When it comes to donuts, I find myself asking a vague yet tantamount question: why? Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy fried dough-rings as much as the next small-town cop. But then again, why? I don’t think its in the shape. You can’t taste shapes, and for that matter, donuts can vary wildly in this regard; compare the average sugar-glazed and a Boston cream. So too, taste can vary—both in flavor, and quality. Anyone can identify store-bought versus home-made, and yet I find donuts irresistible no matter their origin. Now here we are again: why?
In the face of such a gustatory dilemma, I turn towards my hometown, Asheville, Appalachia’s culinary bastion. And so, I chose to delve into the world of Asheville’s donuts, in search of above all else truth, and perhaps some free samples. After months of hardship, I return with all the information I have gathered, compiled into this guide to the best donut shops in Asheville. I can only hope my sacrifices have not been in vain.
I was all up for trying some pate on my pastries, but as it turns out, this donut shop’s recipes are entirely duck-free. Originating from North Carolina’s Outer Banks, Duck Donuts is a nationwide franchise. Usually I am critical of such large operations, but due to Duck’s partnerships with local nonprofits, and my childhood visits to the Outer Banks, I am willing to offer them an honorary certificate of localness.
The keyword for Duck Donuts, by my estimation, is consistency. Their donuts follow the ur-example of their kind, with flavors covering the normal range of chocolate to vanilla, while sometimes venturing into s’mores or maple-bacon. Duck’s real claim to fame though, is their custom-order option, with which one could procure a donut dressed in peanut butter, Oreos, and raspberries and then proceed to wonder why they have called such a horrifying thing into existence.
In the realm of non-donut menu-items, Duck Donuts offers milkshakes (donut-flavored) and breakfast sandwiches (which use donuts as bread). Now that I think of it, Duck Donuts doesn’t really have any non-donut menu-items, but rather just donuts in disguise. Nonetheless, Duck Donuts stands alone among the donut shops in Asheville as the only establishment where one can drink their donuts.
Where: Off Merrimon Avenue, Asheville’s north-south lifeline. They are far enough away from downtown to avoid parking trouble, while being near enough as to be convenient for post-shopping snacks.
Located on Asheville’s famous South Slope brewing district, Vortex—as one may expect—offers an excellent variety of drinks. I don’t mean beer—they save their yeast and whatnot for the donuts. Rather I mean espresso, tea curated by Dobra (a local favorite), and kombucha fermented by none other than buchi, my own preferred brand.
Vortex’s catalogue of donut-flavors has a nearly nonexistent online presence; one assumes it’s been lost to the shop’s namesake. But in short, Vortex offers the regular, Dunkin-esque gambit—vanilla, sour-cream, etc.—alongside some truly intriguing varieties: mud-cake, vegan, and of course, “vortex,” the only doughnut-flavor I’ve yet to find that sounds as if it wants to turn the tables on me. All in all, Vortex plays strongly into Asheville’s beverage-scene, while offering some strong contenders for more novel donut-flavors.
Where: Located on Bank’s Avenue, Vortex lies within a kind of Bermuda-triangle, caught betwixt Burial Beer Company, Green Man Brewing, and The Funkatorium. Of all the donut shops in Asheville, it is the only one from which one may commence—or end—a tour of local breweries.
This entry takes us north along Merrimon Avenue, nearly at the gates of far-flung and mystical Woodfin. Primarily—as the name would entail—a bakery, Geraldine’s offers far more than donuts: bagels, cupcakes, breakfast sandwiches, and even wedding cakes.
However, Geraldine’s does not regard their donuts as a simple sideshow. They show donuts the respect they deserve. While not straying too far into experimental flavors, Geraldine’s clearly strives for a touch above one’s everyday fried-dough, baking donuts inlaid with sliced-almond, as well as their “Famous Frizster,” made in the Danish style. Accompanied by coffee from nearby Black Mountain’s Dynamite Roasting Company, Geraldine’s offers a break from the more energetic aesthetic of the downtown donut shops in Asheville, opting instead for a dense, sugary hominess.
Where: Geraldine’s lies far from most of Asheville’s central attractions, but this is not necessarily a bad thing. I’m in favor of distributing the city’s culinary havens far-and-wide, as to be convenient to everyone, no matter how far away they live from downtown. Incidentally, Geraldine’s lies on the path to Pisgah National Forest. I’ve never considered donuts to be a picknick-food, but I may just consider them now.
Like Duck Donuts, Hole Doughnuts has a custom-order option, but here’s the twist: Hole Doughnuts has an open kitchen, allowing you to see the action played out before your very eyes. Indisputably handmade, Hole Doughnuts makes no effort at a deception of mechanization: their creations are born with the lumps and twists which give a pastry character. While some may deride such “imperfections,” I’ll tell you there’s something downright charming about dining on a square doughnut.
Their menu is to-the-point: vanilla glaze, cinnamon sugar, toasted almond-sesame, the weekly seasonal special, and coffee from PennyCup, a local small-batch roaster. If the keyword for Duck Donuts was “consistency,” Hole’s is “compelling.” Of all the donut shops in Asheville, I find Hole Doughnuts to provide some of the most straightforward yet complex fare, and in their unapologetic dough-lumps lies an honesty I think we should all strive for.
Where: Hole Doughnuts lies in West-Asheville—the most Ashevilleian section of town, by my estimation. With less than a mile separating this donut shop from Taco Billy and oft-mentioned OWL Bakery, there can be no question as to the quality of Hole’s culinary company.
This entry manages not only to cast its net far beyond that of a mere donut-shop—offering café fare for breakfast and lunch—but to also excel in the matter of fried dough. This brings us back to the very start of this post: why doughnuts? Well, I think the answer is novelty. On the surface, there’s nothing special about a ring of fried dough glazed in sugar. We know what fried dough tastes like, we know what sugar tastes like. But donuts can be so much more than this. They are a format, a medium, like poetry. And it’s the content that matters. Donuts can be filled with all manner of flavors—new, extreme, and above-all, surprising.
Doughp Doughnuts understands this fact better than most other donut shops in Asheville. Doughp plies such eclectic imaginings as the “Everything,” composed of sweet cream cheese and everything-bagel spices, and the “L’eggo my Eggo,” topped with a genuine eggo waffle, and their frequently fluctuating menu offers downright donut adventures. Perhaps such unpredictable flavors are not to everyone’s liking. But for my money, if you’ve decided to visit Asheville, you better try something new.
Where: Burrowed just east of the Vance Memorial, in downtown’s heart. The Underground Café with Doughp Doughnuts is a contender among the city’s best downtown desert-stops.
182 Merrimon Ave, Asheville, NC 28801
32 Banks Ave #106, Asheville, NC 28801
840 Merrimon Ave, Asheville, NC 28804
3198 US-70, Black Mountain, NC 28711
168 Haywood Rd, Asheville, NC 28806
362 Depot St, Asheville, NC 28801
201 Haywood Rd, Asheville, NC 28806
295 Haywood Rd #4545, Asheville, NC 28806
22 S Pack Square, Asheville, NC 28801