A few decades and a good many pounds later, my doughnut landscape has shifted mightily. Today, Atlanta is an Olympic ring of doughnut art, a place where you can find everything from boozy designer confections to homespun halos that won’t leave you glazed and confused. Here’s a look at a few of the best in town.
Talk about a sweet story. Chris and Anna Gatti met at the Culinary Institute of America, opened Canvas Cafe & Bakery in Chris' hometown of Marietta in 2006, and added their downstairs doughnut shop in 2015. Looking for a name for their second business, Anna's sister-in-law Jane Heinle heard about the Donut Dollies: Red Cross volunteers who donned powder-blue dresses to deliver doughnuts and coffee to U.S. soldiers as far back as World War II. The Gattis thought the Dollies' motto, "A Taste of Home," described their intentions. "Chris' first job at 13 was busing tables at a doughnut shop in Destin, Fla.," Anna told me via email. Sadly, Heinle passed away in 2014, at 40, before Doughnut Dollies could open. But her memory lives on in the Sweet Jane, a cream puff-style brioche slathered with sweet cream and dusted with powdered sugar. It's heavenly, like a ride in the clouds.
The care and craft the Gattis put into their doughnuts is dazzling. Two seasonal beauties were especially memorable: buttery brioche filled with grapefruit curd and tossed in grapefruit sugar, and a whoopie pie-style delight called Sweet-Potato Fluff. Take a bite of the citrus wonder, and tangy-buttery curd oozes out. The sweet-potato treat packs marshmallow fluff into buns the color of pie.
While you can get decadent chocolate fixes, doughnuts scattered with Froot Loops (the Cereal Bowl), even a creme brulee-filled stunner covered in crackly sugar, the No. 1 choice for me was the Buttered Popcorn. Vanilla cake drizzled with butter-brown sugar icing and topped with house-made caramel corn, it's just a tad salty, a bit of Hollywood glamour come to crackerjack Marietta. It deserves an Oscar. 724 Cherokee St., downstairs, Marietta. 404-365-5437, mydoughnutdollies.com.
On the lower level of Ford Fry's sunny Inman Park oyster-ette is a sunken, wood-paneled lair lifted from the age of Howard Johnson's and Trader Vic's. Styled like a vintage Tiki bar, the Den is a swell spot for sipping Mudslides, Tequila Sunrises and Fuzzy Navel Mimosas. Every Saturday and Sunday, Fry and executive chef Andrew Isabella continue the kitschy theme with a doughnut brunch, using the master recipe of Fry's pastry director, Chrysta Poulos, as the template. At this hangover hideaway, you can slurp a doughnut shake or get a burger with American cheese, bacon jam and a glazed bun.
For a full-throttle sugar-and-carb rush, start with a tray of fried-to-order doughnuts. The Buford Highway is topped with salted caramel, maple syrup and mounds of pork floss. The O.D.B. is a chocolate-glazed fantasia of Oreo and chocolate sprinkles. El Churro comes with fudge dipping sauce. Slice open the Forrest Gump, and you realize it's a doughnut masquerading as a chocolate-covered cherry; at the center is a lipstick-red, brandied cherry gelee. (So fun.) The Irishman can't be ordered on Sundays until after 12:30 p.m. Why? Laden with Irish whiskey and crushed chocolate-covered coffee beans, it sits atop a shot of Bailey's: an adult doughnut, perfect for dunking. At some point in this bacchanal, you will need something savory: We loved the gravlax sandwich, in which a spread of smoked salmon and cream cheese, slices of cucumber and red onion is tucked into an everything bagel, er, doughnut. 299 N. Highland Ave. NE, Atlanta. (The entrance to the Den is in back.) 678-732-0360, beetlecatatl.com.
Bon Glaze Buckhead
In Miami, you can order empanadas from sidewalk windows. On the Beltline, you can get King of Pops from a takeout window to lick while you stroll. In Buckhead, it's doughnuts. Indeed, the informality of coffee and doughnut culture feels especially fresh at Kelly and Kenny Keith's second Bon Glaze, an adorable stop-and-go. (If you want to sit, head to the original location, in Brookhaven.) Wheeling by for a cup o' Joe and a box of sweet treats strikes me as the perfect Saturday morning outing. Though all of Bon Glaze's confections are ridiculously pretty, I prefer the yeast doughnuts over the cake style. In particular, the Meyer Lemon, Bacon Butterscotch and Apple Streusel. On the cake-y side, the Blueberry Sour Cream, Red Velvet and German Chocolate are good, too. I discovered these versions hold up well for next-day snacking. 3794 Roswell Road NE, Atlanta. 470-428-2569. Brookhaven: 3575 Durden Drive NE, 678-691-4534, bonglaze.com.
Zipping down Johnson Ferry Road in east Cobb, it's easy to miss this, well, hole-in-the-wall. Slow down when you see the Shell station. Look for the "Donuts" sign atop the plain-looking building behind it. You've arrived! In this bright pink spot with just a couple of tables, owners Sokcheat Heng and Sophal Chhim make classic yeast doughnuts, the kind so light and ethereal that you want to inhale them. Some of them are tangy with buttermilk, others drizzled with chocolate icing or dressed up with sprinkles or nuts. Maple bacon is about as fancy as it gets, and it's delicious. Apple fritters, packed with chunky fruit and redolent of spice, would easily be the pride of an Appalachian kitchen. But the nosh worth braking for is the kolache. Though the Eastern European originals were little fruit-filled discs, the Texas-style version served here is the equivalent of a pig-in-a-blanket: a weenie (plain or jalapeno) encased in flaky dough. If you are pumped up on sugar, a kolache will put you back on a savory track. 1282 Johnson Ferry Road, Marietta. 470-308-6130, Facebook: Marietta Donuts.
Stop by this Buckhead newbie on a weekend morning, and you may encounter a cacophonous flock of sugar seekers with their caffeine-addicted adults in tow. They are waiting for fresh-off-the-line doughnuts to be coated, topped and drizzled with a variety of icings and accouterments.
Founded in 2006 in the tiny Outer Banks town of Duck, N.C., this fast-growing chain has devised a masterful mechanized system: Cake batter is fried in hot oil, and perfect doughnuts emerge on a conveyor belt, where they are scooped up and decorated as requested. You can create your own combinations. (Just grab a pencil and fill out the handy order form.) Or start with some of the signature creations. Anything with chocolate, peanut butter or caramel works for me.
Loved the Bacon in the Sun (with salted caramel and maple); S'mores (chocolate, marshmallow squiggles, graham-cracker crumbles); and Coconut Island Bliss (chocolate, chopped peanuts, shredded coconut). At $7.95 for a half-dozen signature assortment, the price is pretty ducky, too. 3655 Roswell Road NE, Atlanta. 404-600-5699, duckdonuts.com.(The first Georgia location is at 3005 Old Alabama Road in Alpharetta. 470-385-6303.)
Also keep in mind:
Tip Top Donuts. This family-owned Marietta store is famous for putting the Dunkin' Donuts next door out of business. Stopping by around 1 p.m. on a Wednesday, we were deflated to see a sign on the door announcing that Tip Top was out of doughnuts. Not to be deterred, we ambled in, and a smiling staff member filled a box with textbook yeast doughnuts like the ones I remember from Loyless. Simple but perfect. 745 Cobb Parkway N., Marietta. 678-540-2601, tiptopdonuts.berlindoener.info.
Revolution Doughnuts & Coffee. Former Californian Maria Moore Riggs is not interested in feather-light Krispy Kremes. Her yeast recipe is denser, with a finer, doughier crumb. More bagel than cake-y. I love it, especially when paired with nuts. Try the Orange Pistachio or Toasted Almond, both vegan. 908 W. College Ave., Decatur. 745 Edgewood Ave. NE, Atlanta. 470-428-2023, revolutiondonut.com.