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D'Ercole Donuts in Northvale offers a variety of fancy donuts for those with peanut and tree nut allergies. NorthJersey.com

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For the past two months, I've dedicated my journalistic efforts to finding the best donut shops in New Jersey.

I drove to the farthest reaches of the states, put thousands of miles on my Nissan, parallel parked on dozens of busy shore-town streets, woke up at the crack of dawn to wait in line — and tasted donuts of all shapes, sizes and creeds at 79 donut shops, give or take.

Why? Because donuts are a near-perfect food. Be they dense and cakey, fluffy and bread-like, hot and airy, covered in sticky glaze or velvety powdered sugar — fried pockets of sugar dough are undeniably delicious.

And now, I'm ready to share the best of the best in New Jersey.

Sometimes, the top donuts were clear-cut. But more often than not, they were decided on the smallest detail.

You know when you're at the optometrist and asked to choose between slides 1 and 2 but they both look equally clear? That's what this donut search felt like — taking a bite of one then another then the first again to determine which had the best flavor and texture. Naming the best donuts is an exercise in splitting hairs.

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For this story, I considered everything from yeast to cake to cruller to sour cream donuts. At every shop, I tried at least one glazed and one specialty. The only donuts not considered on this list are apple cider (to which I'll dedicate a whole story soon).

Allow me to own my own biases. I prefer a donut that has a crispy outside and fluffy inside with well-flavored glazes and fillings that aren't cloying or artificial tasting. This was my touchstone for perfection. Debate and differing opinions are encouraged — everyone has their own preferences.

With that said, here's our list of the best donut shops in every county in New Jersey.

Atlantic: Junior's Doughnuts & Dogs, Margate City

Residents and Margate City vacationers know, it’s not summer without a donut from Junior’s Doughnuts & Dogs. The shop, right next to the bay in a beachy little hut, serves warm yeast and cake donuts smothered in frostings, drizzled in glazes, dusted with sugar and sprinkled with cookies, candies and toppings. I tried a glazed and a vanilla frosted. Both were airy and light with a lovely subtle vanilla flavor.

Here’s the bad news. Junior’s closes for the season after Labor Day. I couldn’t, in good conscience, leave Junior’s off the list. But, if you’re craving a donut fix in Atlantic County during the off-season, may I recommend the sweet and spicy apple cider donuts from DeFeo's Farm & Garden Market in Mays Landing.

Go: 9315 Amherst Ave., Margate City; 609-289-8219, juniorsdoughnutsanddogs.com.

Honorable mention: DeFeo's Farm & Garden Market in Mays Landing; Chester's Pastry Pantry Bakery in Somers Point.

Bergen: D'Ercole Donuts, Northvale

D’Ercole’s is a darling brick-red nursery and bakery surrounded by flowers. And, boy, does this quaint shop make a good donut. They’re cakey, sweet, with a texture that’s not too fluffy and not too dense. I tried the glazed, French toast and cannoli donuts, which is one of the most popular, said owner Joe D’Ercole, and it’s easy to see (taste?) why. The cannoli cream that bursts out is custardy with a cream-cheese-like tanginess.

D’Ercole said his father opened the nursery 75 years ago in a location down the street. When they moved in 2017, D’Ercole decided to open a donut shop, “to fulfill the need for high-end donuts in the area.” The Dunkin’ offerings were just not cutting it.

“Now, I can make donuts with my eyes closed,” he said, adding that everything from the shortening to the sugar is high quality, as well as peanut and tree-nut-free. In the autumn, they offer apple cider donuts and are almost always coming up with new flavors.

“If it’s slow we try new things,” said D’Ercole. “Boredom fuels our creativity.”

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Go: 489 Tappan Road, Northvale; 201-768-0495, dercoledonuts.com.

Honorable mention:Glaze Donuts in various locations; Erie Coffeeshop & Bakery in Rutherford; Mills Bakery in Wood-Ridge; Donut King in Norwood; Spindler's Gourmet Butter Cookies in Hasbrouck Heights; Mochinut in Fort Lee and Norwood; Duck Donuts in Paramus; Dipped Doughnuts in Cliffside Park.

Burlington: L&M Bakery, Delran

L&M owner John Kahl, who runs the business with his wife, Carole, is particularly proud of their cream donuts, which are soft, covered in silky powdered sugar and filled with homemade buttercream. In fact, nearly everything, from the dough to the toppings are made in-house at L&M, an old building with a brick facade across from the railroad tracks in Delran. Kahl’s father opened the bakery in 1964.

“I drive more than an hour once a month to indulge in their glazed donuts. I can’t praise them enough,” said customer Brittany Plumeri.

And, hey, it’s the favorite of Olympic soccer player Carli Lloyd, too, who grew up in Delran.

Go: 11 St Mihiel Dr., Delran; 856-461-1660, lmbakery.com.

Honorable mention:JB Bakery in Burlington.

Camden: McMillan’s Bakery, Westmont

I devoured McMillan’s cream donut with my eyes first. The handmade donut was lightly powdered with sugar, split open and piped with a thick row of fluffy cream filling. (Owner Arline Biemiller doesn’t skimp on the fresh homemade whipped cream.) As good as this donut looks, it tastes even better — creamy and soft with filling you’ll have to lick off your fingers after each bite. The family-owned McMillan’s, a cute corner bakery with a dark green awning and display cases full of baked goods that opened in 1939, has become famous for its artisan cream donuts. Stop by to see and taste why.

Go: 15 Haddon Ave., Haddon Township; 826-854-3094, mcmillansbakery.com.

Honorable mention: Haddonfield Donut Company in Haddonfield; Jack's Donuts in Laurel Springs; Deluxe Italian Bakery in Runnemede.

Cape May: Brown’s Restaurant, Ocean City

Cape May County is chock-full of amazing donut shops, most of them concentrated in the 7 square miles of Ocean City. But the standout is Brown’s Restaurant. Situated on the boardwalk, Brown’s has what they call “almost famous donuts.” I disagree. They are entirely and rightfully famous. The donut window next to the dining room has a line every day, said manager Kelsey Ladd. The donuts are warm and well-baked with fluffy insides cased in a perfectly crisp exterior that nudges these donuts just above others in town. Get them covered in sugar, glazed, frosted — however, you like.

The donut conveyor belt turns out about four donuts at a time, said Ladd, which means they’re straight from the fryer when you get them. All the toppings and dough are made in-house. The most popular flavor is cinnamon sugar, but honey glaze (which is actually just honey) is sneaking up as a customer favorite, said Ladd.

Brown’s was opened in 1976 by schoolteachers Marjorie and Harmon Brown. Back then it was strictly a donut shop. Now, the bustling restaurant is run by their son Jim and his wife Melissa.

Go: 110 Boardwalk, Ocean City; 609-391-0677, brownsocnj.com.

Honorable mention:Frog Hollow Bakery in Ocean View; Fractured Prune in Ocean City; Drip N Scoop in Ocean City; Kohler's Bakery in Avalon; Maryanne Pastry Shoppe in Sea Isle City; Cathy's 14th Street Bakery in Ocean City; Nauti Donuts in Ocean City; Bob's Breakfast Express in Ocean City.

Cumberland: Century Bakery, Bridgeton

Fried a deep brown and smothered in homemade buttercream, the donuts at Century Bakery, located in a humble building on N. Pearl Street, are as delicious as they look. Be sure to try the beloved “fries” — flaky, chewy, deep-fried donuts that are swirled with cinnamon. You can get fries topped with buttercream, chocolate icing, powdered sugar or glaze.

The first Century Bakery opened in the 1930s on Bank Street. It later moved to Cedar Street in the ‘60s and then to Pearl Street in the ‘80s when it was taken over by Wayne Ernst, a certified Master Baker, and his wife Barb. Now, the bakery works with the organization Hopeloft to provide job training to local foster youth transitioning out of foster care.

Go: 525 N. Pearl St., Bridgeton; 856-451-1616, ordercenturybakery.com.

Honorable mention: Crust N' Krumbs Bakery in Vineland; Jim Main's Bakery & Pizza in Vineland.

Vegan: 12 places to find vegan donuts in New Jersey

An ode to Amish donuts: Why we love them and where to find them

Essex: Montclair Bread Co., Montclair

Not surprisingly, about 95% of the donuts made by Montclair Bread Co. are yeast-based, with the occasional hand-cut cake donut thrown in. They’re also 100% delicious. Indeed, owner Rachel Wyman’s donuts have the stamp of approval from the Food Network — she won the $10,000 prize at the 2014 Food Network Donut Showdown.

Montclair Bread Co. opened in a massive, industrial brick building in May of 2012, focusing on primarily, well, bread. The donuts started as a treat Wyman made just for her employees. When she put the extras they didn’t eat oufor sale, they would be bought in a flash.

“People were raving about them from the start,” said Wyman. Montclair Bread Co. always offers about 10 standard donuts — popular flavors include maple bacon, tres leches and the “accidentally vegan” sour donuts made with flour, water, salt palm sugar and natural fruit flavors. Two to four monthly specials are also made, usually inspired by seasonal ingredients.

No matter the flavor, they’re always warm and bready with just the right amount of sweetness.

Go: 16 Label St., Montclair; 973-509-2525, montclairbread.com.

Honorable mention: Suissa Bakery & Coffee Shop in Newark; Blue Hippo in Verona; Palmer's Sweetery in Maplewood.

Gloucester: Pisker’s Bakery, Westville

A friend of mine lives near Pisker’s and told me that she rarely manages to get a cream donut before they sell out. Luck was with me when I showed up and pulled open the glass door at the old bakery (originally opened in 1925 by George Pisker) on a Friday morning. The bakery has big front windows and a small, simple space indoor space where customers can gaze at the desserts and pastries behind the display cases. The cream donut is worth the hype. The powdered sugar was velvety. The dough melt-in-your-mouth. The cream fluffy and sweet without being cloying.

The cream donuts (and dozens of other flavors, from chocolate buttercream to sprinkle) are made fresh, from scratch daily. The secret? Using real butter, said owner David Critch, and plenty of it.

Go: 323 Delsea Dr., Westville; 856-456-1208, piskersbakery.com.

Honorable mention: Mama Buntz's Donut Company in Sewell; The Amish Farmers Market in Mullica Hill; Broadway Bakery in Pitman.

Hudson: The LoDG, Jersey City

Couple Eddie Alfonso and Flavia Carballo look for the artisanal donut shop in every town they travel to.

“In every cool city we ever visit, there’s always an amazing craft donut shop,” said Alfonso. Yet, nothing fit the bill in the Jersey City/Hoboken area. So, they decided to open their own. Enter: The LoDG — short for The Law of Doughnutgineering, a bright, snug shop nestled in a row of businesses on a Jersey City side street.

Alfonso and Carballo pull inspiration from around the world, which is apparent from The LoDG’s offerings. On the day I visited there was a taro cake donut covered in shredded coconut; a yeast donut with a sweet plantain filling, dipped in cinnamon sugar glaze and topped with a fried plantain; and a yeast donut flavored with guava cream cheese and guava glaze.

“Every time we go out to dinner, we’re thinking about how we can make that dish into a donut,” said Alfonso.

The most popular offerings, said Carballo, are the Monkey’s Love Nutella donut with whipped banana cream bursting out of a yeast donut, doused in Nutella and drizzled with caramel and salted pretzels; and the Lil’ Cornies: cornbread cake bites stuffed with Cajun buttermilk fried chicken and dripping in honey butter glaze.

The flavors are creative and the donuts are well-executed. Everything is made in-house with high-quality ingredients so the fillings are fluffy and the drizzles delightfully sweet.

Go: 7 Bleecker St, Jersey City; 201-301-5465, thelodgdonuts.com.

Honorable mention: Judicke's Bakery in Bayonne.

Hunterdon: Dutch County Farmers Market, Flemington

Rebecca Kauffman, who owns Becca’s Bakery in the Dutch County Farmers Market, is particular about the way she makes her donuts.

“I hear so many people say that they make things fresh, but they don’t,” said Kauffman, who worked at the market’s donut shop for 17 years — 10 as its owner. “I’m a little picky. They have to be made a certain way.”

The yeast-based dough must be cooked just right, not too doughy and not too tough. Kauffman grew up in the Amish community in Chester County, Pennsylvania, not far from Lancaster, and learned how to bake at home. You'll find her bakery at a stand among the bustling Flemington Farmers Market. Look for the display case of tempting donuts when you walk in; you can't miss it.

Diane Mosko of Hillsborough is a fan of the strawberry-filled donut with powdered sugar. “It melts in your mouth as you bite into it, light as a cloud, and the strawberry filling oozes out,” she said. “There are so many other options it will make your head spin.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself! Note: The market is only open Thursday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Go: 19 Commerce St., Flemington; 908-806-8476, flemingtonfarmersmarket.com.

Honorable mention: Sweet Melissa Patisserie in Lebanon.

Be a New Jersey donut-hunting expert: Tips, reminders and mistakes to avoid

One of a kind!: 5 unique donuts you can find in New Jersey

Mercer: Curiosity Doughnuts, Princeton

It isn’t easy to get your hands on a Curiosity donut. The donut stand is hidden inside a Whole Foods and only open on Saturdays and Sundays from 9 a.m. until they sell out. And they sell out quickly. What else can we expect from owners Aki Kamozawa and Alexander Talbot, semi-finalists at the 2018 James Beard Awards in the category of Best Baker?

Kamozawa and Talbot, who worked as restaurant consultants, first created their donut recipe for their book “Maximum Flavor: Recipes That Will Change the Way You Cook" (Clarkson Potter, 2013). After publishing the book, they opened their own donut stand. Now, Curiosity Doughnuts has grown to include six locations and makes 16 different styles of dough, including cruller, apple cider, vanilla yeasted, potato, sourdough and fritters.

The toppings and glazes are made fresh every day with real high-quality vanilla, fresh cream and fruit purees — no artificial food coloring included. Even their sprinkles get their vibrancy from vegetable juices. Curiosity has tons of flavor combinations. Try any, try all. You can’t miss here.

Go: In the Whole Foods Market at 3495 Route 1 S., Princeton; curiositydoughnuts.com.

Honorable mention: Pennsylvania Dutch Farmers Market in Princeton; Donuts Time Cafe in Hamilton Square; Delizioso Bakery + Kitchen in Princeton; The Gingered Peach in Lawrence Township; Eet Gud Bakery in Trenton.

Middlesex: Mochi Ring, Edison

Mochi Ring specializes in mochi donuts, a Hawaiian treat that was inspired by Japanese mochi. Glutinous rice flour is used to make the donuts, which gives them a chewy texture (similar to mochi) and lightly crisp outside. They’re addictive; a must-try for any donut connoisseur. Flavors at Mochi Ring include heady chocolate, herbaceous green tea, peanut butter-like black sesame and subtly sweet taro. Mochi Ring is located at the food court inside Lotte Market.

Go: In the Lotte Market Food Court, 1199 Amboy Ave., Edison; 848-437-1565, mochiringdonut.com.

Monmouth: Broad Street Dough Co., Oakhurst

Inclusivity meets delicious donuts at Broad Street Dough Co., owned by the warm and enthusiastic Desdemona Dalia. The shop offers vegan, gluten-free, kosher and tree-nut-free donuts made in front of your eyes.

“I really felt there was a need for fresh, made-to-order donuts that weren’t pumped with additives and preservatives,” Dalia said. The first location, a bustling shop that bookends a strip mall in the Oakhurst section of Ocean Township, opened in 2014 and was followed by shops in Freehold Township and Encinitas, California.

Choose from 40 different warm, fluffy donuts on the menu. Some flavors change and some are stalwarts. Favorites include Chai, Nantucket (with caramel and sea salt) and Brunch Broad (maple and cinnamon). If you’re lucky, you’ll get there early enough to get the warm, flaky bites of croissant fried dough drizzled with vanilla glaze called Cha Cha Churros — but those go fast, said Dalia.

“People think ‘fryer’ is a dirty word but it’s not,” she said. “Everything in moderation. The ingredients are fresh, the oil is fresh — these donuts are much better for you than something sitting on a shelf forever.”

Once you order, you can watch your donuts be made by the staff that moves like a well-oiled machine. “We hustle hard,” said Dalia.

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Go: 2005 Route 35, Oakhurst section of Ocean Township; 732-531-1401, broadstreetdoughco.com.

Honorable mention: Purple Glaze Donuts in Asbury Park; Dune Donuts and Bagels in Spring Lake; Main Street Donuts in Belmar. 

Guide: Our guide to the best donut shops in New Jersey

Morris: Sugarlips, Madison

When I drove to Sugarlips, I passed right by it and had to turn around. Don’t look for any sign that says Sugarlips. Look for Weenies, a hot dog joint in a small brick building set off by itself on busy Main Street, that owner Lauren Dey operates out of. You’ll be glad you did.

Sugarlips donuts have what I can only describe as really good dough. Yes, they’re fresh and warm and fried to golden perfection. But, what thrilled me was the subtle vanilla flavor of the cake donuts.

Sugarlips opened in November of 2020. The pandemic made operating out of Weenies (which starts selling dogs at 11 a.m. and is owned by Dey's brother) most cost-effective, said Dey. Dey’s background is in textile design and fashion, but she’s always loved to bake. Over the summer of 2020, she played around with dozens of different donut recipes and stumbled upon something really special.

“The taste reminds me of childhood,” she said. “It’s rich, creamy but not too sweet.”

The Cinn-A-Bunz (homemade cinnamon glaze and cream cheese icing) and Java the Hut (Devils food cake donut with dark chocolate mocha glaze and gold sugar crystals) are the most popular, said Dey. But, I also recommend getting a classic glazed to revel in the simplicity of the flavor.

Donuts are available from Tuesday through Sunday, from 9 a.m. until they sell out. Order ahead to ensure you get a box.

Go: Inside Weenies at 145 Main St., Madison; 973-845-2564, sugarlipsdonuts.com.

Honorable mention: Beignets in Denville; Swiss Chalet Bakery & Cafe in Morristown; Verrilli's Bakery in Morristown.

Ocean: Top That Donuts, Point Pleasant Beach

It’s impossible to name a favorite donut shop in Ocean County without insulting a swath of fans devoted to their donut place of choice. OB-CO's, Uncle Dood's, Cloud 9, Village Donut Shop; I went to (and enjoyed) them all. Yet, my favorite was Top That Donuts in Point Pleasant Beach. Please put down your pitchforks.

At Top That, a big brown building with turquoise doors and windows, I watched my donuts sizzle in oil and turn from white to golden brown. I gazed as the glazes and toppings were put on. I could have eaten 10. Going by my metric of crisp outside, fluffy inside, sweet vanilla dough and melt-in-your-mouth texture, this donut was near perfect.

You can pick your own toppings or go for popular combos, like the cannoli cream, cinnamon sugar and French toast.

“We wanted Top That to offer an experience families can enjoy,” said Danielle Wolowitz, who owns Top That with her husband, Chris. They opened the shop in 2014 after having twins. They hoped the business would be something the family could run together.

They came up with their original lineup of donuts through “a lot of taste testing by a lot of different family members,” said Wolowitz. Her brother invented The Hangover (maple glaze with bacon crumble), and the Aunt Betty (caramel glaze with butter crunch pieces) was named after Wolowitz’s aunt, who loved butter crunch ice cream. How sweet is that?

Go: 210 Ocean Ave., Point Pleasant Beach;  732-899-2552, topthatdonuts.com.

Honorable mention: Village Donut Shop in Jackson Township; Uncle Dood's Donuts in Toms River; Cloud 9 Donuts in Brick Township; Shore Good Donuts in Ship Bottom; OB-CO's Donuts in Toms River; Waretown Bakery in Waretown; Donuts Plus in Lavallette; The O.G. Creamery in Ocean Gate.

Passaic: Styertowne Bakery, Clifton

Styretowne Bakery, a Passaic County institution since 1949 situated in a strip mall, is famous for its buttery crumb cake, but its delicious donuts are a triumph, as well. The French cruller almost has a custard-like texture, it’s so moist. The sour cream donut has a deep, rich flavor and is satisfyingly crispy. Knockouts!

Go: 1039 Bloomfield Ave., Clifton; 973-777-6193, styertownebakery.com.

Honorable mention: The Vreeland Store in West Milford; Packanack Bakery in Wayne; Deb Pam Bakery in Totowa.

Salem: Four Seasons Donuts, Pennsville

In a squat white building in rural Pennsville, you’ll find Four Seasons Donuts. The family-owned shop makes its donuts in-house. Neither the shop nor the donuts are fancy. What they are is affordable, fresh and tasty. Four Seasons is known among Pennsville natives as the best around. As one Yelp reviewer said, “I drive an hour and 15 minutes to get these delicious fried pieces of bliss routinely.”

Go: 275 N. Broadway, Pennsville; 856-678-3800, facebook.com/fourseasonsdonuts.

Somerset: Duck Donuts, Green Brook

I tried to avoid chains on this list. But, Duck Donuts is too good to leave out. The first Duck Donuts was opened in the Outer Banks in Duck, North Carolina by Russ DiGilio. It’s now the fastest-growing donut chain in the country. For good reasons. The donuts are made in-house. You can see them flipping out of a vat of oil behind the counter. A staff member then adds your choice of glaze, drizzles and toppings.

I got a glazed and a s’mores donut when I visited the location in Green Brook, a lofty modern shop in a strip mall off the highway. The outside was so perfectly crisp, the dough so well flavored and the toppings glistening and still sticky. It was a struggle to wait until the donut cooled to eat it. Choose your own toppings or pick from one of Duck Donuts’ popular combos.

Go: 215 Route 22 East, Unit 7, Green Brook Township; 732-529-5263, duckdonuts.com/location/green-brook.

Sussex: Holland American Bakery, Sussex

It’s hard to miss Holland American Bakery. The large brick building with peaked roofs, a yard dotted with colorful flowers and a windmill is incredibly charming, set among the green hills of Sussex. It was opened by the Valkemas family, who immigrated from the Netherlands, about 60 years ago. The bakery offers both yeast and cake donuts. From the oblong donuts filled with lemon, blueberry and raspberry and other jellies to the chocolate frosted with a hearty dollop of icing, you won’t find a bad one in the bunch.

Go: 246 Route 23, Sussex; 973-875-5258, facebook.com/HollandAmericanBakery.

Honorable mention: Café Pierrot in Sparta; Pochuck Valley Farm Market in Glenwood; Ideal Farm Garden Center in Lafayette. 

Union: Plainfield Donut Shop, Plainfield

When I walked into the Plainfield Donut shop at 10 a.m. there was one jelly donut left. “You’re too late,” a man behind the counter said when I asked for the last one. “No, I’m just in time,” I replied. But, he was nearly correct. If you want one of the famed jelly donuts at Plainfield Donut Shop — which opens at 5 a.m. — you better get there early.

Covered in silky powdered sugar, the jelly donuts’ filling isn’t overly sweet, but rather thick, dark and not overloaded with sugar or artificial flavors. It’s exactly what you may expect from an old counter service luncheonette with a sign made up of crooked orange letters — a classic.

Go: 131 Watchung Ave., Plainfield; 908-756-4033, no website.

Warren: Florestano's Bakery, Washington

There’s something to be said for ultra-soft bakery donuts. They’re not fried in front of your eyes; they don’t come to you piping hot or streaming with glaze. But, gosh, are they good. And few do them as well as Florestano’s Bakery, a simple bakery at the edge of a strip mall. The shop's donuts are huge, all an even beige color and pillowy soft. Expect the standards, like glazed, jelly-filled, chocolate sprinkle and vanilla frosting.

Go: 217 W. Washington Ave., Washington; 908-689-4100, florestanos.com.

Rebecca King is a food writer for NorthJersey.com. For more on where to dine and drink, please subscribe today and sign up for our North Jersey Eats newsletter.

Email: kingr@northjersey.com 

Twitter: @rebeccakingnj 

Instagram: @northjerseyeats

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