Lately I've been doing a lot of thinking about doughnuts, both in NYC and elsewhere.
And my conclusion is not pretty, especially when it comes to doughnuts in Gotham. Basically, I've concluded that New York is a lousy doughnut town. You heard me.
It wasn't always this way. For years Georgie and James Bryant made unforgettably good glazed and raised jelly doughnuts in their shoebox-sized bakery on 125th Street in Harlem. These were light, practically weightless doughnuts that floated across the counter when you ordered a dozen.
Then, about ten years ago, Georgie and James retired and closed their eponymous bake shop. And that, my friends, was a NYC doughnut disaster. Because that left us with no great glazed doughnuts to call our own.
There has been at least one pretender who came into New York trying to mend our broken doughnut-loving hearts. Krispy Kreme came roaring into New York a year or two before Georgie and James packed up their fryers and retired, and tried to snow us with the lit Hot Doughnuts sign. Nice gimmick, and when the doughnuts were truly hot, they were (and I suppose still are) pretty good. But they were never anywhere near as good as Georgie's, and everyone knew it. Ruth Reichl wrote a story for the New York Times about doughnuts a long time ago, and she conducted a doughnut taste test. Guess who won? Georgie and James, and it wasn't even close.
Then Mark Israel opened the Doughnut Plant on the Lower East Side, and the designer doughnut phenomenon was born (and raised) in New York. Steve uses Vahlrona chocolate, other high quality ingredients, and no trans-fats, and he has become THE (Doughnut) MAN in New York.
I admire Mark greatly for his aspirations and his ability, but lately, when I have picked up some of his doughnuts at Citarella, I have been a little disappointed when I popped one in my mouth. His raised doughnuts are not cloudlike and seemingly weightless. In fact, they are kind of heavy (though certainly not leaden).
So I decided that maybe the problem was that the doughnuts were being bought too far from the source. Because when you buy doughnuts, timing is everything. In that way they are like baguettes.
Doughnuts should be eaten no more than two hours after they are made.
So this morning I went down to Doughnut Plant and ordered one of every kind they make:
Classic Raised Glazed Doughnut
Raised Pumpkin Doughnut
Raised Valhrona Chocolate Doughnut
Raised Peanut Butter and Jelly Doughnut
Raised Vanilla Doughnut
Pumpkin Cake Doughnut
Tres Leches Cake Doughnut
Blackout Cake Doughnut
Apple Cinnamon Cake Doughnut
Pecan Sticky Bun
The verdict: The raised doughnuts were still too heavy. My favorite raised doughnut was the pumpkin. The peanut butter and jelly doughnut was just weird. It didn't have enough peanut butter or jelly.
The cake doughnuts were actually really good. I loved the Tres Leches and the Pumpkin varieties, and the blackout doughnut would have been a knockout without its too sweet glaze.
I thought of the doughnut alternatives in NY. The Donut Pub on 14th Street is much written about but not very good. Balthazar makes an excellent cake doughnut straight outta East Hampton via the legendary Dreesen's. But after that I am stumped. The classic "coffee and doughnuts" dessert at Per Se is wonderful, but it's rarely on the
menu and at $210 for the prix fixe that's a mighty expensive doughnut.
So where can a man go to get a good doughnut in this town, or anywhere for that matter? Inquiring stomachs want to know.