Durham is rich in doughnuts. Both of its locally owned doughnut shops – Rise Biscuits and Donuts and Monuts Donuts – have received national praise for their takes on the classic treat. Both are also known for their unusual, revolving array of hard-to-find doughnut flavors.
We thought National Donut Day (no, we did not make this up) was a perfect opportunity to head to the field for some taste testing, and sent a group from our office to try them all. Selections vary by day, but check out everyone's favorites below to see what kinds of doughnuts each restaurant crafts, and then plan your own trip.
Rise offers extravagant doughnut flavors, like its famed crème brûlée and its cronuts (a croissant-doughnut hybrid), along with Southern-style biscuits topped with chicken, pimento cheese, and other filling breakfast options. Our favorites among the 13 featured doughnut varieties were varied across the seasonal flavors and the dessert-like doughnuts:
Emma, Crème Brûlée: If you're looking to challenge doughnut conventions go for the crème brûlée doughnut. It's a complete experience for the senses; the sound of cracking the burnt sugar, the fluffy feel of the dough with the luscious crème, and of course that amazing taste! Rise has truly captured this king of desserts in donut form.
Heather, Crème Brûlée: Rise's doughnuts have fun and sometimes zany flavor combinations, but my favorite is probably the crème brûlée doughnut. The crackled burnt sugar on the top shines like a beacon as you bite into it, sending fluffy vanilla pastry cream shooting out the sides. It's crunchy, sweet, bitter, and entirely lovely. It's like eating crème brûlée wrapped in a pillowy hug.
Betsy, Pineapple Basil: Move over crème brûlée, there's a new favorite in town and her name is pineapple basil! Sweet pineapple glaze combined with basil cream filling is tasty enough; top that with pistachios for a delicious crunch and you just described the perfect doughnut. Fresh, not too sweet, and totally unexpected.
Katy, Strawberry Bullseye: Fruit pairs well with any pastry, and the strawberry bullseye hits the mark with its combination of sweet strawberry filling tempered with a balsamic and basil glaze. The result delivers creative flavors in a colorful presentation. And it never hurt anyone to have a little fruit with their fried dough.
Matt, Vanilla Longjohn: It's not the most extravagant doughnut (here's to you, Maple Bacon Bourbon), but here's the thing: chicken biscuits. I can't go to Rise and not get a chicken biscuit, and that means I need a doughnut that pairs well with that savory slice of heaven. The vanilla longjohn hits the spot, with a simple, sweet vanilla bean frosting on a fluffy doughnut.
Monuts expanded into a larger shop in 2014, and while doughnuts are still the main attraction, their menu now includes breakfast sandwiches on bagels, biscuits, and focaccia, along with daily lunch specials, salads, soup, and beer and cocktails. Working from fresh, seasonal ingredients, Monuts usually has eight doughnut flavors available, including the plain glazed and the apple cider, which they sell year-round. Here are our favorites:
Emma, Apple Cider: If you're ready to come down off that sugar-high with a classy and complex flavor then you have to go for the apple cider cake doughnut. Beneath its sugary exterior is a spicy yet subtle dough that reminds you of the best parts of fall even when it's crazy hot outside. Best with a cup of Monuts' amazing coffee and a good book.
Heather, Plain Glazed: At Monuts, it's all about the yeast doughnuts for me. They're perfectly fluffy, a little chewy and not too sweet. It's hard to pick a favorite, but I would probably have to go with the plain glazed. They're classically perfect with a cup of coffee.
Betsy, Strawberry Shortcake: The strawberry shortcake doughnut tastes as good as it looks. A light, almost angel food cake doughnut topped with strawberry glaze, whipped cream, and a slice of fresh strawberry makes a perfect summer treat!
Katy, Orange Creamsicle: The orange creamsicle is a classic glazed doughnut amplified with a zesty orange glaze - a fitting tribute to the summer season. It's a nice option if you like the basics, but are open to a fresh twist.
Matt, Chocolate Sea Salt: I may or may not have the diet of a 12-year-old, but sometimes I like to pretend to be mature. The chocolate sea salt offers the perfect opportunity: it has the classic allure of the chocolate doughnut, but with a salty twist that makes me feel like I have a refined palate.
If that's not enough doughnuts for you, you can also check out Carolina Glazed Doughnuts, which will open in summer 2015, or head to Rue Cler for a doughnut-like beignet!