and P.F. Chang's crab rangoon in New Jersey on the same day. She blogs at Goodies First.