The reigning king of desserts in Chicago isn’t the delicate cupcake, the homemade pie or even a knock-off version of New York’s cronut — it’s the sensationally simple doughnut. A couple of years ago, chef-driven, high-quality doughnut makers started popping up in far-flung neighborhoods and have slowly infiltrated the city’s busiest, buzziest hoods. Here’s a look at five top spots to grab an artisanal doughnut (or two):
One of the pioneers of the fried dough resurgence in Chicago, The Doughnut Vault is a cavernous little place in River North. There’s nowhere to sit down; in fact, the hip space (exposed brick, reclaimed wood, antique brass cash register) is so small that a line to buy doughnuts almost always snakes out the door. There are only three mainstays on the menu — the buttermilk old fashioned, a stack of three gingerbread doughnuts and the oh-so-airy glazed doughnut available in chestnut, vanilla and chocolate. Perfect for fall, the Vault recently added a seasonal jelly raspberry doughnut to the mix. And be sure to keep an eye out for specials on certain days of the week and Sunday and Monday hours. Bonus: Coffee is only $1. Head here early because once the doughnuts are gone, the shop shuts down.
This spot almost single-handedly ushered in the doughnut craze with artisanal, unique flavors such as the maple bacon long john, the crunchy PB&J and the red velvet. But traditional doughnuts such as vanilla bean glazed and the sinfully delicious apple fritter are steady competition for the more avant-garde creations. Glazed & Infused has five locations, but our favorite is the West Loop shop with a friendly, knowledgeable staff and plenty of seating so you can sit and savor your doughnut.
Another counter service spot with no seating but to-die-for doughnuts is Do-Rite in the Loop. With a rotating variety of flavors — double chocolate old fashioned, carrot cake, toasted coconut bar — the doughnuts are made in small batches of 36 at a time. Specialty flavors change from day to day and have included s’mores and fruit fritters. Do-Rite also offers rotating gluten-free and vegan options, so those who normally shun fried dough can indulge in say, gluten-free Valrhona chocolate glazed, with the rest of us. Check out Do-Rite’s Twitter feed for the specials of the day.
Beavers started as a food truck, and now has a more permanent spot as one of the many specialty food booths inside the city’s French Market in the Loop. Follow the Twitter feed to find out where the truck will be located each day, or stop into the market to the get hot, made-to-order mini doughnuts. Once they’re out of the fryer, you can choose your topping, which douse the freshly fried dough in flavors such as powdered sugar, Nutella and strawberry sauce with graham cracker crumbs. Like most of the new breed of doughnut shops, Beavers has seasonal and specialty picks, too (we’re crazy for fall’s mini doughnut truffles).
Also in River North, Firecakes does doughnuts in small batches with flavors that range from tasty and traditional (a fat and fluffy honey glazed) to sinfully original (a doughnut ice cream sandwich). While there’s no seating, this little shop has enough charm (think subway-tiled walls, friendly staff, ingredient-lined shelves) that you may want to scarf down doughnuts and a homemade hot chocolate before leaving. Firecakes’ killer seasonal circular confection is the pumpkin pie cake doughnut, and it is downright decadent for fall with its pumpkin purée, pumpkin pie filling and candied pecans. You can head here early for breakfast, or hit it up on your way home from a night out — on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, Firecakes is open until midnight.
Photos Courtesy of Do-Rite Donuts and The Doughnut Vault