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Looking for the bay area's best doughnuts? These 10 shops are tops

Here are Tampa Bay's top 10 doughnut shops, the goods rigorously selected for tenderness, flavor, crumb, presentation, topping range and sheer audacity. Right up front, no Dunkin' Donuts and no Krispy Kremes. And here's why: At this point, most locations of these doughnut giants are not making their own product on site. Dunkin' franchises here mostly bring in doughnuts frozen or already par-baked and just bake them off and glaze or top. And the Brandon, Lakeland, St. Petersburg and Tampa locations of Krispy Kreme are all serviced by the N Florida Avenue location, meaning they don't make their doughnuts there.

No. 1: Dough

Birthday-cake-stuffed doughnut. Whoa. Or how about a cookie dough doughnut cone? Tina Contes and her bosses, Suzanne and Roger Perry, are not afraid of pushing the envelope. Or blowing up the envelope entirely and replacing it with a whoopee cushion. Their social media efforts and marquee outside speak to a deep reservoir of humor and not taking themselves too seriously. But underneath all that, they are stone-cold doughnut technicians, with Bill Fray's benediction. Their bacon obsession continues unabated, but their classics (vanilla cake glazed, jelly filled) are exceptional and a steal for 99 cents. I'm going to ding Dough because sometimes the decorations can dip toward Jackson Pollock messy, but it's still top dog. Oh, and just so you know, Dough supplies the doughnuts to Ginger Beard Coffee and the Independent. (2602 S MacDill Ave., Tampa; (813) 902-1979)

No. 2: The Donut Experiment

Technically not in the Tampa Bay area, but worth the gas. For the third year running, my family will rent a beach getaway on Anna Maria Island situated just above this doughnut shop so that my 9-year-old niece can get up every morning and take our orders (she has designed her own order forms) and walk down to retrieve them. We are teaching her independence, and also that good doughnuts are worth extra effort. Opened in 2012 and originally called Anna Maria Donuts, its name was changed by Shawn and Cecilia Wampole so they could franchise. All cake doughnuts, $1.35 a piece, there are five icing choices (chocolate, caramel, maple, vanilla, glaze) and then a range of toppings. Through exhaustive research, it was determined that the chocolate iced with the peanut butter drizzle (and sea salt if you are so bold) is the acme. (210c Pine Ave., Anna Maria Island; (941) 896-3172)

No. 3: Mini Doughnut Factory

I wasn't in love with Perk's Donut Bar, which inhabited this spot a couple of years ago. Since becoming Mini Doughnut, it is crushing. The doughnuts themselves (three-biters if you're dainty) are incredibly moist and tender with great assertively vanilla flavor, and the range of toppings is charming. You're not going to believe me when I say this: The Cotton Candy, topped with strawberry icing and Pop Rocks, is both fun and tasty. Another triumph of engineering is the mini doughnut mated with a Rice Krispies Treat. A 16-pack of minis is $11.65, and perhaps the most excellent suggestion is to stand and watch the doughnuts marching down the conveyor belt while sipping a cold brew coffee, which they serve on tap. (2109 S Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa; (813) 254-5374)

No. 4: The Hole Donuts

Jacque Simmons makes "small batch, gourmet donuts" in St. Pete Beach, mostly for weddings and special events. She doesn't have a brick-and-mortar store. And yet she makes the list for the sheer genius and prettiness of her doughnuts. They are not cheap (about $3 each), but the Creme Brulee — a traditional French creme custard-filled brioche with a bruleed sugar top that is seriously perfect with that brittle, caramelized snap — is worth every penny. These are next-generation doughnuts, the brioche dough not too sweet, with combinations of flavors that impress: Try the Margarita topped with tequila lime glaze, a dust of lime zest and shakes of Florida Sunshine Salt from the Spice & Tea Exchange. Brides, everyone at your wedding is going to be talking about these things, not your dress. You decide. (theholedonuts.com; (727) 204-6843)

No. 5: Jupiter Donuts

This newbie that opened over Memorial Day weekend is not related to the superfamous doughnut shop of the same name in Jupiter. Owner Nick Thimis has created an attractive, contemporary forum for some solid doughnuts, serviced admirably by Buddy Brew coffees. The top offering here is the red velvet topped with sweetened cream cheese. Perfect snappiness, the cream cheese adding a dessertlike sumptuousness. Second best is the salted caramel (is there a more popular word combination in 2016?), and then comes the bacon maple. The apple fritter, like a glazed human brain, would require several hungry people to dispatch, but it has nice flavor. Doughnuts are mostly $1.25. (32130 U.S. 19 N, Palm Harbor; (727) 223-5047)

No. 6: Disco Donuts

Tyler Godshall grew up in the 1970s. It was a great musical decade in his mind and he wanted an excuse to play disco music at work. This meant ditching the corporate world four years ago and having a hot dog-stand-sized food truck built for Disco Donuts. These are mini doughnuts made via a cool machine with a stated capacity of 1,000 per hour (the max he has churned out is 800 so far), not a ton of bells and whistles in terms of toppings. It's a tender, hot, crisp-crusted doughnut dusted with confectioners' sugar, cinnamon sugar or cinnamon sugar with a little honey on top. Godshall's training ground was the Magic Mall at Busch Boulevard and Florida Avenue in Tampa (not far from both a Dunkin' and a Krispy Kreme), and these days he does food truck rallies and a whole lot of catering (weddings, graduations, Hanukkah parties). Stayin Alive is a six-pack for $3, Disco Inferno is a dozen for $5, all eaten within earshot of disco classics. His own personal disco theme song? That would be H.A.P.P.Y. Radio. (On Sunday, Disco Donuts will be at St. Andrews United Methodist in Brandon; (813) 774-0945)

No. 7: Fray's Donut House

The three existing locations are independently owned and not related to Bill Fray at this point. They are classic, old-school doughnut shops with crullers and doughnut holes, maple- and chocolate sprinkle-topped yeast doughnuts. The cake doughnuts have a nice vanilla flavor and light, tender texture. Bagels are also on offer, fairly pillowy but anchoring several solid breakfast sandwiches. The honey dipped is an archetypal American invention, yeasty and aggressively sweet, fingertip-besmirching and calling out for a cup of coffee. (5236 16th St. N, St. Petersburg, (727) 528-1410; 649 34th St. N, St. Petersburg, (727) 528-1410; 4900 Park Blvd., Pinellas Park, (727) 541-3688)

No. 8: Piquant

The cronut craze has calmed. Whew. Here in the Tampa Bay area, the reigning artist of the fabled croissant-doughnut hybrid is Piquant, a splurge at $3.95 to $4.50, but the setting is so convivial that you won't sweat it. Ricardo Castro and Rosana Rivera have continued to refine their business, recently launching a catering arm with notable local chef Gui Alinat, and working toward starting their own larger-scale bakery. They offer a range of classic French pastries, but here's what you need to know about the cronut: buttery, flaky interior that pulls apart across tectonic plates, crunchy exterior, sophisticated fillings. (1633 W Snow Ave., Tampa; (813) 251-1777)

No. 9: SOHO Donut Company

In the spot previously taken by a grilled cheese restaurant next to the University of Tampa, this year-old deli-and-doughnuts shop wins for best names. There's Scarface (guava filled and covered with powdered sugar), the Skunk Ape (chocolate glazed with Oreo pieces and a vanilla drizzle) and the Angry Aztec (red velvet cake doughnut dusted with cayenne pepper). The doughnuts themselves aren't the tenderest, but the display case will make you smile: Excellent use of Fruity Pebbles and Cinnamon Toast Crunch. They also do decent breakfast sandwiches and take their coffee seriously. Classic doughnuts are $6.95 for half a dozen; fancy ones are $8.75. (117 S Hyde Park Ave., Tampa; (813) 605-5649)

No. 10: Nicola's Donut Shop

Rick Scott thought it was a good PR move to serve doughnuts here. Opened in 1982 by Joe and Kathy Nicola, this is a traditional longtimer with more than 50 varieties, roughly 30 cupcake options and a range of other seasonal pastries. Some of the doughnuts can look a little blowsy with sprinkles and squiggles of drizzle. (At Easter this year they even had Peeps-topped options.) For our money, the sour cream old-fashioned is textbook, with the ideal snap and crustiness to the outer edge and moist, tender crumb, and the coconut cream pie doughnut is homely but fabulous. Glazed yeasted is the top seller, a bargain at 90 cents. (902 W Busch Blvd., Tampa; (813) 932-1303)

Contact Laura Reiley at lreiley@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley on Twitter.

Looking for the bay area's best doughnuts? These 10 shops are tops 07/18/16 [Last modified: Monday, July 18, 2016 4:06pm]
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