Doing Doughnuts Around Austin, Texas

Dollars to doughnuts, deep-fried balls of yeasted batter have ostensibly fueled generations. Running the gamut from cheap sustenance to high-end indulgences, there’s truly a doughnut for every day of the year. Having survived the low-carb craze, sugar-free evangelists, and fat phobics, it’s safe to say that our beloved olykoeks (“oily cakes”) aren’t going anywhere.

Like any city worth its sprinkles, Austin, Texas has its fair share of doughnut purveyors, waking up before sunrise to feed the hungry hordes. What you may not know is that many of them include vegan varieties, free of the usual eggs and dairy that define conventional pastries. Next time cravings strike, here are all the bakeries turning out dough from scratch, with plentiful plant-based treats.

Best Vegan Doughnuts in Austin, TX

Knead Doughnut and Coffee Bike

Brought to you by the same culinary talent behind The Forking Vegan trailer, this young upstart is slinging fried delights at sporadic pop-ups, online sales, and regular stock at Dear Diary Coffee. More local cafes are quickly joining that list as word spreads about this new addition to the sweets scene. Large and slightly daunting, they look heavy but seem to melt in your mouth like an ethereal sprinkled cloud. From strawberry shortcake to purple rain and everything in between, this is a perfect example of the vegan option matching and quickly exceeding the original dish. Yes, these are doughnuts that could convert omnivores with very little effort. I swore I wouldn’t pick favorites for this list, but… Let’s just say they’re at the top here for a reason.

Wheatsville Food Coop

After a heartbreaking absence following pandemic-related worker shortages, vegan doughnuts are back and better than ever at both Wheatsville locations. These are by far the most accessible fried treats in town, ready and waiting to come home with you following your next grocery run. The Austin cream pie are most famous, but keep an eye out for seasonal specialties, such as pumpkin spice in the fall or rainbow glazed during Pride Month. For a real splurge, don’t miss the apple fritters that are roughly the size of a dinner plate.

The Salty Donut

Watch your language! These small batch doughnuts served with craft coffee could make you curse like a sailor. This Miami-based mini chain makes sure that at least one, sometimes two vegan options are in the case at all times. While I would have never otherwise ordered a passionfruit and dark chocolate combo, it’s a testament to their frying prowess that I found myself hoovering up every last crumb. Though the yeasted cakes are thick and slightly bready, they’re tender all the way through and not remotely oily. Icings seem to melt in your mouth, exploding with rich flavor, adding just the right amount of sweetness to the neutral base.

Mr. Natural

Think “cupcake,” not “pastry,” and you’ll set your taste buds up for success. These sweet rings are a different breed from the rest, being both gluten-free and baked, not fried. Best known for their plant-based Mexican specialties, both locations also boast homemade treats, such as conchas, tres leches cake, and yes, gluten free chocolate donuts. Small but substantial, you can really sink your teeth into these babies for a bite of intense cacao flavor. The fudgy icing on top gives it the air of devil’s food cake, individually portioned so you don’t have to share.

Fat Cats Organic Coffee & Desserts

Take your pick from a wide array of classic and creative treats at this 100% vegan cafe, where baked, cake doughnuts are a mainstay. Expect some variation on chocolate or vanilla for most any visit, but come prepared for happy surprises like samoa (like the Girl Scout cookie), matcha, Elvis (with peanut butter glaze, meatless bacon bits, and caramelized bananas), tiramisu, and whatever else these clever cats dream up. Those aren’t just cute names either; bold, rich flavors ring true to those promises, supported by a relatively light, fluffy crumb.

Bougie’s Donuts & Coffee

Contrary to the high-highfalutin title, Bougie’s takes up residence in a nondescript strip mall in Sunset Valley. Striving to serve an “elevated” cafe experience with gourmet treats and third-wave coffee, they manage to sidestep the pretension that sort of program typically entails. There are two vegan versions of their plump cake-style doughnuts; blueberry and birthday cake, each coated in a crisp confectioner’s sugar glaze that shatters upon impact. Tender, moist, and impeccably fresh, they do proper justice to this tricky format. I’d suggest that kids and children at heart would especially dig this spot, since the vegan blueberry doughnut has a flavor strikingly reminiscent of fruity pebbles cereal.

Voodoo Doughnut

Imported from Portland, OR, avant-garde options have always been the standard at this late night haunt. There are ten possible vegan options, stocked on a rotating basis or available for pre-order as a full Voodoo Vegan Dozen (the most popular flavors are doubled, if you’re keeping count.) If you only have room for one, you must try the iconic Voodoo Doll, shaped like a hapless human stabbed through the heart with a pretzel stick, bleeding sweet, gooey raspberry jam. That’s some delicious witchcraft right there.

Zucchini Kill Bakery

Gluten-free, soy-free, vegan sweets are always on the menu at this punk rock bakery. You can’t miss it if you just look for their delivery hearse parked outside. Best known for coffin cakes (modeled after Twinkies) and rebel swrrrls (mini swiss rolls in the style of Yodels), doughnuts are a less common but worthy prize, appearing most prominently for holidays or seasonal occasions in appropriately festive flavors. Case in point, the queen cake donut, presented as the equal and opposite reaction to Mardi Gras’ king cake, festooned with colored sugar and stuffed with a single goji berry in lieu of a plastic baby. Soft and tender, light on the lips, I’m a big fan of this low-key baked offering whenever I’m lucky enough to pick one up.

Percolator Coffee + Tiny Donuts

File this under “coming attractions.” Previously known as East Austin Coffee, this shoe box of a trailer situated on the east side has rebranded with a stronger focus on sweets. Unfortunately, although the reported open date was in November 2022, then January 2023, there still aren’t any donuts rising to the occasion.

Hungry For Homemade Vegan Donuts?

If you’re not nearby the sweet city of Austin, Texas, you can make your own at home from any of these easy vegan donut recipes:

Requiem for a Restaurant

2022 began quietly, cautiously. Moving tenuously on tip-toes, carefully stepping around the remnants of the pandemic while trying to move forward anew, the trajectory was unclear. For a while, business began to improve, life started humming ahead like “normal” while we picked up the pieces of a broken society. Despite clear progress, it feels like running in place when we stop to look up at the unchanged scenery around us. Alas, that’s not true; if anything, in many ways, we’re going backwards again.

Right now, as I do at the close of every year, I’m talking about the restaurants that have left us. This was a particularly brutal culling to look back on, wiping out true pillars of our Austin vegan community in a matter of months. What once seemed stable, unshakable, and always reliable are now mere memories. Such losses are crushing, but let’s take a moment to celebrate the fleeting moments that we were fortunate enough to share.

Continue reading “Requiem for a Restaurant”

The Hole Story About Austin Bagels

Bagels are such a unique, distinctive class of bread that they deserve their own category. Visually, texturally, and fundamentally, they barely even resemble other yeasted staples. Every element is critical to the overall experience, from the glossy, chewy crust to the dense crumb inside. Few have successfully mastered the art of bagelry, and not just for lack of the alkaline water found in New York City.

Where can you get the best bagels?

Aside from making your own from scratch, access to quality options remains limited, especially outside of major cities. Sad to say, nothing found in the bread aisle of your local grocery store will ever measure up. Fortunately, it’s not a dying art- Quite the contrary. Out of nostalgia, cravings, and blind ambition, more and more young bakers across the country are throwing down the dough to make genuine bagels, and not some glorified ring-shaped dinner rolls.

NYC has the street cred, but not the monopoly on raw talent. Austin lays claim to five independent, local bagel makers. Plenty of restaurants and cafes are doing great things with sandwiched and schmeared creations, but I wanted to go straight to the source for this gustatory investigation. I’m talking about hunting down the very best bagel in town.

How can you judge the best bagel?

While every cafe worth their coffee beans offers a basic bagel, I went straight to the source, examining only those who bake their own bagels. For the sake of consistency, I compared only everything bagels, being the most popular variety across the board, without any toppings. Prices ranged from $1 – 4.50 apiece, making the very best of the batch an affordable luxury. Each is filling enough to make a solid breakfast, even without adornment, so I’d call that a bargain for a full meal. Here’s where your dollars are best spent.

Who bakes the best bagels from scratch in Austin?

  • Rosen’s Bagels is a relative newcomer to the world of commercial baking, beginning life a mere five years ago, but has quickly taken hold as the front runner in local cafes and grocery stores. If it wasn’t enough to get a dozen delivered straight to your door, they now have two shiny new brick-and-mortar locations that are perpetually buzzing with hungry carbivores. Founder Tom Rosen has a simple formula for success, and is simply doing it right. The dough goes through a 48 hour fermenting and rising process to develop complex flavors, enhanced by the traditional addition of subtly sweet malt powder. Best of all, the everything bagels are double-seeded, tossed in the signature seasoning mixture on both sides to ensure no bald spots. Top and bottom halves are full coated for a serious flavor punch.

  • Rockstar Bagels has been rising to the occasion since 2009 with their malt-boiled bagels that positively shine in the early morning light. They’re the first local bagel to grace my table since they’re available at Wheatsville a la carte for mere pocket change. These plump rings sport an elegantly lacquered finish with a topping that tends to skew heavier on sesame seeds, enhancing the nutty, toasted flavor. Maybe that’s why I find them more compelling once split and toasted than simply warmed. Bulk bin grocery store bagels have questionable quality, even if they’re locally made, so always go to their walk-up window for the best, freshest batches.

  • Wholy Bagel stands apart from the pack by proudly touting their New Jersey-style bagel, boasting a notably fluffier crumb with a cracklingly crisp exterior. The combination of textures is unique, coming together as an a fully satisfying experience in a slightly unconventional format. Don’t forget that everything is bigger in Texas; when you order a dozen, it’s not a Baker’s Dozen but a Wholy Texas Dozen; 14 bagels for the price of 12.

  • Nervous Charlie’s can certainly be anxiety-provoking if you’re not prepared to wait on line. Perpetually swamped with hungry carbivores, it’s nigh impossible to beat the crowds. Most people are drawn to the loaded bagel sandwiches for a hearty breakfast, brunch, or lunch, but the ungarnished bread base itself is quite a prize. Plump, thick, and dense, each substantial ring demonstrates mastery of the dough.

  • Casper Fermentables adds more nuance to the local bagel conversation with their sourdough Montreal-style offerings. A passion for probiotics defines their offerings that run the gamut from kombucha to kimchi. Once a humble farmers market stand, Casper is the latest homegrown success to set up a permanent outpost in the Sunset Valley neighborhood. Now you can enjoy an expanded menu of ready to eat sandwiches and pastries, but the bagels remain the top seller. Even my New York-born father was impressed by the golden brown and mildly tangy, thoroughly chewy rings.

Honorable Mentions

Anyone baking their own bagels deserves props for doing it the right way, rather than the easy way. Not all of them rank at the top of my list, but they’re still far and away better than anything else you’d find on store shelves.

  • Big City Bagels and Subs tends to fly below the radar, putting more emphasis on the sandwiches than the bread, but the main issue is just getting there in time. Bagels are liable to sell out early, the shop sometimes closes early, and I can never seem to hit the road early enough.
  • Swedish Hill offers deluxe (albeit not vegan) fixings for dine-in guests, but the solo bagels are fairly forgettable. Not enough toppings to be considered everything; more like a few things. It doesn’t feel worth the price of entry to me.

New York may have perfected the art of the bagel, but it no longer has the monopoly. There are plenty of great bagels down south in the Greater Austin Area and beyond.

Closing Time, 2021

Saying goodbye is never easy, even if it’s a temporary parting of ways. Considering how often we practice, you’d think it gets easier, but the grief is still the same.

Today, as the sun sets for the final time in 2021, I’d like to honor the restaurants we’ve lost in Austin, Texas this year, as is annual tradition. It’s been another turbulent 12 months that has tested the will, spirit, and patience of everyone, especially those in the service industry. Those “essential workers” that kept food on our tables sometimes ended up with empty plates themselves. Before we look ahead towards better days, we must look back to honor their memory, and not let their demise befall others still with us, hanging on by a thread.

Barrio Verde did not go gentle into that good night, fighting to overcome the devastating winter storm that ravaged businesses across the state. Surviving without power or water is hard enough as an individual, but for a business with perishable assets in limbo, revenue literally rotted on site. Though out of commission indefinitely, this won’t be their last stand. New ideas are in the works as we speak, so hopefully 2022 will see the return of those marvelous elotes and so much more.

Bruja’s Brew announced a temporarily closure during spring break, but never reopened again. The trailer is gone, but the booch lives on, now pouring at a select few restaurants and bars around town. Word is that it may one day be available in cans, but nothing will compare to the magic of getting an icy glass on a hot day, edible glitter sparkling in the sun.

Lo Pan’s Kitchen made a big splash onto the scene as the only 100% vegan source for Chinese American takeout staples. Sadly, they burned out just as fast. After two moves in just five months, the woks came off the fire for the last time. Rumor has it that the trailer has been repurposed as another Plow Burger outpost up north in Denton, TX. Occasionally, you can still catch a few of these comfort food classics as specials on the Brunch Bird menu, though like the source itself, they’re always gone in a flash.

Mission Street Burrito stepped up to the plate in a town known for tacos, delivering tortilla torpedoes as big as your head and nacho boxes that seemed to be bottomless. No one else could wrap up a mega meal like this, loaded with all the plant-based meats and cheeses you could crave. Disappearing in mid-June, social media accounts claim that the trailer is hibernating, but at this point, there are no signs the beast will ever awaken.

The Abundant Vegan was with us so briefly that it seemed almost like a waking dream. They weren’t even established long enough to set up an official website of their own. Serving traditional Mexican plates on East Caesar Chavez for less than a month, all that’s left now is a vacant trailer and a litany of unanswered questions.

Bone-a-fide Vegan isn’t totally gone, per say, but pivoted in September to become Theano Vegan, switching from southern BBQ to Greek delicacies. As a radical departure from their original menu, their soulful smoky pulled jackfruit and plant-based brisket will surely be missed.

Even though these poor souls have turned out the lights and locked up for the last time, tomorrow is a new day. New, brave chefs are stepping up to the plate, even in the midst of such uncertainty and unrest. An incredible number of fresh faces have clocked in already, launching new eateries all throughout the pandemic, despite the odds. To a brighter, better, and more delicious future, cheers to you. Let’s make the new year a time for all of us to thrive, together.