I had been planning the Butler Family Donut Hike for months, trolling Instagram, scouring Google Maps, reading article after article of drool-worthy New York pastries. When I finally sent the itinerary to my family, I was pleased. It would be our third Donut Hike in New York City, and I had managed to avoid any repeat stops. All new, glorious donuts for us to taste-test.
The connoisseurs were not pleased. Well, one in particular.
“These aren’t real donut places,” Mom stated.
Never mind that some of these donuts were listed among the best pastries in New York City, if the business name wasn’t some kind of wordplay on ‘dough,’ Mom was not impressed. But the thing is – we’ve eaten almost all the donuts in New York.
The inaugural Donut Hike took us to Dun-Well Donuts, Peter Pan Bakery, the Doughnut Plant, and Dough Doughnuts. The 2nd Annual Donut Hike we hit up the Donut Pub, the Doughnuttery, Cinnamon Snail, Underwest Donuts, and bonus: Orwasher’s Bakery. And independently of the Donut Hike, we have sampled Moe’s Doughs, Queens Comfort, and the Doughnut Project. We are running out of options.
(Pst, you say, what happened to Year Three? We did a Donut Drive through Tennessee instead, a necessity as the result of tight travel plans. Not sure I’ll ever write a full-length post about it but maybe a poem some day.)
So I caved to my mother. We had an argument about whether or not a churro is a donut, and then I updated the Donut Hike itinerary with stops old and new. But – before we start – I just want to say – I was right. Always trust your donut sensei.
Stop 1 – Daily Provisions
On the subway down to our first stop, I realize that we look like tourists. My parents are decked out in Michigan gear because they are well-equipped for football games, and they are accompanied by three adult children, one of whom is constantly checking directions on her phone. I’m a little bit saddened by this realization, but we’ll just have to go with it. Maybe next year I’ll get a donut on a stick to guide my groupies.
No matter what time we leave for the Donut Hike, we are always ragingly hungry by the time we get to our first stop. Daily Provisions is about the hippest little bakery I’ve seen in New York, a stroke Parisian flair in Lower Manhattan. It’s also packed, because we’ve arrived at 10am on a holiday, when people in New York have nothing to do but grab a late breakfast.
Daily Provisions is an all-purpose bakery but they’ve become famous for their crullers – so famous, that they warn you on their automated phone message that they cannot give cruller counts over the phone or make any sort of guarantees they will still have some when you get there. There are three different kinds of crullers, but we opt for the original and the maple. I’m allowed to take about three pictures before my dad cuts them up into five more-or-less equal pieces. I try to get a few artsy action shots of them being eaten, but suddenly all that’s left are two knobs for me. Delicious, no doubt, but I find them a little soft. My family eyes the baskets of crullers, seriously considering round two, but I shove them out the door.
Daily Provisions is at 103 East 19th Street. Go early for crullers.
Stop 2 – Mah-Ze-Dahr Bakery
What made me put Mah-Ze-Dahr Bakery on the itinerary was their brioche donut, but all the pastries spread out on their counter look tantalizing. We buy a brioche and an old fashioned to split, but then – scandal.
Someone has eaten my brother’s piece of the old fashioned.
Or Mom cut only four pieces instead of five, but as she recreates the scene, nobody can be sure.
“Well, move faster next time,” I say as I pseudo-sympathetically pat my brother’s shoulder.
Dad goes and gets another donut. He claims we could use more data anyway.
In my opinion, the brioche won out over the old fashioned – which was solid, but… well, I’m not sure an old fashioned donut is supposed to be so fancy. If I was hankering for an old fashioned I’d probably just go to Donut Pub. The verdict – tasty, but everything in that bakery looked drool-worthy and choosing a donut would not be automatic for me.
Side note: Not so impressed with their coffee.
You can find Mah-Ze-Dahr Bakery at 28 Greenwich Avenue.
Stop 3 – Dough Doughnuts
When Mom heard that Dough had opened a location in downtown Manhattan, she made a special request that we stop. And who was I to deny going to one of my own personal favorites? Even if I had been there two days earlier…
The problem with going to ‘real donut shops’ is that choices abound. We pace back and forth in front of the glass display cases, trying to narrow down the donuts. Maybe we should create a bracket next time.
Here we splurge, getting a pear jam, gingerbread, Boston cream, and lemon buttermilk cake. I try to take pictures as fast as possible, but the dividing of the donuts happens… alarmingly quickly. These donuts have a lot to live up to, and while the family agrees that they are quality, they don’t upset our standard favorites from Dough, the café au lait and the dulce de leche.
I busy myself taking pictures, until finally someone asks why I haven’t eaten my share of the gingerbread donut.
“I’m not sure that I can,” I mutter, looking down at the table.
My family mercilessly teases me, and I split my piece with my dad.
Dough Doughnuts has locations around the city, but we went to the one at 14 West 19th Street.
Stop 4 – the Cinnamon Snail at Pennsy Food Hall
Returning to the Cinnamon Snail was my own personal prerogative, as their Instagram feed is constant salivating torture when I’m abroad. They concoct visions like vanilla bourbon crème brulee, gingersnap crumb, and peanut butter chocolate chip cookie dough.
But at this point in the Donut Hike, we are struggling (though no one wants to admit it). I’m left to make the choices for the group while they find a table. We get a s’mores, a pistachio cardamom cake, and a chocolate glazed to split, but individuals opt out of some, their blood sugar boiling past any healthy limits.
When we happened upon their food truck two years ago, my parents were impressed by how good these vegan donuts were. This time, we feel they were a bit dry. But perhaps our taste buds have just shorted out, our mouths have crystallized from all the sugar, the sugar buzz in our heads has clouded our judgment.
The Cinnamon Snail offers vegan donuts and other vegan options at Pennsy Food Hall, 7th Avenue & West 33rd Street.
It hardly seems fair to ask for favorites, so I instead ask my family where they would go back for a second donut. The unanimous answer is Daily Provisions for crullers, with three out of four voting for the maple, and I feel vindicated in my Donut Hike planning skills. I, as an abject outlier, enjoyed the pear jam from Dough the most.
But I wouldn’t say no to any of them.
As we leave Pennsy, I notice that Underwest Donuts, my favorite from the 2nd Donut Hike, has opened up a small window outside Penn Station. This is my last shot to grab one of their donuts before I go back abroad, and I am sorely tempted. But at this point the appeal is gone. We descend into Penn Station, passing a Krispy Kreme and a Dunkin Donuts on our way to the subway.
And when we get home, I eat two oranges and nothing else.
There was an Instagram story of the Donut Hike, but let’s just say that our on camera skills are ruuuuusty and it will probably never be republished.