Flanders Bake Shop is more than a donut destination

The rainbow of donuts available every day at Flanders Donut, Bagel & Bake Shop. (Marisa Nadolny)
The rainbow of donuts available every day at Flanders Donut, Bagel & Bake Shop. (Marisa Nadolny)

Some days are good days. Example: When your editor gives you the green light to review a bake shop that specializes in donuts, bagels, and all things delightfully carb-loaded.

Despite the influx of corporate coffee-n-donut shops over the last few decades, Flanders Donut has done its thing and garnered a faithful following that’s kept it open since 1972. That’s a lot of crullers.

I suspect part of the charm is the sheer variety of donut flavors available every day — literally dozens of them. From specials like the Oreo Cookie and Super Crunch Chocolate Cake ($1.59 each) to your classics like Sugar Raised and Honey Wheat ($1.09 apiece), Flanders Donut keeps it fresh (see what I did there?) with its daily selection of donuts alone. That isn’t counting the dozen or so flavors of bagels and all the other non-donut pastries (cupcakes, muffins, and strudel, oh my!).

I confess, the first thing I tried from Flanders Donut was not a donut at all but the black and white cookie ($1.54 each), that staple of East Coast bakeries that I must always order when I travel to NYC. Flanders’ are smaller than the train-station variety, but the robust, home-made flavor adds its own special volume. The cookie alone (more like a mini muffin top) is quite tasty, from its moist texture to the hints of orange zest within. Paired with the layer of buttercream vanilla and chocolate frosting — fresh and smooth, with those cinnamon notes once again on the chocolate side — and one cookie will satisfy any sugar craving to great effect.

Donut-wise, I tend to lean toward the classics and rated the Sugar Raised my favorite of a sample of six. It had that perfect fair-food flavor and great texture accented by the crunch of the surrounding sugar. You get some spring-back and moisture with Flanders’ Sugar Raised, instead of what feels like a mouthful of air and oil a la Krispy Kreme.

Second place went to the Boston Cream (part of the regular rotation priced at $1.09 each), mostly thanks to its rich chocolate frosting on top. This is real frosting, people, and not the fake-y, flimsy, syrup-y stuff of other donut chains. Cinnamon notes amplify the depth of the chocolate flavor and the cream filling is thick, generous and vanilla-forward.

Coming in at the bottom of the top three was the Peanut Butter and Jelly donut ($1.09), a clever take on the comfort-food classic. What nails it is the slightly salty peanut butter topping that plays off the hearty blurb of jelly (possibly raspberry flavored) within. The surrounding cake stands up to the filling and provides a good “sandwich” backdrop for the stars of the show.

Falling into the Just-Fine-But-Nothing-Spectacular category was the Solid Chocolate (read: chocolate glazed; $1.09) and Honey Wheat. For a chocolate donut, the former did not seem overwhelmingly cocoa-rich. The texture was exactly what you’re looking for in a glazed donut, with crumbly density and a wee bit of oily moisture and a slight crispy edge to the glaze itself, but if something is billed as chocolate-flavored, it must bring the flavor.

As for the Honey Wheat, neither honey nor wheat emerge as strong flavor-players. They take a backseat to what I like to call “fried flavor,” with the wheat-ness of the donut inching in at the back end of each bite. I was hoping for a good coffee companion with this plain-Jane type of donut, but, alas, the Sugar Raised set a high bar for sweet satisfaction.

I also had high hopes for the Maple Bacon donut, one of the specials, because: bacon. However, my palate couldn’t reconcile the smokiness of the crispy, chopped bacon on top with the subtle sweetness of the maple frosting and the moist and dough-y base. It should have worked, and I wanted it to, but for me it didn’t. Plus side for bacon-heads: The bacon crumble topping is generously applied and that maple frosting would make for a lovely non-bacon-covered donut topping.

There’s no accounting for bacon preferences, and there is no shortage of other sweet treats to swap in should one not work for you. See also, the cannoli ($2.30 each), which I didn’t expect to find at a dedicated donut shop. The clincher was the well-balanced flavor of the filling, with the sweetness just edging out the subtle tang of the ricotta, with notes of cinnamon. It was smooth as silk, and the chocolate chips on each end of the cannoli were a perfect punctuation to the creamy, rich filling. One slight bummer: Because the cannoli are in a refrigerated case, the cannoli shells had softened and lost all their crispness.

Now, one could make a breakfast of donuts and cannolis, but be aware that savory items are available at Flanders, too. A basic egg and cheese ($3.09) proved serviceable, although it was most likely of the microwave variety. However, the cornmeal bagel it was served upon was very, very good and flavorful, with a great nobbly texture and just a bit of cornmeal crunch. A follow-up sample of an Everything bagel ($1.19) revealed another good choice, with excellent texture and flavor that I suspect is characteristic of a Flanders bagel.

And while one might not think to travel to a donut shop for stromboli, consider it on a Friday or Saturday when Flanders offers a selection of stuffed breads. On a recent Friday, customers had a choice of four flavors of stuffed breads: pepperoni; broccoli and chicken; four-cheese and ham; and Meat Lovers. I opted for a pepperoni bread ($4.99; serves two to three), and it is hereby recommended. Normally I’m all about the filling, but the bread itself was very good, with subtle flavor and a toothier texture than expected (in a good way), remnant of a fresh-baked pretzel. Add in the spicy salami, tasty and bright tomato sauce, and a bit of parmesan cheese, and you’ve got a winner that could get dinner done in one dish.

After more than 45 years in the business, Flanders Donut, Bagel & Bake Shop knows how to satisfy a sweet tooth and serve up the most important meal of the day with fast, friendly service and hot coffee at the ready. That’s a good recipe for success, and no doubt it will keep delivering for years to come.

 

Flanders Donut, Bagel & Bake Shop

327 Flanders Road, East Lyme

(860) 739-6320

No website; find them on Facebook

Cuisine: Coffee and donuts, plus other baked treats including bagels, cupcakes, cookies, and more. Drive-through included!

Atmosphere: Few frills but clean, cozy, and welcoming. Note: No full menus posted anywhere inside, which isn't super convenient. Your best shot to see everything available and prices is at the drive-through 

Service: Upbeat and swift

Prices: Wallet friendly and fair. Donuts are $1.03 each, $6.09 for a half dozen, and $8.55 a dozen; bagels are $1.19 each ($2.29 with cream cheese); and breakfast sandwiches start at $3.09.

Hours: Monday-Thursday and Saturday, 4 a.m.-4 p.m.; Friday, 4 a.m.-6 p.m. (Closed Sunday.)

Credit cards: Not accepted. Cash only.

Handicap access: No ramp at entrance or anywhere else, with a slight curb on the way to the door. Interior is fairly roomy for a relatively small space.

 

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