Philly v. Brooklyn: Round One, The Donut Duel

In this column, NY transplant Thomas Santella astrally projects himself across the NJ Turnpike to illuminate the ever-increasing connections between Philadelphia and its (supposedly) hipper brother of the north, Brooklyn. His goal? To obliterate the ongoing rivalry between the two and piss off the locals.

Round 1: The Donut Duel

The humble donut seems to be undergoing a resurgence as of late, perhaps due to our current crap-conomy. Buoyed by its reasonable price tag and an increasing interest in high-end coffee, I sought out two celebrated practitioners of the form, one old school bakery in Greenpoint, Brooklyn and a new school donut shop in Pennsport, Philadelphia.

It is time to rate the donuts.

Federal Donuts v. Peter Pan Donut and Pastery Shop

Federal: Opened in October 2011, Federal Donuts is one of those culinary adventures modern restaurateurs dream about. The brainchild of chef Michael Solomonov (Zahav, Percy Street Barbecue) and business partner Steven Cook, Federal Donuts came out of the gate with considerable confidence in its pure concept – varieties of donuts and (later on) fried chicken. The liberal food media ate it up, boosting Federal Donut’s rep and making it as hot among local foodies as their fryolator (i.e. doughnut robot), which makes every doughnut basically to order.

This is the key: these donuts are beyond fresh, and, though they’re cake-based (as opposed to yeast-based), the fact that their latent period is virtually non-existent allows them to maintain a peculiar lightness, a difficult achievement to attain using fried dough. Most days, FD’s stockpile of donuts sells out by around mid-morning, just as the fried chicken gets going – it’s a circle of life microcosm- one that’s quickly becoming a fixture in the neighborhood.

Peter Pan: Another cornerstone of its neighborhood (it’s over 60 years old, and  their decomposing landline phone shows it), Peter Pan Donut & Pastry shop specializes in the working man’s pastry. There’s no fuss, just impeccable service, cheap prices and fresh, heady donuts that would bring a PPD officer to his knees.

A charming pastry shop in the polish/hipster neighborhood of Greenpoint, Peter Pan is highly regarded by locals as the best bakery physics can allow for, and it’s equally well-recognized by the resident donut illuminati. PA native Tina Fey even acknowledged Peter Pan as hallowed ground, telling Gothamist:

“The best doughnut? That’s Peter Pan doughnuts in Brooklyn. It’s a Polish bakery. We shot nearby once for 30 Rock. It’s a white-cream-filled powdered doughnut. And I really believe, when I first tried it, if I had a penis, I would put it in this doughnut. I finally understand what you guys are thinking about and what motivates you guys.”


The Judgement

Sorry, Tina: while Peter Pan does edge out Federal as a general bakery (they have the Rossetta Stone of breakfast sandwiches), overall, their donuts just aren’t as perfected, or frankly as delicious as Federal’s. So, since we’re strictly judging donuts here, we got to give this round to Federal, regardless of Peter Pan’s wider selection and obvious staying power. In the end, it seems that Peter Pan’s classical form just can’t overcome the advantages of Federal’s fryolator and the exquisitely absurd pairing of fried chicken and fried dough.

Got an idea for AP’s next Philly v. Brookyln column? Send us an email at Written by Thomas Santella and Chris Lipczynski.

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