Four or so years ago, I walked into Cartem’s Donuterie on Pender St. I was there to interview the owner, Jordan Cash, about his newly-opened donut shop and write an article about them.
Today, Cartem’s now has three locations in the lower mainland, but I still visit the Pender St location often, because it’s right around the corner from BCIT, where I teach classes twice a week. Whenever we have some kind of a celebration in our house, it usually involves a trip to Cartem’s.
I love their unique flavors, their monthly specials, and the fact that there are always vegan donuts on hand. And not just vegan donuts, but really, really good vegan donuts.
I recently interviewed Executive Chef, Rags Rajesh Narine, about what it’s like to make nothing but donuts, and why Cartem’s is still successful 5 years in.
Before we get to the business at hand, let’s have a moment to discuss donut versus doughnut. The proper, real, official word is doughnut, but modern lexicon writes donut more often than not. It’s a word that’s been heavily influenced by America, Homer Simpson, and laziness–who needs to write those three extra letters?
No matter how you spell it, the donut is a delicious treat. Yeasted dough, sweet and flavoured, is dropped into hot oil, where it puffs up, and creates a beautiful, golden-brown crust. Then, the donut becomes like a blank canvas to the donut-creators wishes, taking on whatever glazes, fillings, or toppings the creator can imagine.
Here’s where to find Vancouver’s best donuts. I’ve been to them all.
It’s not easy to find. Tucked away in a tiny (but adorable) shop on a side-street in Steveston, you will find Outpost Mini Donuts. Now, what makes them special is that they do only, and nothing but, mini-donuts. These are not your PNE mini donuts (which, to be fair, are really in a whole category of their own). Nope, these mini-d’s come with a variety of interesting and delicious toppings, and are served in a paper cone. Regular flavours include Vanilla Bean Icing with sprinkles, and (our fave) Maple Icing with sprinkles. They also have seasonal choices, like lemon or blueberry. Pair your cone ‘o’ donuts with a stroll on the Steveston Boardwalk–it’s an incredibly charming little town.
When Lucky’s and Parallel 49 Coffee conspired together to open up a shop at Main and 13th a few years back, this city hit the jackpot. Never has there been a more perfect pairing. I’ve been a huge fan of Parallel 49 since forever, and now you can dunk a donut in your perfect pour-over. These are grown-up donuts. Elegant. Everything here is made “slow,” from scratch, even the jams and fillings. The donuts are classics: I almost never recommend trying a plain donut, but honestly, at Lucky’s The Classic Old Fashioned is probably the way to go, although their apple fritter and the PB & J also rock. My favourite thing to order here, though, is not a donut, but their beignets. Warm, coated in powdered sugar, and accompanied by three sauces, they immediately transport you to New Orleans.
Lee’s Donuts–Granville Island
If I could only describe Lee’s with one word, that word would be old school. Okay, so that’s two words, but you get the idea, right? Lee’s has been in business on Granville Island for 36 years. Thirty-six! Owned by the same guy, not shockingly named Lee, every day they churn out hundreds of delicious, warm, glazed donuts. This is a classic donut. Light and fluffy and warm and sweet. They are like what I imagine clouds would taste like if you cut them into rings, deep-fried them, and sugar-glazed them.
Like Steveston, Deep Cove is a charming little town that I sometimes like to escape to. I love the drive out there, and arriving in the Cove always feels like an exhale. After an afternoon of hiking, walking, or kayaking, you’ll want to reward yourself with a donut from Honey’s. There’s always a line. But there’s a reason for that. Honey’s donuts are tall. In fact, it’s a bit of a challenge to get your mouth around one. They are cakier, heavier than some other donuts, but still delicious. Our fave was the maple-glazed, with bacon. Even if you skip the hike, a drive to Deep Cove for a donut is completely justified.
For my money, Cartem’s serves the best donuts in town. Cartem’s has become the place I go to celebrate anything: first day of school, last day of school, getting all the laundry done… The sheer creativity that owner Jordan Cash and chef Rajesh Narine bring to their work puts them on top. Here, you’ll find seasonally-inspired creations that are only available for a short time (today, for example, they are serving up a special donut for Chinese New Year), but every day creativity rules, here, as well. Michael’s fave is the Whiskey Bacon, and my fave is the Honey-Parmesian. I know it sounds weird to put cheese on a donut, but it’s magic. They also have daily vegan and gluten-free choices, which I don’t believe any of the other donut shops in the city have. You really need to check them out.
Where’s your fave donut join in Vancity? Did I miss any? Let me know in the comments below.