Your 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.