In my home town in New Hampshire, the only doughnuts one can get (besides apple cider doughnuts during fall) are from Dunkin’. We often joke about the staggering number of Dunkin’s there are in that town alone (there are literally five. And many more in every neighboring town), and it is not uncommon to run into someone you know at any one of them, especially before or after any school event. While the quality of the doughnuts are not exactly top-notch, the community feel continues to endear me to Dunks wherever I am.
This is the feeling that was present at Peter Pan Donuts and Pastry in Brooklyn. This doughnut shop receives many raves and recommendations, but I have not made it out there until recently as it is rather out of the way over in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. But with a free Saturday morning, I thought it was time to check it out. There are several artisanal doughnut shops near me in Manhattan boasting fancy flavors, but I was in the mood for something more simple and classic, and Peter Pan seemed to be the place to go for that.
After a ride on the A and the G, I found myself in the open streets of Greenpoint. A couple of people could be seen walking the sidewalks to pick up breakfast, but for the most part, the neighborhood was quiet. As I entered Peter Pan I saw why: the whole neighborhood seemed to be in there. There was a full line leading up to the register right in front and two square outlets of counter space that were packed with people grabbing a Saturday Morning treat. As folks walked in and out I consistently heard calls of recognition, families running into each other, individuals striking up a conversation while sitting at the counter. This was the definition of a neighborhood joint.
Though there were many options for both the yeast and cake variety, I decided a classic spot demanded some classic flavors. I got an old-fashioned cake, Boston cream, and a small coffee (all for only $4! That’s the average price for a single doughnut at most other places!) and grabbed an open stool by the counter. Boston cream has long been my go-to, very typical of the flavor profile which I typically favor. And while old-fashioned doughnuts are often the ones that are left for last in a variety box brought to work or group function, I went through a phase in my youth where it was my doughnut of choice and since then I have appreciated the tasty simplicity of it. But with such a simple product there is nothing to hide behind, so if it’s not executed well then it can very quickly turn disappointing. But if a place was going to do it well, Peter Pan seemed like the one.
I began with the old-fashioned. It was not huge and bouncy, but a circumference just larger than my palm. A size that did not make me feel cheated, but like two doughnuts was reasonable. And while I could smell and feel the fresh crispness of the fry, it was not oily and greasy. This slight outer crunch is often missing from the average old-fashioned and provided a nice textural variation that made it different from eating simply a small bunt cake, which is oft the trap of an old-fashioned. That being said, I did find myself wanting just a little more cake to balance out the cake to crispy ratio. Just a little bit more dough would have given it space to even out and the eater more space to enjoy the simple flavor of the doughnut.
And on the note of flavor, what is the flavor of an old-fashioned doughnut? I don’t expect nor do I want a strong vanilla flavor, which is the typical baseline flavor of most baked goods. But I cannot place another flavor either, and usually, when those flavors are involved they are used as qualifying descriptors, a different doughnut unto itself. But the flavor of an old fashioned doughnut feels like simply the flavor of “general baked good”. Which could be interpreted as negative (which is why, I think, old-fashioneds are often left for last), but makes it a perfect comfort with a good cup of coffee (which it was at Peter Pan) and the right mood. While the texture was not perfect overall, Peter Pan’s old-fashioned was just that, old-fashioned. Nothing particularly special or rave-worthy, but a solid and serviceable classic.
The Boston cream was a little sounder proportionally, but this time in reference to its dough to cream to icing ration. Again, the flavors were fairly unremarkable. Bavarian cream with a touch of vanilla flavor and chocolate icing that was smooth and chocolaty. I was not left searching for the cream, which is just about the worst thing that can happen with a Boston cream, but it was also not overly bursting with cream in a way that was unmanaged. They were not attempting to reinvent the wheel. But they were executing a good example of a Boston cream.
Peter Pan’s product is classic and tasty, well done and of good quality but not extraordinary. But while the doughnuts were not special themselves, the environment of Peter Pan is what makes it a place to go to. Though it was a week before Thanksgiving they were already playing holiday tunes, and the front window was decorated in holiday fashion, adding to the festive feel created by everyone’s joyful conversations. It reminded me of running into friends and acquaintances at any of my hometown Dunkin’s, just with the doughnuts stepped up a notch or two. And one certainly cannot argue with the extremely affordable prices. While it did not leave me craving their doughnuts enough of me to make the trek back, I would definitely stop by if I found myself in the area, if just for the nostalgia trip.