Best Donuts in the DMV

Similar to our Barbecue Tour of Texas and our Best Pizzarias in the DMV posts, this was a fun post to do research for. Who doesn’t like eating donuts?!? We tried four different donut shops and, while there were some we liked more than others, they were all delicious.

In this post, we do not plan on resolving the spelling question: “Donut” vs. “Doughnut”. I think “doughnut” sounds fancier (good) but perhaps more pretentious (bad). Only you can make the final call!

Diablo Doughnuts

Diablo Doughnuts, in Baltimore’s Federal Hill neighborhood, makes destination-worthy donuts. They make a limited number a day and when they run out, that’s it. Top picks include the Captain Chesapeake, a yeast-donut with a caramel glaze topped with Old Bay, it is pleasantly savory and not too sweet. A great change of pace from traditional donut flavors. The donuts at Diablo do tend to run oily, so eating one is usually enough for us. Did we mention they serve them in a reversed pizza box?

Diablo Doughnuts in Baltimore, Maryland

It was Mardi Gras season when we went so we picked up the visually appealing King Cake donut, complete with a tiny baby on top! The donut was fresh, sugary and delicious.

The crème brulee was a good donut, but I wouldn’t say it tasted that much like crème brulee. The first thing you notice is how HEAVY it is. That’s because it is absolutely packed with filling. The filling tastes more like vanilla pudding than crème brulee custard, but hey it’s a good donut that I would get again. It just doesn’t taste much like crème brulee.

Astro Doughnuts

The crème brulee donut at Astro Doughnuts, meanwhile, is what all donut shops aspire to. The sugar glaze on the outside shatters when you bite into, and the char is evident in each bite. There is a more modest amount of filling than Diablo and it really tastes like crème brulee custard.

Astro Doughnuts in Washington DC

The vanilla glazed tasted fresh, like an authentic glazed donut. We only got mild notes of vanilla but it was still excellent. While you are at Astro, consider picking up some top-notch fried chicken to go along with your donuts.

Vanilla glazed at Astro Doughnuts in Washington DC

Duck Donuts

The draw to Duck Donuts is the fact that the donuts are made-to-order. I am aware that it is a chain, but for the purposes of this discussion we will be talking about the location on Rockville Pike. And it definitely does draw a lot of people – the shop was packed as we left, at 5pm on a Saturday.

S'more donut at Duck Donuts in Rockville, Maryland

The donuts at Duck Donuts were smaller than any of the other places. They are also cake donuts, which I find unusual these days. Most fancy donuts shops make mainly yeast donuts. The flavors were also not quite as strong. For example, the S’more was good but lacking in chocolate/marshmallow flavor.

Duck Donuts in Rockville, Maryland

The donuts definitely get points for having toppings that are still melty from the heat but overall they just don’t quite match up to the others. If I’m in the mood for fresh, hot donuts with melty icing (which is often), Duck Donuts is where I’m going to go.

Sugar Shack

Sugar Shack is a local chain, based out of Richmond, Virginia. We chose to visit the Shaw location in DC. The texture of the donuts was somewhere between Diablo/Astro and Duck. Sugar Shack’s donuts were not nearly as cakey as Duck but also did not have that fresh taste like Diablo or Astro.

Sugar Shack in Shaw, DC

Our favorite thing about the S’mores donut were the chewy marshmallows in the center. It brought great texture, which was the theme for Sugar Shack’s donuts, texture and flavor in every bite.

We also had a chocolate frosted with sprinkles, where the top of the donut was completely covered with rainbow sprinkles. That sounds almost too simple, right? It was actually really good! I enjoyed the crunch with each bite, even if it was pretty messy.

So which is our favorite?

Astro takes the cake (donut). We like Astro and Diablo the best because their donuts taste the freshest. Astro is the clear winner, though, because the donuts are not as greasy and because the flavors really can’t be beat.

Places we visited
Diablo Doughnuts: 1035 Light St Baltimore, MD 21230
Astro Doughnuts and Fried Chicken: 1308 G St, NW Washington, DC 20004
Duck Donuts: 1327 Rockville Pike Rockville, MD 20852
Sugar Shack Donuts & Coffee: 1932 9th St, NW Washington, DC 20001

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Rye Street Tavern

I work in downtown Baltimore and wanted to have a fun daytime adventure before the end of 2018. So, before the holidays, Marnay met me for lunch at Andrew Carmellini’s Rye Street Tavern, in the Port Covington section of south Baltimore.

The restaurant, for now, is nearly all alone in Port Covington. The only exceptions are a few industrial buildings, an UnderArmour office and the restaurant’s sibling distillery, Sagamore Spirits. Down the line, though, this will be a large mixed-used area that will grow around the restaurant. As of now it is a destination spot with an incredible waterfront location. On nice days (such as the day we dined), the windows are opened for a cooling breeze.

Paul and Marnay Meyer standing outside Rye Street Tavern in Port Covington, Baltimore, Maryland

Since the restaurant is isolated from residential areas, we were surprised to find it crowded on a workday. We went to the bar but had trouble finding two seats next to each other. We briefly had a feeling of helplessness until the wonderful bartender saw our plight and came out from behind the bar. She was able to play bar-patron Tetris and figured out a way for Marnay and I to sit next to each other. During the whole meal, in fact, she really went above and beyond!

The free cornbread to start the meal was a bit dry (but, hey, also free) but after that just about everything was fantastic. I opted for the $25 three-course prix-fixe, a good deal. The ember-roasted beets with sheep’s milk yogurt and candied hazelnuts tasted smoky like barbecue. Plus, the big chunks of sweet beets were so juicy they reminded me of watermelon, but with the texture of a root vegetable. The yogurt and the hazelnuts made it feel like a complete dish. Above all, the presentation was stunning.

Ember-roasted beets with sheep's milk yogurt and candied hazelnuts at Rye Street Tavern in Port Covington, Baltimore, Maryland

Marnay ordered the Southern-style fried chicken, Rye Street’s Tavern’s signature dish. It was perfectly seasoned, and we especially liked the housemade hot sauce, which the bartender encouraged us to use. It really only needed a little bit because it was well-seasoned already. The only disappointment was the honey-butter biscuit, which tasted like it had been drenched in melted butter.

Southern-style fried chicken with honey-butter biscuits at Rye Street Tavern in Port Covington, Baltimore, Maryland

I came in with low expectations for the rock shrimp tacos—after all Rye Street Tavern is a modern-American restaurant. But the battered and fried shrimp topped with pickled jalapenos and a fiery guajillo chile paste and young cilantro were quite good. I would even consider getting them again!

Rock shrimp tacos at Rye Street Tavern in Port Covington, Baltimore, Maryland

My prix fixe came with dessert, so we shared a slice of vanilla buttermilk pie. It was a tasty end to the meal. Throughout everything, our bartender did a fantastic job of taking care of all, as while still serving the other bar patrons. If I had gotten her name, I would have passed along a good word to the manager on the way out. On a nice day, it’s hard to top Rye Street Tavern’s waterfront setting as a place to grab a bite in Baltimore. I can definitely see us going back in the Spring when the weather is warmer.

Slice of vanilla buttermilk pie at Rye Street Tavern in Port Covington, Baltimore, Maryland

Best Bite
Paul and Marnay: Ember roasted beets

Address
Rye Street Tavern: 13 Rye Street Baltimore, MD 21230

R. House

On a cold, windy Saturday we took the MARC train to Baltimore for a bit of an adventure. Unbeknownst to us, we went on the day of the Army-Navy football game. But unlike approximately 90% of the people on the train, we weren’t headed for the football stadium once we arrived in Baltimore. No, we were headed to R. House, a stadium for people who love good food.

R. House

R. House is a brand new food hall located in the Remington neighborhood, a rapidly changing neighborhood north of Penn Station and on the western edge of Charles Village and Johns Hopkins University. The building is a former car showroom, with large windows and garage doors for warmer weather. Inside, the layout is similar to a mall food court, with 11 stalls and a large amount of seating in the middle.

White Envelope

We knew that we wanted arepas, so we started out at White Envelope. White Envelope is named after the cornmeal pocket that serves as the vehicle for their many different filling combinations. The Vegano, which I ordered, come with a reddish-pink bun, made that color by the beets incorporated in the dough. It’s then filled with Venezuelan falafel, spicy butternut squash puree and purslane. The squash puree was the best part, as it added moisture and sweetness.

R. House White Envelope

Marnay tried El Cerdo Ilustrado, “The Literate Pig.” Folded inside of the cornmeal pocket was shredded roast pork leg with tomato, arugula and lime mayo. Marnay said that this arepa compared favorably to some of her favorite tacos. She also said that it would not be the same without the lime mayo, and I agree. While there are similarities between arepas and tacos, the thick cornmeal bun of arepas screams for some sort of moisture.

R. House White Envelope arepa

While we were seated on a long communal bench eating our arepas, something amazing happened. A server from R. Bar, R. House’s centrally located bar, gave us a drink menu and then took our order on an iPad. The roving server thing was the most groundbreaking part of R. House, for me. I could have easily had five glasses of the Apple Milk Punch, with brandy, apple cider, lime and cinnamon syrup. Meanwhile, Marnay’s gin-and Campari-based Lady Remington had a little too much Campari to be a balanced drink.

R. Bar cocktails

Arba

Still quite hungry, we checked out Arba, an Israeli/Palestinian street food stall. Arba means “four” in both Arabic and Hebrew. The Syrian Cheese, which is pan-seared halloumi, was our best bite at Arba and my favorite bite of the day. The pan-sear gave it a pleasant crisp and the cheese was buttery but mild.

R. House Arba

We also got crispy breaded eggplant, a good snack. Unfortunately, we had just had Peter Chang’s dry-fried eggplant the night before, and no we eggplant fries can compare to Peter Chang’s.

R. House Arba

BLK Sugar/Little Baby’s

BLK Sugar is a bakery from a local Baltimore artisan and Little Baby’s is an ice cream shop based in the Kensington neighborhood of Northeast Philadelphia, which has slowly been expanding outside of that city. Together, they joined forces at R. House to open BLK Sugar/Little Baby’s. Little Baby’s serves Philadelphia style ice cream, which does not contain eggs. Since we only had ice cream at this stall, we are not going to address BLK Sugar.

After all we had eaten, we still wanted something sweet, which is what drew us to Little Baby’s. Marnay got non-dairy Birch Beer, which tasted so much like a birch beer float, it was uncanny. I got Philadelphia style “plain”, which was a perfectly good vanilla ice cream.

Ground & Griddled

I returned to R. House on Tuesday morning so that I could have a breakfast experience. Ground & Griddled, which serves Stumptown coffee and casual breakfast fare, is the most photogenic stall at R. House, with its bright yellow exterior. The place is run by Dave Sherman, the proprietor of Café Cito in Hampden.

R. House Ground and Griddled

I went with a latte made with housemade nut milk and the Breakfast BLT. The Breakfast BLT, a culinary work of art, is the ideal breakfast to eat while hanging around R. House on a weekday morning. Two slices of ciabatta support the heft of a paprika fried egg, griddled tomatoes, arugula and garlic aioli. The yolk is runny, but not too runny because the ciabatta soaked up much of it. In fact, the sandwich kept its structural integrity quite well thanks to the ciabatta. By the time I got to the end of the sandwich, I only had a few bites of bread left, which tasted like garlic bread thanks to the aioli. There wasn’t any on the sandwich, but I tasted the vinegary heat of Tabasco, most likely because of the paprika.

R. House Ground and Griddled Breakfast BLT

I ate my breakfast at a long communal high-top table and watched the sights and sounds of R. House. I saw prep cooks getting ready for the lunch rush at Amano Taco. I saw the chef from White Envelope walk in the door and talk to Dave Sherman. If all goes well, this could be a launching pad for some of Baltimore’s next great chefs.

Best Bite
Paul: Breakfast BLT
Marnay: El Cerdo Ilustrado arepa

Address
R. House: 301 W 29th St, Baltimore, MD 21211

Jack and Zach Food

The morning after our Woodberry Kitchen dinner, we went to Jack and Zach food, which is located near my office and is one of my favorite lunch spots. Jack and Zach Food is just two guys, no other employees. But even though it is completely different in size and scale than Woodberry Kitchen, the two places are surprisingly similar. Like Woodberry Kitchen, Jack and Zach make almost everything themselves. There is a chalkboard with a list of homemade items, which includes things like their sausage and pastries all the way to butter. Making your own butter at two man operation shows true dedication to your craft.

Jack and Zach has a L-shaped counter for seating, and each seat was taken when we arrived. There are scattered newspapers and books, including multiple books on how to make sausage. Eventually, two people sitting at the end closest to the door left and we swooped in, with plenty of room for our suitcase. Since restaurant is just Jack and Zach and since they want to make almost everything themselves, the menu is small. We both ordered the pancake plate, which comes with hash browns, breakfast potatoes and a side of meat. I chose their homemade curry sausage and Marnay chose bacon, which comes from Truck Patch Farms. I’ve had their bacon before and I let Marnay known that it’s one of my favorite bacons, so she was looking forward to it. To drink, we had Zeke’s coffee. Zeke’s is a local Baltimore roaster who recently opened up a small spot in the Woodridge neighborhood of D.C.

The pancakes, served with real maple syrup and homemade butter, were probably the best we have ever had. They were thin and almost crispy, yet not heavy at all. They complemented the syrup because they were thick enough to avoid becoming a sponge. Instead, the syrup was more of an equal partner. Marnay’s bacon was thick, meaty and smoky–nearly perfect pieces of bacon. My sausage was juicy and had serious kick from the curry. When Jack and Zach say that their homemade sausage will taste like something, they mean it.

Unlike Spike Gjerde at Woodberry Kitchen, Jack and Zach likely won’t be winning a James Beard Award anytime soon. However, it’s not completely far-fetched. Jonathan Brooks at Milktooth, which is in an industrial part of Indianapolis, only serves brunch. Yet, he was named one of Food and Wine Magazine’s best new chefs for 2015 and Milktooth was named one of Bon Apetit’s best new restaurants. Jack and Zach’s dedication to what they do which is one reason I considerate it a must-try when visiting Baltimore.

Address
Jack and Zach Food: 333 N Charles St, Baltimore, MD 21201

Woodberry Kitchen

Woodberry Kitchen is from 2015 James Beard Award winning chef Spike Gjerde in Baltimore’s Woodberry neighborhood, just off the Woodberry light rail stop. The chef is almost obsessive about getting all of his products from local farms, finding products that haven’t been used in generations and then making as much as possible in-house. Interestingly, Woodberry Kitchen uses many of the same products and has a similar mentality to Husk in Charleston. Eating at Woodberry Kitchen was a little like being back in Charleston.

The restaurant is in a huge converted barn, with multiple levels of seating plus an outdoor patio. Our table wasn’t ready when we arrived, so we waited outside around a fire pit. It was a breezy, overcast night, so the fire pit was welcome.

Our table was upstairs, with a commanding view of the dining room as well as a partial view of the open kitchen. I (Paul) had the luxury of being able to see the list of homemade ice creams available that night. To drink, Marnay had “To Betty June”, a mocktail made of Jasmine peach tea, verjus, honey, Woodberry Kitchen mint and sparkling water. I had Millstone Hopvine hard cider. The cider was very tart, as it was intended to be, since it was made with sour apples. Sweet, mass produced stuff it was not! (I’m looking at you Angry Orchard)

We ordered one snack and one small plate as our appetizer. We considered making a meal out of small plates, since usually all you need is a few bites to fully appreciate a dish. Our “snack” was Bartlett Pears Out of the Oven, which was Bartlett pears cooked in the wood oven and then drizzled with alfalfa honey and hillbilly salt, also known as seasoned salt. I think that we both agree that this was our favorite dish of the evening. We had been looking forward to ordering it and were hoping that it would still be on the menu. We also ordered the Watermelon Salad, which had Heirloom tomato, black walnut, pickled watermelon rind, watermelon dressing and apricotta. The apricots added great sweetness to the dish, especially when eaten with the acidity of the tomatoes.

For our main courses, Marnay had Maryland Rockfish Out of the Oven, with roasted La Ratte potatoes, Jimmy Nardello peppers, fennel, peanut dressing and pepper jam. The wood oven roasted rockfish and the peanut dressing went very well together. I had Cape May, NJ Yellowfin Tuna with buttered Carolina Gold rice, roasted haricot vert, red-chile shire sauce (worcestershire sauce) and benne seeds. Carolina Gold rice and benne seeds are two quintessential Charleston ingredients. Woodberry Kitchen was similar to Husk, but better on all levels (in my opinion). Which is good because it’s a heck of a lot closer to us! I ordered the tuna rare, with enough searing on the outside to form a crust. It was hands down the best looking piece of tuna that I’ve ever seen, and it tasted just as fresh. No doubt my favorite piece of tuna ever.

As an end to our meal, we had a liquid dessert called “The Clean Slate.” It consisted of a shot of Distillery Lane Celebration Cider (another local cider), a shot of espresso and a shot of Fernet, taken in that order. We shared the shots, each taking half a shot each. The “Clean Slate” was one of my favorite endings to a meal ever. Another ending to a meal that sticks out in my mind as being special was our birthday dinners at the Kitchen at Rock Hall. Since we can’t go back there again, Woodberry Kitchen will certainly do!

Address
Woodberry Kitchen: 1020 Race St, Philadelphia, PA 19107