Tim Hortons vs. Dunkin’ Donuts

picture-220Your devoted scribe once spent two weeks driving through Canada with a singer-songwriter on an acoustic-duo tour, and if there’s one phrase that trip brings to mind other than “indifferent audiences” and “lame beer,” it’s “Tim Hortons.” The Canadian donut chain is a ubiquitous presence on the endless highways of the Great White North, more common than caribou roadkill.

Now the chain is generating some hoopla by opening a dozen stores in New York City, having been imported to replace Dunkin’ Donuts outlets by the Riese Corporation, the Chilis-and-TGIFridays-pimping restaurant group whose influence on the Manhattan food scene is akin to Custer’s influence on the Indians. The question: will they steal the thunder of Dunkin’ Donuts, which has opened hundreds of outlets in the city over the past few years?

The problem with this matchup is the inherent lack of drama. Beating Dunkin’ in the donut department is an achievement right up there with blowing a Ford Taurus off the drag strip. Were they once better? I can remember when they were a reliable guilty-pleasure indulgence, but every time I’ve taken a notion to try one in the past few years, it’s ended up in the trash after two bites.

Still, we at Brokelyn are nothing if not game. And two of the Hortons shops are on our turf, in Downtown Brooklyn at 22 Court St. and 451 Fulton St. So I picked up a glazed, an old-fashioned and a jelly from Dunkin’ Donuts and put them head to head with their Canadian competitors. (The first two, at least—it turns out Tim Hortons doesn’t stock a jelly donut, which is one more reason to eye Canadians with suspicion.)

I picked up some coffee while I was at it, even though I don’t normally drink the stuff, figuring I’d sacrifice my jangled nerves along with my cholesterol count in service of the Brokelyn reader’s Right to Know.

First, the coffee: Tim Horton’s had all the character of a mannequin, but its rounded blandness met its goal of being pleasant and inoffensive. Dunkin’ Donuts’ java had a dishwatery bitterness that gave it more personality, but left me wondering whether that was a good thing. Call it a draw, with the advantage to Hortons.

Next, the donuts. Dunkin’s honeydip-glazed stunk out loud, offering a cardboard texture and stale flavor and leaving a sheen of grease on the roof of my mouth. Hortons was a definite step up, with a sweet, yeasty flavor and a passably airy texture.

Dunkin’ did better in the old-fashioned division; its entry was decent, with a crisp exterior and a nutty flavor. Hortons’ was respectable as well, though we’ll give it second place for its limper texture.

So, adding it all up, the winner is . . . .

Peter Pan donuts in Greenpoint. Hands down. New York City isn’t much of a donut town, and a decent neighborhood cruller joint is hard to come by. But here lies Brooklyn’s finest. Don’t be fooled by the word “patisserie” on the awning, perhaps a nod to the swelling ranks of gentrifiers.


This is an old-school donut shop, where glum elders drink endless cups of coffee at the winding counter and endearing Polish girls in pastel uniforms serve up glazed, sugar-dusted, jelly- and cream-filled treats arrayed in racks behind the register. They’re soft, fresh and good (and, if anyone’s counting, at 90 cents apiece slightly cheaper than both Hortons and Dunkin’, at $.95 and $.99, respectively). And you’ll be spared the depressing fast-food ambience and infantile color schemes.

Peter Pan Donut and Pastry Shop, 727 Manhattan Ave. between Norman and Meserole.


  1. So true! Thanks for saving me the trouble and disappointment of trying the new chain for myself. As a working technician in the film business, I am all too familiar with ferschtunkin donuts, but we all love when one of the grips stops at Peter Pan on the way in.
    Will you PLEASE do a bagel review?

  2. boo. I was thinking they might brew Tim Horton’s coffee to it’s true greatness in the store. I’ve kept it stockpiled at home since first having it in Canada 2 years ago.

    At least I can buy it in person now. Used to live not to far from Peter Pan and it really is the best donut you’ll ever put in your face.

  3. Having spent thousands of hours in the McGill University library and its adjacent “Timmy Ho’s” I can only express my passionate disagreement with Patrice’s favorable review of the coffee. It royally sucked, the only benefit being that I started bringing my own to school, saving me enough money to purchase a few more donuts and bagels, which are tolerable.

  4. Bruce Gomes

    Having made frequent trips to Canada, I can only say that at Tim Horton’s doughnuts are passable at best and the coffee absolutely undrinkable. I’ve repeatedly tried it thinking it can’t possibly be as bad as I remembered it, and it never fails to meet my original impression. This from someone who has had some of the most gut wrenching cups of Java, diners that been boiling it for the last 17 hours, coffee shops that have never cleaned the pot, coffee that cleans out your system within the hour (a downtown all hours place comes to mind, be sure to be near a loo). Last time we were up North we decided to try TH’s higher end brews, and they too were poured out, not worth two cents, and certainly not worth the Toonie we paid for them. So if you’re drinking terrible coffee, as the song goes, “Blame Canada!”.

  5. TareX

    I left the US for Toronto last year…. Horton’s Donuts were insanely good.

    Then I went back to the US (Philly) for a weekend… bought a donut from Dunkin’s. It tasted like BREAD.

    There’s no comparison between the two. Horton’s wins with a landslide.

  6. Infini_ivturbo

    You have to understand Dunkin Donuts had a very large presence in Canada before Tim Hortons came around. Once Horton’s started to make a foothold in the market it completely decimated coffee shops. Dunkin Donuts, Country Style and more were all replaced by Tim Horton’s. As bad as it was, in Ottawa a Dunkin Donuts shut down in front of a major police station and was quickly replaced by a Tim Horton’s

    (also Tim Horton’s coffee is terrible, but suspiciously a cup of horton’s coffee contains more caffiene than a cup of star bucks coffee!)

  7. Upon first presentation of my beverage, I’ll be honest, my heart sank. The container’s maroony, reddish/yellow colour scheme did not exactly scream “appetizing” to me. However, after peeling away the easy to use (and resealable!) lid flap, sweet mother of Moses was I mistaken! The brown liquid housed within can only be described as “the experience of a lifetime” (my coffee companion’s words, not mine). My first sip was the perfect marriage of cream, sugar and caffeine and this continued right through to the last drop. On reflection, it’s clear to me that the employees working there are not only passionate about what they do, but they are in tune with their customers’ needs also. Thank you Tim Hortons for being my silver lining on this dreary Wednesday.

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