Food & Drink

What’s behind the Charlotte doughnut explosion?

A Doughnut Tour Of Charlotte

Hungry yet, sugar? Kathleen Purvis takes a quick tour through five Charlotte-area doughnut spots: Your Mom's Donuts, Cafe Ganache, Duck Donuts, Sugar and Joe's Doughs at the Pure Pizza fall market.
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Hungry yet, sugar? Kathleen Purvis takes a quick tour through five Charlotte-area doughnut spots: Your Mom's Donuts, Cafe Ganache, Duck Donuts, Sugar and Joe's Doughs at the Pure Pizza fall market.

You’d think they’re selling eternal youth in a box instead of circles of fried dough draped in sugar.

And maybe they are: Who doesn’t turn into a kid again when faced with a doughnut?

That may explain what happened at a fall market behind Pure Pizza on Central Avenue a few Saturdays ago. Before the market opened at 10 a.m., people were drifting around, setting up tables and putting out displays of homemade soaps and artsy earrings. But they were also keeping an eye on an empty corner being saved for a special vendor.

Just before 10, baker Jacklyn Parzygnot, black hair dyed green, rushed in with a few helpers and stacks of white bakery boxes loaded with fresh Joe’s Doughs, the gourmet doughnuts that have inspired a fanatical following at coffee shops and food events.

Before Parzygnot could even hang up her “doughnuts” banner, four people were in line. Then six. Then 10. By the time she was tucking the first half-dozen in a box, a line was curving across the room.

“I’ve heard if you don’t get here in the first half-hour, they’re gone,” said John Liston, who drove from near Cotswold to be one of the first in line, hoping to score a sea salt caramel doughnut.

What is it with the doughnuts, Charlotte? In the sugar arena, you’ve started to spurn your previous love, the cupcake, for a new sugar-crush. From the warm, softly glazed doughnuts at Duck Donuts in Dilworth to the all-local square doughnuts at Your Mom’s Donuts in Matthews, they’re becoming an obsession.

Joe Pepe, 29, the Joe behind Joe’s Doughs, isn’t surprised. A musician who was raised in Charlotte, Pepe fell in love with doughnuts while he was touring with his band, Sleep Lust. He recently moved to Los Angeles for his career, but he’s still running Joe Doughs here, using Parzygnot, who used to work at 5Church, as his baker. They’re planning to open a shop next spring at 1721 N. Davidson St.

Pepe saw doughnuts taking off in New York and L.A. a couple of years ago and knew Charlotte’s would catch on quickly.

“I’m really tied into the food trends on the West Coast,” he says. “I always had my finger on that pulse, and I thought I’d bring those things to us first.”

Joe Dough’s have found a following for creative flavor combinations, like wasabi white chocolate and Earl Grey milk chocolate.

“A doughnut is such an open palette,” Pepe says. “I do chicken and waffle, I do bacon. It’s a neutral pastry; you can do so much with it.

“We’ve got a line wherever we go.”

Where is the doughnut heat happening? We checked a half-dozen spots where you can dunk yourself in doughnut culture:

1. Duck Donuts

1710 Kenilworth Ave., Open daily at 6 a.m. After starting on the Outer Banks, this franchise has been spreading out quickly, with candy-inspired combinations like peanut butter chocolate.

Quirk: They fry them and top them while you wait, so you get them warm.

Best-sellers: Maple Bacon or Cinnamon Sugar.

Prices: $1.20 for one, $6.75 for a half-dozen, $11.95 for a dozen.

2. Joe’s Doughs

They’re planning on a shop in early 2016, but for now they do pop-ups at spots around town.

Quirks: You have to watch for the weekly flavor list and location on their Facebook page. And get in line early.

Best-sellers: White Chocolate Wasabi With Candied Ginger, Chicken and Waffle or Spicy Mexican Chocolate.

Price: Usually $2 to $3 each.

3. MJ Donuts

325 S. Polk St., Pineville. The old-timer among doughnut shops around here, it’s a no-frills place with an old-school selection, including glazed and cake doughnuts, crullers and fritters.

Quirk: Free doughnut holes in every bag.

Best-seller: Apple fritters.

Prices: 99 cents to $1.95 for a single doughnut depending on the type; $9.50 for a dozen for glazed, $12.50 for a mixed dozen.

4. Sugar

11914 Elm Lane, Ballantyne area; Open at 7 a.m. weekdays, 7:30 a.m. Saturday-Sunday, closed Monday-Tuesday. The newest doughnut shop in the area, it started as a food truck and just opened in October.

Quirk: The food truck, still parked out front. They use it for special events, like weddings (yes, seriously), and they still work at food truck rallies in Matthews and South End.

Best-sellers: Maple Bacon and Vanilla Bean.

Prices: $2.25 to $4 for a doughnut depending on the type; $15 for a half dozen assorted including one maple bacon; $28 for a dozen including two maple bacon.

5. Your Mom’s Donuts

11025 Monroe Road; Open at 7 a.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 8 a.m. Sunday. Closed Monday-Tuesday. After starting as a doughnut delivery service, owners Benjamin Frye and Courtney Buckley settled into a shop on Monroe Road near N.C. 51.

Quirk: Huge square doughnuts made from mostly local ingredients. They’re fried in lard from locally raised pigs.

Best-seller: Cinnamon sugar with a cream cheese buttercream drizzle.

Prices: $3 for glazed, $3.50 for “fancy”; $15 for a half-dozen; $24 for a dozen.

6. Cafe Ganache

4400 Sharon Road, inside SouthPark in front of L’Occitane. Open daily at 10 a.m.

Quirk: It isn’t strictly a doughnut shop, but pastry chef Sadruddin Abdullah features several Kronuts, his take on the layered doughnuts made famous by the shop Dominique Ansel in New York, along with French-style pastries.

Best-sellers: The flavors change each month; November’s are Orange Ginger, Pecan Pie and Plain.

Prices: $3.84 for plain, $4.50 for special flavors.

What do you do with leftover doughnuts?

Cutting stale doughnuts into chunks and using them for bread pudding is always popular. But there are a few more things you can try:

1. Waffled doughnuts. Press glazed, unfilled doughnuts in a waffle iron to give them a crisp new life.

2. Microwave. It doesn’t have to be hot and now to taste almost like it. Zapping day-old doughnuts 5 to 10 seconds in a microwave can make them taste almost fresh.

3. Doughnut French toast. Slice old, cold unfilled doughnuts across the middle (like cutting a bagel). Dip the slices in a batter of beaten egg and milk and fry.

World’s Easiest Glazed Doughnuts

It’s not gourmet, but it will work in a pinch: Just use canned biscuits. From

1 can of large buttermilk biscuits, such as Grands

8 cups vegetable oil

2 cups confectioner’s sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup (1 stick) melted butter

1/4 cup milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

Remove the biscuits from the can and pat them gently into evenly shaped rounds. Use a 1-inch biscuit cutter or small round cookie cutter to cut out a hole from the center of each biscuit. (If you don’t have a small enough biscuit cutter, try using the base of a large pastry bag tip.)

Place enough oil to reach 1 to 1 1/2 inches deep in a pot. Heat over medium-high heat until it reaches 350 degrees on a deep-fry thermometer. Add half of the doughnuts and doughnut holes and fry 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 minutes, until browning on the bottom. Use chopsticks or the handles of two wooden spoons to turn them over gently. Continue frying 1 to 2 minutes.

Use a slotted spoon to transfer the cooked doughnuts to a paper towel to drain. Repeat with remaining doughnuts and holes.

Place confectioners’ sugar and salt in a bowl. Add the melted butter, milk and vanilla and whisk until smooth. Dip the warm doughnuts into the glaze and put aside to set. Serve warm.

Yield: 8 doughnuts and doughnut holes.