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Indie doughnuts with big-time taste

Glazed or powdered, plain or fancy, these sweet treats have histories and fiercely loyal fans

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By Glenn Yoder
Globe Staff / March 9, 2011

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One must get up at the crack of dawn to eat doughnuts as the baker intended: hot from the oven. Writing about the best independent doughnut shops around Greater Boston isn’t as sweet as it sounds. There’s the early hour and the need to exercise quite a bit more when you’re eating or sampling more than 40 doughnuts in a four-day span. But who’s complaining?

These 16 local bakeries and restaurants have survived the turf wars with Dunkin’ Donuts, many supported for decades by a fiercely loyal clientele. To compile this list, our readers nominated their favorites, and we asked around town before finally sampling. Each tasting day began with a different team to gain different perspectives. After all, some people like glazed, some people like plain.

The consensus: Ohlin’s is the favorite, followed by (in no order) Anna’s, Kane’s, Lyndell’s, and Verna’s. All five have deep roots in their neighborhoods and deservedly sparkling reputations. Of course, they’re easy to compare, since they all make a traditional version. Flour and Japonaise doughnuts are both delicious, but difficult to match up with the rest of the group, which is tough for categorizing.

Regardless, around these parts, you don’t have to look far to find a great doughnut, traditional or otherwise.

Anna’s Hand Cut Donuts

Even with the considerable disadvantage of being the final stop of the day on our doughnut route, Anna’s boasts some of the tastiest treats we encounter and a familial atmosphere. “I know everyone who walks in, I know what they’re getting,’’ says Eleni Keskinidis, who has owned the shop with her husband, Kosta, for 23 years (it has been open 45 years). Using trans fat-free oil, the couple bakes fresh doughnuts each morning, highlighted by black raspberry twists, marble crullers, and delicious cake doughnut holes. 2056 Centre St., West Roxbury, 617-323-2680 ($1.10 each; $12/dozen)

Betty Ann Food Shop

Many shops on this list have a “retro’’ feel, but this favorite of Mayor Thomas M. Menino is like stepping into the past. Its prices seemingly haven’t modernized either, as this is the cheapest doughnut (50 cents each) we encounter. And according to one tester, the best. Jelly and lemon doughnuts, which use no preservatives, are both overflowing with filling, with a satisfying and sweet crust dappled with sugar. As a result, Betty Ann receives one more superlative: messiest doughnut. 565 Bennington St., East Boston, 617-567-1479 (50 cents each; $6/dozen)

Coffee Time Bake Shop

In keeping with its Polish heritage, this Salem shop is currently serving Paczki (pronounced “poonch-key’’ and $2 each) through Easter Sunday. This hand-rolled, trans fat-free treat is very rich, with a sugary outside and chunks of real fruit in the middle. Fillings include strawberry, cherry, raspberry, blueberry, prune, and then there are plain glazed. Cream is optional. The shop also serves delectable jelly doughnuts. 96 Bridge St., Salem. 978-744-0995, www.coffeetimebakeshop.net ($1.03 each; $8.79/dozen)

Demet’s Donuts

There are four police cruisers in the parking lot and a gaggle of uniformed officers chatting at a corner table. Demet’s “signature’’ doughnut is the blueberry nugget, which is rich and as chewy as a muffin. The chocolate honey-dipped is also good, but almost tooth-achingly sweet. 199 Mystic Ave., Medford, 781-395-8422 (95 cents each; $7.95/dozen)

Donna’s Donuts

While it may be the farthest from the city, this Tewksbury mainstay scores big points for creativity. Featuring three varieties of “sub’’ doughnuts — cheeseburger, steak and cheese, and meatball sub ($1.98/each) — the bakers mix standard doughnuts into a totally new treat. The cheeseburger features a chocolate honey-dipped “patty,’’ Bavarian cream “cheese,’’ and an uncoated yeast doughnut split in two for a “bun.’’ They’re well worth the drive. 2106 Main St., Tewksbury, 978-988-0010 ($1.27 each; $10.50/dozen)

Donut King

The story at this Quincy fixture is size — that of the place and that of its doughnuts. The place is tiny. Locals still cram around its diner countertop for Keno and coffee, making parking an exercise in futility, despite two lots. But what this longtime gathering place may lack in size, its homemade doughnuts make up in girth. The classic honey-dipped is roughly the height of two doughnuts stacked atop each other, drizzled with glaze. The Bavarian cream is a delicious, powdery mess and the honey-dipped apple doughnuts ooze with filling. Add in the low price tag and this could be the South Shore’s answer to Kane’s. 151 Copeland St., Quincy, 617-786-9881 (89 cents each; $6.49/dozen)

Donuts With a Difference

While readers have plenty of love for this Medford Square stop, it rates the lowest among our tasters. The vibe in the storefront shop is that of Grandma’s kitchen, right down to the teapot wallpaper and the straightforward variety of trans fat-free doughnuts: honey-dipped, jelly, plain, jimmies, buttercrunch, and chocolate. The plain is warm, but has a strange coating, while the buttercrunch is overpowered by coconut flavor. No one finishes these doughnuts. 35 Riverside Ave., Medford, 781-396-1021. www.donutswithadifference.com (95 cents each; $8/dozen)

Doughboy Donuts & Deli

Within walking distance of Broadway Station but also featuring a drive-through, this half-deli, half-bakery is a commuter’s dream. While it has space for the coffee crowd, most patrons are in and out. And although Doughboy sells more than 30 flavors of coffee, the doughnuts adhere to convention: on this day, we try maple with chocolate jimmies, a sugar-raised, and a light and airy lemon-filled. They are perfect to pair with coffee on a commute, though not worth taking a trip. 220 Dorchester Ave., South Boston, 617-269-7560 (95 cents each; $8.50/dozen)

Flour Bakery + Cafe

Some of the city’s rarest doughnuts are also its most expensive. Joanne Chang’s hip bakeries prepare specialty doughnuts — filled with vanilla or raspberry jam — only on Sundays. The vanilla treats, which feel more like a pastry than a doughnut, have a sugary, crunchy exterior complementing a cool, creamy center. However, they sell for $2.95 each, and there is no deal for a dozen. You might be better served picking up the shop’s cookbook, which details how to make the vanilla treats at home. 12 Farnsworth St., Fort Point Channel, Boston, 617-338-4333 (look for other Sunday doughnut specials); 1595 Washington St., South End, Boston, 617-267-4300; 190 Massachusetts Ave., Central Square, Cambridge, 617-225-2525, www.flourbakery.com ($2.95 each; $35.40/dozen)

Japonaise Bakery & Cafe

Want a less traditional doughnut? Combining French and Japanese recipes, Hiroko Sakan’s bakery offers four Eastern-inspired doughnuts: the cake doughnut ($1 each or $2.65 for three), chocolate cake doughnut ($1.35), twist doughnut ($1.15), and its staple, the “an’’ doughnut ($1.80). The an has a sugary coat with a sweet red bean paste center that holds its shape — a far cry from the typical jelly doughnut and its cascade of fruit filling. Still, our taste test ranks the pod-shaped cake doughnut as the favorite, with its sound crunch and sugary taste. Like Flour, Japonaise has no deal for a dozen. 1020 Beacon St., Brookline, and two other locations (Cambridge and Boston). www.japonaisebakery.com, 617-566-7730 (prices vary by doughnut.)

Kane’s Donuts

Kane’s reputation precedes it. The most talked about shop by our readers, this Saugus institution, established in 1955, was named one of the nation’s top 10 places for doughnuts by Bon Appetit magazine last March. But we still aren’t prepared for the sheer size. At $1.35 each, these massive pastries are a bargain — and a mouthful. As for taste, Kane’s stature is well-deserved. They clearly have gotten the recipe down, with decadent glazing on its honey-dipped, a light coconut aftertaste on the butternuts, and the perfect amount of filling on the honey-dipped lemons. 120 Lincoln Ave., Saugus. 781-233-8499, www.kanesdonuts.com ($1.35 each; $11/dozen)

Linda’s Donuts

Belmont is fortunate enough to boast two fine doughnut destinations, Linda’s and Ohlin’s. While Ohlin’s functions only as a bakery (no seating), the city’s other shop is quite welcoming. With four booths in which to munch on coffee rolls and hand-cut cinnamon doughnuts, Linda’s is the type of place to set up shop for the morning. All the doughnuts are soft and enjoyable, though nothing spectacular. It’s a solid second option in a very lucky town. 247 Belmont St., Belmont, 617-484-9844 ($1 each; $9.95/dozen)

Lyndell’s Bakery

Planning to pair your doughnut with breakfast? Lyndell’s original location, which has baked olfactory pleasures on Broadway since 1887, is located in the heart of Somerville’s unofficial breakfast district in Ball Square. Within a short walking distance are such popular destinations for early risers as Sound Bites Cafe, Ball Square Cafe & Breakfast, and Kelly’s Diner. Even better, Lyndell’s makes one of the area’s finest honey-dipped doughnuts, as well as a bevy of other baked goods. It’s a straight bakery, with no seating, so pop in early, grab a doughnut while they are warm, and head down the street for a filling breakfast. 720 Broadway, Somerville, and two other locations (North End and Cambridge), 617-625-1793. www.lyndells.com (95 cents each; $9.50/dozen)

Ohlin’s Bakery

Like Lyndell’s, Ohlin’s is a bakery with a throwback vibe that offers no seating. But they clearly take the baking part very seriously. In fact, this is the unanimous favorite among our taste testers. The chocolate doughnut is extraordinarily creamy on top, the honey-dipped is still warm and gooey at 8 a.m., and the maple is one of the most aesthetically pleasing treats we encounter, overflowing with topping and beautifully drizzled with chocolate. 456 Common St., Belmont, 617-484-0274 (93 cents each; $8.99/dozen)

Verna’s Coffee and Donut Shop

This Cambridge pastry titan named a doughnut the “Honey Tip,’’ for its most famous one-time regular, the late US Speaker of the House Thomas P. “Tip’’ O’Neill. This is an unassuming place where locals still gather in a small side room, but Verna’s is legendary for delicious doughnuts. These are a little more stiff than the standard dunker, but that takes nothing away from the soaring flavor of the buttercrunch, plain, and of course, the “Honey Tip.’’ 2344 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-354-4110. www.vernaspastry.com (95 cents each; $6.99/dozen)

Ziggy’s & Sons Donuts

While Ziggy’s has a traditional feel after 45 years as the ground floor of a Salem housing complex, it does stray from the norm occasionally. If you place an order a day in advance, they will whip up a custom “hot dog’’ or “cheeseburger’’ doughnut, similar to those at Donna’s in Tewksbury. Otherwise, you can find doughnuts carefully made by hand each morning. 2 Essex St., Salem, 978-744-9605 (79 cents each; $6.75/dozen)

Glenn Yoder can be reached at gyoder@boston.com.

Ratings

  • 4 Stars Extraordinary
  • 3 Stars Excellent
  • 2 Stars Good
  • 1 Star Fair
  • No Stars Poor