"There's this new doughnut place in Brooklyn, and I've heard they blow Doughnut Plant away."
So went a tip passed along about Dough, a Bedford-Stuyvesant shop that, having opened in 2010, isn't actually that new. But another shop in Brooklyn, Dun-Well, which opened in December 2011, is new, necessitating a Brooklyn doughnut taste-off. And after visiting both, it's safe to say that one of these doughnut shops should be included in any conversation about the best doughnuts in New York City, and perhaps even the country. The other place can be compared to a much-buzzed about Los Angeles doughnut shop, Fo-Nuts, but unless you're vegan, well, one visit is enough.
Dun-Well opened just a few months ago in East Williamsburg, the creation of Christopher Hollowell and Daniel Dunbar, who claim on their site that "it's the premiere vegan doughnut shop on planet Earth." The two met in college in Ithaca where they developed a passion for vegan cooking. That's all well and good, but their vegan doughnuts face the same problems all vegan versions of any cooking face: they're vegan. And with that comes inferior flavor and texture.[related:right]
You walk inside Dun-Well into some twisted-mustachio, soda jerk, 19-whenever aesthetic — that quintessential hipster vibe that has become so cliché. Thankfully, there's absolutely no accompanying attitude, but there is the expected sepia-toned, bow tie, wood, and Old West feeling going on. That would be fine if the doughnuts were amazing. It could even be cool. And you want the doughnuts to be great. You don't want to go into a place and have suspicions confirmed. But they are.
The doughnuts aren't amazing. They're not bad. They're fine. They look pretty, there's a nice glaze, but they taste vegan. They're not airy. They're not moist. They're a bit chewy. They taste like doughnuts for picky people with diet restrictions. Ten bucks says a blind taste test with Krispy Kreme results in a win for the chain.
Still, the owners have said that they plan on serving 50 varieties of doughnuts (about $2.50 each), with rotating flavors — from Earl Grey Tea and Mexican Chocolate to Lavender Lemon. And there are a few commendable flavors; on a recent visit, that meant the Margarita Doughnut — a sweet, tart frosting with salt accents. The peanut butter frosted doughnut with jelly inside (a now-tired combo) is also just fine, but the doughnut, the actual vehicle, has the same relatively dry thickness as the others."As the baseline for a good pizza starts with a margherita, so the test of a great doughnut begins with the glazed."
"Vegans and those with egg and dairy dietary restrictions often sacrifice flavor and texture to satisfy their sweet cravings, but Dun-well Doughnuts allows them to enjoy fried doughy delights along with their non-vegan friends," notes the Dun-Well web site. Admirable intentions, but if your diet allows you to, leave the vegans to enjoy them.
The other side of this taste-off is a different story altogether. Dough has already garnered critical acclaim. It was featured by Liza de Guia in a Food Curated video and, before his tenure began, The New York Times' restaurant critic Pete Wells included it in his 2011 $25 and Under column "A Flowering of the Doughnut Arts," in which he somewhat perplexingly compared Dough (then new) with doughnuts at The Brindle Room(also new then, but their Wonder City Donuts is a side business of the restaurant), Doughnut Plant (not new at all), and Peter Pan Donut & Pastry Shop, which has been making doughnuts in Greenpoint for more than 60 years. Still, being compared to one of the country's best doughnuts (Doughnut Plant) and one of New York's beloved institutions is no faint praise.
At Dough, there are only a few of each type of glazed yeast doughnuts on offer at any one time, something that inspires confidence that what you're about to taste is going to be good. Passion fruit, Earl Gray, dulce de leche, lemon poppy, chocolate frosting with cacao nibs — these are just a few of the flavors available at Dough, and the combination of the high quality of yeast doughnut and creativity of flavors are enough to make you question the true extent of Doughnut Plant's grip on the city.
As the baseline for a good pizza starts with a margherita, so the test of a great doughnut begins with the glazed. If you're serious about doughnuts, the glazed at Dough is worth a crowded subway ride on the L and a transfer to the unreliable G. Airy and moist, chewy and thick, with a sticky coating that cracks thickly, comparing Dough's glazed to Peter Pan's just isn't fair. In comparison, the Greenpoint institution just seems behind the times.
With a doughnut flavor like cheesecake and graham cracker dust, your skepticism could be justly warranted. Plenty of doughnut places have a hard enough time making doughnuts, let alone cheesecake, and there are enough bad cheesecakes in New York to fuel at least three Junior's locations. So, when in answering the question, "What else should I get?" the counter person answers, "The cheesecake doughnut," you'd be forgiven the wince you feel when hoping that wasn't going to be the answer. But the cheesecake topping is creamy and whipped with an airiness and judicial spread across the top that doesn't make it overwhelming. That graham cracker dusting helps add texture, too.
Then there's the crème de chocolat. Pete Wells, God bless him, has noted that the "the chocolate has lacked intensity at times." Either they took note of his criticism or he must have an everlasting gobstopper in his back pocket. This is a chocolate cream filled doughnut that looks like the best Boston cream you ever had, and delivers on the darkest of chocolate desires. Biting into the doughnut causes an eruption of chocolate out the top and a sweet gush that's mellowed by the sweet airy dough.
So, dough or doughn't? If you love doughnuts, you'll be drawn to try out both of these Brooklyn spots. Dun-Well? Unless you're vegan, pass. Dough? Why haven't you been? They fry mighty fine in Bed-Stuy.