It’s that magical time of year, “Doughvember,” when a donut and a cup of coffee on a brisk fall morning make the world’s problems melt away, if just for a moment.
Pittsburgh doesn’t have a lot of donut shops unless you count Dunkin’ (which is okay as a last resort). But we do have an abundance of good bakeries, some of which feature exceptional donuts.
Doughvember just got sweeter, too — two new donut shops are scheduled to open this month. First, there’s Oliver’s Donuts, anchoring an upstairs cafe at the new Lawrenceville Market House, a former bank building-turned-small business cooperative on Butler Street.
There’s also Valkyrie Doughnuts, which is evolving from a mobile trailer (usually parked at 4903 Penn Ave.) to a brick and mortar shop on Lincoln Avenue in Bellevue. They’re known for their utterly original square vegan doughnuts with flavors such as Creme Brûlée French Toast, Hibiscus Lemon and Oreo Cheesecake. I can’t wait to give this spot a shot.
The best of all donuts may be the elusive, giant Amish donuts that sometimes show up at farmer’s markets in the area. They used to be sold at Soergel Orchards on select weekends (now they often feature Oram’s), but they are hard to find close to Pittsburgh. (Update: several readers have said that Eichner’s Farm in Wexford usually has Amish donuts).
Here’s a list of our favorite (almost all non-chain) donut shops in the area.
Oram’s Donut Shop, Beaver Falls
The heavyweight champion of local donuts is out in Beaver Falls, but there are plenty of people who make the early morning drive from Pittsburgh to get them before they sell out. (I am not one of those people. I will drive a long way for a donut — but I draw the line at getting up early). Still, I have been here (later in the day, with less selection) and this classic donut shop, here since 1938, is the kind of old-fashioned family tradition that dreams and Rick Sebak specials are made of. No trends, no off-the-wall flavors, though some seasonal donuts are involved — just giant donuts, twice the size of most others. Get an Original Creme or a Cinnamon Roll, and know that this is what helped make your grandpa’s rough week at the mill worth it. Update: it looks like Coffee Tree Roasters in Squirrel Hill gets a limited supply of Oram’s donuts on select mornings. In fact, there’s a long list of places that sell them.
Father & Son Family Bakery, Observatory Hill
I somehow ended up at this place on a shortcut-turned-longcut home from McKnight Road, and couldn’t believe my luck. Once in a while, getting lost in Pittsburgh is a good thing. Observatory Hill on the North Side had a longtime, locally famous bakery in Schorr’s, which closed in 2019. But a new family decided to reopen the shop and continue the tradition with many of the original recipes. Their simple glazed donuts are light and airy, though I like the ones with strawberries or blueberry jam glopped on top, which are even better. The cinnamon twists are also good, and the powdered sugar/custard-filled is a classic. In fact, this no-frills North Side spot keeps it so simple that one of each covers the bases.
Prantl’s Bakery, multiple locations
Okay, so you’re really only here for one reason — the legendary Burnt Almond Torte. Well here’s reason two: Prant’ls Burnt Almond Torte Donut. The sugary, nutty crunch transfers perfectly to the top of a donut, and may in fact be the best delivery vehicle that doesn’t involve buying an entire torte. If you’ve never had it, believe the hype.
Just Good Donuts/The Pub Chip Shop, South Side
Inside the Pub Chip Shop, next door to the famous Scottish barroom Piper’s Pub, is Just Good Donuts. Get your fish and chips and Brisket Cheddar Pie, then stock up on Maple Bacon Donuts, chocolate-covered Yinz Cream Donuts, and Chocolate Toffee Crunch Donuts. Then find a place to keel over, preferably somewhere with some footie on the telly.
Duck Donuts, Upper St. Clair
Okay, just one exception to our no-chains rule — because this Duck, NC (Outer Banks) chain is the future of donuts, and we’re lucky to have one. They make each donut fresh to order before your very eyes and you can dream up your own heavenly combo of glazes, drizzles and toppings. Or, you can choose from their list of suggestions, such as Bacon in the Sun (maple icing, caramel drizzle, chopped bacon), Blueberry Lemonade (blueberry icing, lemon drizzle) and the Sand Dollar (vanilla icing, coconut, powdered sugar). They also started offering donut sandwiches, which I don’t think I can support. A lot of the world’s problems can be solved by donuts, but not this one. Now, let’s work on getting a Duck Donuts actually near the city (please?).