Visited: Wednesday, June 19, 2013 at 3:00 p.m.
I owe a big thanks to reader John for suggesting Duck Donuts to us while vacationing on the Outer Banks. I had noticed one or two of the locations as we drove down the islands toward our destination, but given that we stay about 45 minutes south from the nearest location, it never quite popped on the radar. However, John suggested it at just the right time, as we were making a day trip up to Manteo (which is an incredibly cute little town with a lot of history). On our way back to the house we detoured north to visit the Kill Devil Hills location of Duck Donuts. And, oh, we’re glad we did.
Duck Donuts is a chain of four (soon to be six) small donut shops spread out along the northern reaches of the Outer Banks. As the name implies, they got their start in the town of Duck, but have expanded to Corolla, Kitty Hawk, and Kill Devil Hills (with locations in Virginia Beach and Williamsburg coming this fall). When you really think of it, Duck Donuts is a brilliant business model. Much of the islands’ economy is based on seasonal visitors, so for restaurants to succeed you need something that is an easy draw, is memorable, and can produce quality food quickly. Duck Donuts does all of these things.
In essence they’re just a donut shop, plain and simple. It’s the preparation and serving – and an excellent final product – that make it work. They serve one type of donut: a spongy, not-too-dense cake donut. It tastes great on its own, but a customer can order a variety of glazes and toppings, and the donuts are assembled to order. A basic donut maker (see above) slowly pumps out the fried goodness. At busier times two machines will be working away while the employees rack finished donuts on trays.
When you place your order, the donuts are boxed and then taken over to the glazing and topping station. Each donut – still warm – is dipped in the glaze of your choosing: chocolate, vanilla, lemon, peanut butter, strawberry, powdered sugars, maple, and so on.
What’s smart about this is that the donuts are always fresh, it’s easy to customize orders, and you don’t have to worry about running out. Customers don’t need to line up a 6 am to get a taste of a certain donut, because it can be made at any time, and it will have just rolled off the line.
This was our selection for our first dozen. The top row is peanut butter, lemon, and chocolate. The second row is chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry. The bottom row is more vanilla and two plain glazed. The donuts are a perfect balance between a heavy cake donut and a melty yeast donut (a la Krispy Kreme). They’re the right size, too, so it’s easy to snack on a few of them. And all of the glazes were excellent. As you might guess, we made more than one visit on this trip.
My only regret? We didn’t get any maple bacon donuts. Next year…