Tom Lohr has eaten a hot dog at all 30 MLB ballparks and is the author of "Gone to the Dogs: In Search of the Best Ballpark Hot Dog."
The Greater Pittsburgh Donut Tour
Donuts. Everybody loves them. Especially Pittsburghers and my tailor. Deep fried bread topped or filled with a variety of creams and icings. What's not to love? Donuts have been one of America's favorite breakfast treats for over a century, and their popularity has never waned.
If you live in Pittsburgh, or plan on visiting, it is a city with a diverse selection of dining choices. From famous sandwiches to our beloved perogies. Citizens of the Steel City also have a sweet tooth, and there is nothing better than satisfying our craving for sugary goodness with the first meal of the day.
Pittsburgh has its fair share of chain donut stores, and they might do in a pinch, but the real treasure of treats is in our independently owned outlets. Nothing is better than a freshly made donut just out of the fryer, created by one of Pittsburghs Donatello of Donuts. You simply have to try one.
But why stop at just one? The greater Pittsburgh area has a fine selection of donut peddlers spread out all over the map. Each is unique, and all are delicious. And what better way to see the City of Bridges than hitting one of the eateries frequented by the locals? Have a donut at all of them.
If you want to eat a donut from the best shops in and surrounding the city, you need a plan. Skip chain stores and bakeries that just happen to carry donuts, and set your quest to sample the sugar at most or all of the fabulous donut shops in the area.
Keep in mind that this is a multi-day pilgrimage. Not only would it be difficult to physically visit all of the donut shops in one day, you would probably keel over from diabetic shock before you completed your tour. While you can plan your own route using a variety of trip planners found on the internet, we did the dirty work and gained a few pounds by sampling the best in the Burgh and laid out four routes for you to take. Four days, four routes and four inches added to the waistline. Enjoy....in moderation.
The northwest leg of the tour takes you to some interesting communities along the Ohio River. It not only gives you a good taste of local donuts, but a good feel for what some of Pittsburgh's outlying townships look like.
1005 5th Ave, Corapolis
Jordan's is a popular spot. So popular that it sells tee-shirts with its logo. It is also one of the shops that has embraced the small donut concept. The donuts are cheaper, but also smaller. The upside is that you can eat more variety. And variety they have. Jordan's menu has dozens of flavors to choose from, and due to their size, you can easily eat a dozen.
Recommendation: The RedBull flavored donut
2698 Brodhead Rd, Aliquippa
When you have been dishing out donuts since 1958, you must be doing something right. Aliquippa is a perfect example of a Pittsburgh blue-collar community and one that has suffered from the decline of the steel industry. It is staples like Mac's donuts that holds towns together during the tough times; even if those tough times lasts decades.
Recommendation: Custard Long John
DeAngelis Donut Shop
202 Pleasant St, Rochester
The building housing DeAngelis is nearly as cool as their donuts. It screams mid-century and is an interesting place to view even if you don't plan on eating. Serving Rochester since 1947, their motto is “Delightfully Different.” Bite into one of their delightfully delicious donuts and you are instantly hurled back in time to when donut shops were stalwarts of the community. They also serve up a mean cup of joe, something that few donut shops do these days.
Recommendation: Blueberry Cake Donut
Oram's Donut Ship
1406 7th Ave, Beaver Falls
They say things are bigger in Texas. Well, I challenge any donut place in the Lone Star State to match the size of Oram's cinnamon rolls. If you can, make this the last stop on your route, because if you down one of Oram's colossal cinnamon creations, you will be done for the day. While in town, check out Beaver Falls, it is a hidden gem in the greater Pittsburgh area.
Recommendation: Cinnamon Roll
Downtown and North
Starting off in the Strip District allows you to see one of Pittsburgh more unique downtown neighborhoods. Chocked full of shops and bistros, it is a shopper's paradise. Directly north of downtown, it can get a tad rural, but well worth the trip for some great donuts.
Peace, Love and Little Donuts
50 21st St, Pittsburgh
Feeling a little psychedelic? This place has you covered. It's hippie theme shops will have you reaching for your Jimmie Hendrix LP. Peace, Love and Little Donuts is now a multi-state venture, but it started with its first shop in the Strip District. They also serve up smallish donuts, but they are the closest thing you will find to gourmet in any shop. Think of them as the Ben and Jerry's of donuts, with wacky flavors and combinations that, while sound weird, are absolutely delicious; many named after rock groups and musicians.
Recommendation: Almond Brothers
Freedom Farms Donut Shop
663 Pittsburgh Rd, Butler
Located in an unassuming white building on Route 8, look for the large COFFEE and DONUTS signs on the front. Hands down the freshest and best tasting glaze donuts on the planet, and our favorite donut shop (our dog's too, grab one of their homemade dog biscuits for your mutt). It's a bit of a drive but worth it.
Valencia Donut Company
1177 Pittsburg Rd, Valenica
Also directly along Route 8, it is a donut designer's dream. You can build your own by choosing your flavor of donut (vanilla, chocolate or blueberry), filling (Bavarian cream or raspberry jelly), one of multiple flavors of icing and lastly a topping. If your donut doesn't taste great, it's your fault.
Recommendation: Bavarian Cream
Amazing Glaze Donut Company
4988 Middle Rd, Allison Park
Located in a small strip-mall, this place gets rave reviews from the locals. They have perfected the frying of a donut, ensuring a crisp on the outside, light on the inside creation. They have limited hours, so check before you make the drive.
Recommendation: Red Velvet
When you think of the southwest you think of desert and cactus. When you mention southwest Pittsburgh, think doughy goodness. Your route takes you through gritty neighborhoods to upscale communities. They all have one thing in common: great donuts.
Better Maid Donuts
1178 Steuben St, Pittsburgh
I expected this place to be a struggling shop when I set course for it. It is not located in an where one expects a shop to be. Upon arriving one morning, the line of customers snaking down the sidewalk told me that if that many locals dig these donuts, they must be good. If you miss the sign on their building, you won't miss the line of patrons. Turns out, the locals know what they are talking about.
Recommendation: Plain Glaze
Big Daddy's Donuts
90 Nobel Ave, Pittsburgh
Located in an old tractor parts store, Big Daddy knows donuts. Nestled in a cute crossroads of shops and restaurants, don't let the shop's truck stop sounding name throw you off. Big Daddy swings with the times. Don't believe me? Try our recommendation.
Recommendation: Fruity Pebbles Donut
100 Siena Dr, Pittsburgh
Located in an upscale strip-mall in the ritzier part of Pittsburgh, Duck's is a great place to design your own donut. It's is technically part of a national chain, but since there is only one in all of western Pennsylvania, it qualifies as local. Friends of ours take their grandkids there when they visit, kids love designing their own donut.
Recommendation: Vanilla Cake Donut Topped with Bacon
The area southeast of Pittsburgh is married to the Monongahela River. The waterway sustains the communities along it, and was an important part of the area's steel producing history.
Just Good Donuts
1830 E Carson St, Pittsburgh
It shares a shop with another business, but in the morning, it's all donuts. Located in one of the cooler parts of Pittsburgh, on a street lined with interested shops and businesses, Just Good Donuts has just that. Not only are they good, they have a flair for the gourmet style donuts. It's more like shopping for arts than food.
Recommendation: Chocolate Raspberry
The Corner Donut Shop
1709 Eden Park Blvd, McKeesport
It really is located on a corner. It is your standard donut shop with nothing remarkable about the building or location, but it's the donuts that bring in the business. A formidable selection of donuts, they have one for every taste; even a Steelers themed offering. Some of the best coffee you will find at a donut shop.
Recommendation: The Black and Gold
Top O' the Mornin' Donut Shop
111 2nd Ave, Elizabeth
This seems like a combination of a donut place and a coffee shop. It's small, but you can actually sit down, drink a cup of coffee and enjoy a donut while complaining to your friend about how bad the Pittsburgh Pirates bullpen is. It is located in a cute downtown area of quaint Elizabeth.
Recommendation: Peanut Butter Donut (really)
Set Sail for the Sugary Promised Land
Pick a route and enjoy a culinary tour of Pittsburgh like no other. If you can eat a donut at all of the shops in one day, I will personally buy you a new pair of pants; because you will need them. And remember, while donuts are the main attraction, the beauty of the journey is that you will get to visit many areas of Pittsburgh most visitors never knew existed. You get to see the good, the bad, the ugly and everything in between. But what won't be in short supply are Yinzers that make you feel welcome, and some of their finest treats.