Hand-crafted donuts at Knead in Providence

The vast array of hand crafted donuts at Knead in Providence. Get it? “Need/Knead” donuts. (Paige Impink photo)

Providence, Rhode Island has really transformed itself from a scrappy town to a vibrant tourist destination. Long known as a foodie haunt, Providence has also become known for its many neighborhood donut shops.

And my friends, these are donuts. Light, airy, vegan, gluten free, made with simple ingredients and hand crafted like works of art, Providence’s artisanal donut shops dot the downtown and sport long lines of people waiting to add a small bit of “forbidden” food to their day.

Donuts are an indulgence for most, but with recipes that use small batch flours and local ingredients, even those with dietary restrictions can perhaps feel OK to indulge just a bit.

A friend and I recently made a pilgrimage to some of the neighborhoods in Pro­vi­dence to see and sample what all the fuss was about. These are not shops with neon signs or drive-throughs, rather, the shops are quaint, stylized, and bustling with patrons eager for a high quality product.

Lines can be long, but the service is attentive and no one is rushed as the decisions are made — Butter Beer or Coconut Cold Brew? Vegan Ap­ple Cider or Blueberry Glazed? Traditional cake or airy cruller?

Handmade one at a time and larger than traditional chain donuts, the emphasis is on creativity, unique flavor combinations, and names that just scream “pick me” as we select a half….. no, full dozen of these beauties. This is not a cheap habit either, with donuts fetching $2.50-3.50 a piece. However, all agreed the flavor, quality and size justified the price.

We started at PVDonuts, a play on the airport code for Providence (PVD). Located in the Fox Point neighborhood, the shop had a line out the door, though it did move quickly. There are tables inside where you can sit and savor your treat, but most people were walking out with boxes of joy.

PVDonuts has a call-ahead option if you are tight on time, but we wanted to see each donut before we order­ed. The donuts are a brioche-based creation vs. the traditional cake donut. They are light and not greasy, large but not bricks.

PVDonuts is a family owned-shop who purportedly started the store after being inspired by the Holy Donut in Maine, a mashed potato donut dreamery in Portland we have also visited.

Satisfied, we moved on to Knead Donuts on Custom House Street downtown, home of the “night cruller.” Knead opens their hot donut window on Friday nights from 6 - 9 p.m. with a select menu of surprises, and has become very popular. Knead has vegan and flourless donuts, filled, fritters and cake varieties.

The donuts are available to order ahead or may be de­livered, and people have do­nut birthday parties, decorating events, and the shop offers catering. Blueberry corn crumble, peanut butter and jelly filled, butternut squash fritter… how does one decide? We took a dozen so we didn’t have to!

In addition to these two popular shops, there are some other notables if you are in the vicinity. Sans Glu­ten has gluten free donuts, GlazeNDaze for traditional donuts, and DeLuise bakery has been in business for more than 70 years. There are numerous other shops so it will obviously be necessary to do additional re­search as the Providence doughnut community grows.

Head down early one weekend and see for yourself what the fuss is about.

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