We’re eating our way through area bakeries, two at a time, on a quest to find the best doughnut in the Washington area. In our first three weeks, we sampled from a chain boasting “Hot Now” doughnuts, a takeout joint attached to a restaurant, two old-school bakeries, a hip newcomer and an Asian fusion mini-chain. In Week 4, we visit a national chain known as much for its coffee as its doughnuts and a family-owned Bethesda bakery.
This bakery opened back in 1949 at Georgia Ave. in the District before moving out to Bethesda in 1981. Perched in a strip mall close to a busy hardware store, it turns out a solid, steady supply of loaves, boules and rolls. There are also plenty of cupcakes, cookies and cakes to tempt shoppers of all ages.
Address: 6914 Arlington Rd., Bethesda. 301-656-2340, www.breadsunlimited.com.
Hours: Mondays through Fridays, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturdays, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sundays, 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The lineup: As the name implies, there were plenty of bread options on hand. But only three doughnuts: plain glazed, chocolate frosted, apple fritter.
Price: $1.25-$1.75 per doughnut.
The look: Generally unremarkable, though the visually spot-on fritter could have passed for the real deal at a Dutch country farmers market. (Average weight: 4 ounces)
Price per ounce: 28-42 cents.
How do they taste? Uniformly fluffy and puffy, the just-sweet-enough dough was a pleasant surprise. The fritter yearned for more apple chunks and apple flavor, which demoted it to the middle of the pack. (Average score: 5 out of 10)
Best of the bunch: Plain glazed. Though it wasn’t a stunner visually, — the bottom was covered with a crosshatching of rack marks — it deftly balanced the glaze-to-dough ratio. This made it the judges’ second favorite doughnut thus far, trailing only Zeke’s Ferrero Rocher. (Average score: 5.9)
Worst of the bunch: Chocolate frosted. The teeth-gratingly sweet icing tasted like it came out of a can, earning it more than a few distasteful looks. (Average score: 4.4)
This international chain has been around since 1950, building up a portfolio of more than 10,000 shops in more than 30 countries. If you’re not in the mood for a doughnut, you can opt for breakfast sandwiches and pastries, bagels or just a surprisingly strong cup of coffee.
Address: 4801 Bethesda Ave., Bethesda. 301-652-4747, www.dunkindonuts.com.
Hours: Daily, 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.
The lineup: More than two dozen varieties of doughnuts were on display, including chocolate frosted cocoa cake, toasted coconut, raspberry-filled, chocolate frosted with sprinkles, maple frosted, strawberry frosted, apple cinnamon-filled, sugared raised, chocolate cream-filled, sour cream with blueberries, plain cake, glazed.
Price: 95 cents per doughnut ($7.99 per dozen).
The look: Most appeared as though they had been on the shelf for a while. While some of the icings and toppings had been thoughtfully applied, several looked sloppy and wholly unappealing. (Average weight: 2.7 ounces.)
Price per ounce: 23-59 cents.
How do they taste? If America runs on Dunkin’, like the company slogan claims, then we are running ourselves into the ground. This was a tough batch to choke down, giving the double-D bakery the ignoble honor of being our least favorite doughnuts thus far. The maple was so artificially awful that it would have made Aunt Jemima blush, the raspberry filling reminded one judge of cough syrup, and the chocolate frosted with sprinkles seemed like it would please only a very hungry 4-year-old. (Average score: 2.2 out of 10.)
Best of the bunch: Chocolate frosted cocoa cake. In this case, best means least offensive. Crumbly, dry and lacking a real punch of flavor, it was barely passable. (Average score: 3.1)
Worst of the bunch: Toasted coconut. This was the worst doughnut of three weeks of competition — by a long shot. Hard as a rock and dry as a desert, it tasted like it was made back in the Mesozoic Era. As one judge put it, “My stomach deserves better.” (Average score: 1.1)
The running totals so far
1. Woodward Takeout Food 5.4
2. Zeke’s DC Donutz 5.1
3. Breads Unlimited 5.0
4. Heller’s Bakery 4.1
5. Shilla Bakery 3.9
6. Heidelberg Pastry Shoppe 3.5
7. Krispy Kreme 3.1
8. Dunkin’ Donuts 2.2
1. Zeke’s Ferrero Rocher 6.7
2. Breads Unlimited plain glazed 5.9
3/4 (tie). WTF Berliner and WTF glazed 5.4
5/6 (tie). Heller’s glazed twist & Heidelberg sugar with apricot 4.9
1. Dunkin’ Donuts toasted coconut 1.1
2. Krispy Kreme glazed raspberry filled 2.1
3. Heidelberg glazed cruller 2.3
4. Zeke’s Sexy Mexy 2.4
5/6 (tie). Heller’s chocolate frosted w/sprinkles & Heller’s glazed w/sprinkles & Shilla plain w/red bean 3.4