Save for a single orange accent wall, the interior of Carolina Glazed Donuts, which opened in late February in a nondescript strip mall between Durham and the Research Triangle Park, is the most basic beige.
Pops of color come from a handful of hard red plastic booths and a single potted plant, which stands like a lonely sentinel near the front door. There's no espresso machine in sight, not even a soda fountain. Beneath the constant glow of fluorescent lights, you're not likely to linger over a latte or even your breakfast for an hour or so in a place like this.
But that's not the point: Carolina Glazed makes the absolute best donuts in the Triangle.
At Carolina Glazed, you will find nothing considered fashionable. In an area undergoing a bloom of haute couture donuts, though, where places such as Monuts and Rise offer eccentric specialties like chili mango or crème brûlée and their takes on the faddish cronut, Carolina Glazed stands out for its dedication to craft and its execution of the basics. To a near-comical extent, it is a bullshit-free eatery, the place to go if you want a top-quality, low-budget treat and none of the frills.
The only gimmick at Carolina Glazed, if you can call it that, is its filled donuts. In most other shops, you gaze into the case and make a selection. Here, though, you choose the shell of your donut—standard rounds or long johns, perhaps topped with maple, chocolate, or vanilla icing—and then one of seven fillings (lemon, blueberry, strawberry, raspberry, vanilla cream, Boston cream, or cream cheese, which sports a slight tang). Your picked poison is added in plain view.
Carolina Glazed subscribes to both schools of donut thought: yeast and cake. The yeast donuts are light, airy, and delicate, served either with a plain glaze or a touch of icing. If they lack a hole, expect them to be filled. Cake donuts, on the other hand, are much thicker and heavier. Their outsides are a little crumbly, the insides perfectly dense for dunking into a cup of black coffee, an accessory Carolina Glazed actually can sell you.
These yeast donuts are largely variations on plain glazed and chocolate iced donuts, though some are maple iced, too. The strawberry donuts are almost cartoonishly bright pink. Others come dusted in coconut flakes, peanuts, or rainbow sprinkles. The sweetness stems from the glaze, which adds a touch of crunch against the pillow of pastry inside. They don't quite melt in your mouth like a hot, mass-produced Krispy Kreme confection, but the competition is a close one.
The old-fashioned cake donuts are a marvel, with a crisp exterior that yields to a near-fudgy interior. They're also simple, with a blueberry variety being the most extravagant iteration. The standard is so good that even a cake donut topped with a thick layer of chocolate barely bests its plain counterpart.
Carolina Glazed doesn't stop with donuts; the handful of other pastries are fantastic, too. Its classic apple fritter is intricately twisted, with small chunks of apple and a mild amount of cinnamon sprinkled throughout the crispy treat. Hefty cinnamon buns and braided twists sit close by, as do four-pronged bear claws stuffed with delectable apple-cinnamon goo.
The beguiling strawberry "butterfly" may catch your eye. With four small pastry tendrils that spiral together, it looks more like a snarling Cthulhu than a butterfly. But that's only semantics. A light swipe of strawberry jam sits on the inside of each curl—not enough to overwhelm, but enough to add a sticky burst of flavor.
The knotty pastry pinecones suggest a cinnamon bun styled into the shape of a beauty queen's updo. It's difficult to make head or tail of how the thing gets its figure or its name (again, it doesn't resemble a pinecone), but the layers of little twists make it easy to pull apart to share (or graze on alone with one hand). Glaze and cinnamon pool under the pinecone's central knot, offering a final chamber of sweetness.
Keep in mind that the fritter, butterfly, and pinecone are all enormous; you could eat just one and be done for the day. They're also included in the price for an assorted dozen, which runs about eleven dollars. That's even with Krispy Kreme's price tag and a bit higher than Dunkin' Donuts, while at Rise and Monuts, the most basic treats start around a dollar, so the cost of a mixed dozen escalates quickly. Carolina Glazed bests those esteemed area institutions for less by staying simple; you can get a lot of basic but glorious fried dough for very little, well, dough.
There is just one rub: located on South Miami Boulevard, just off Interstate 40, Carolina Glazed is only convenient for those who work in RTP. But at least the shop opens early and closes late every day (save on Sunday, at two p.m.), so these golden, sugar-wrapped halos aren't limited to breakfast or brunch hours.
Given how skilled Carolina Glazed is at its craft, it's surprising to show up on a Saturday morning and find the place nearly empty. It might not be hip, downtown, or destined to spawn franchises wielding wild flavor combinations, but its exceptional offerings trump the whimsical winds of cool every time. Carolina Glazed takes itself seriously in the only way that really matters—simply conceived and expertly executed pastries.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Glaze of Glory"