Comparing Charleston's newest donut shops, Fractured Prune and Duck Donuts 

Donut Throwdown

click to enlarge duck_donuts-18.jpg

Ruta Smith

Donuts are nothing new. Dating back to the early 1800s, the Dutch-inspired, deep-fried rings of sweetened batter endure. Over the years, the breakfast treat has inspired fans, admirers, and what might be termed Donut People. Popular culture has offered up several notable Donut People, among them:

Homer Simpson.

Liz Lemon.

Cops.

And while clearly a long-standing offering, newly opened 'adorn at will' donutteries, The Fractured Prune in Mt. Pleasant and Duck Donuts in West Ashley, indicate the sweet, greasy rings are attempting a new stage in their evolution.

click to enlarge RUTA SMITH
  • Ruta Smith

Established in 1976, The Fractured Prune franchise boasts a strange name and a cute lavender and mint green building on Ben Sawyer Boulevard. Family-owned, service is notably friendly and personable, and the fried-to-order, customizable donuts are of the cake variety.

Similarly, Duck Donuts (also a franchise, founded in 2006) is set in Westwood Plaza off Sam Rittenberg Boulevard. It, too, features freshly fried cake donuts delivered hot off the press and topped to order.

Note that neither establishment offers a single gluten-free option, which I assert is a major business opportunity lost. To all concerned, let me assure you: Celiacs sufferers and those who love them are accustomed to paying extortionary upcharges for gluten-free pizza crusts, pastas, wraps, and buns. There's certain money to be made there. Look into it.

For those down with wheat, both The Fractured Prune and Duck Donuts offer a yogurt shop-array of sugary fixings and flavored icings, with which to create the Candyland concoction of your Willy Wonka dreams. If that seems like too much work, they also provide a set menu of similar standards, with options ranging from blueberry or cinnamon sugar, to maple bacon or vanilla with Oreo crumbles.

But while there are similarities between the two 'made-to-order' donut shops, the differences are notable and break down as follows:

click to enlarge Duck Donuts (pictured) and Fractured Prune make their sweet treats to order, with all the toppings you could dream of - RUTA SMITH
  • Ruta Smith
  • Duck Donuts (pictured) and Fractured Prune make their sweet treats to order, with all the toppings you could dream of

Price

The Fractured Prune

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$13.50 for a half-dozen

Duck Donuts

$7.95 for a half-dozen

Dough

FP: Soft, dense and filling, with a prominent nutmeg punch that lingers on the tongue, slightly numbing it, long after the donut itself is gone.

DD: Slightly sweet, springy dough with a sunshiny yellow hue. The texture falls somewhere between dense cake and the lighter, well-known Krispy Kreme variety.

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Donut Square Off

FP: "Death by Chocolate" — Chocolate glaze, chocolate sprinkles, and cookie crumbs.

Barely a flesh wound by chocolate, the fundamental shortfall can be traced to the glaze. Reminiscent of Magic Shell, it's possessed of a barely perceptible cocoa flavor. Although cute to look at, the brown jimmies don't add much chocolate-y-ness either, and the cookie crumbs were placed on the wrong donut. Oof.

DD: Chocolate icing with peanuts and caramel drizzle.

Fo shizzle my drizzle, this is a decadent, Snickers-esque choice. The icing really is icing, thick and fudgy and (according to my donut-obsessed sampling companion) comparable to that at the K.K. chain. While the rich caramel drizzle is really just gilding the lily, the peanuts add some pleasing contrast and crunch.

FP: "OC Sand" — Honey glaze and cinnamon sugar.

This one came, inexplicably, covered in Oreo-like cookie crumbs, which I later realized were intended for the DbC. After brushing them off, the assertive cinnamon flavor combines with the nutmeg-rich batter and complements it. I was told this is the most popular flavor, and it's clear why.

DD: Fresh from the fryer, the hot Duck donut reacts with the cinnamon sugar to form a crisp, crunchy exterior. Simple and straightforward, this will be my choice next time, and is certain to appeal to those less inclined toward sticky fingers or intensely jittery sugar buzzes.

FP: "Blueberry Hill" — Blueberry glaze and powdered sugar.

The artificial blueberry flavor is large and in charge here, but it's one of the few glazes able to stand up to the ever-powerful nutmeg. If you're not bothered by the phony notes, this was one of the favorites sampled.

DD: Blueberry icing with powdered sugar.

There's also an artificial blueberry taste to this icing, but there are little dehydrated blueberries like in a Jiffy muffin mix that add a pleasing punch of authenticity. "Those chewy berries are my favorite thing about pancakes," hotly defended my donut-sampling companion at my use of the word "artificial."

FP: "Bacon bomb" — Maple glaze, cinnamon sugar, and bacon.

The bacon glaze is hard to discern and doesn't do much as far as keeping the bacon in line. When not falling all over the place, the bits are thick and smoky, a welcome relief from the parade of sugar and nutmeg. Although somewhat unmanageable to eat, this was the fan favorite at The Prune.

DD: Maple icing with chopped bacon. The maple flavor is strong here, and the icing provides good adhesion for the bacon itself. Due to the more nuanced batter at Duck, I and my companions found we no longer craved a bacon vacation and probably wouldn't pick it as a topping again while here.

click to enlarge Fractured Prune is all donuts, all the time - RUTA SMITH
  • Ruta Smith
  • Fractured Prune is all donuts, all the time

Other items

FP: N/A. All donuts, all the time, baby.

DD: Egg and cheese sandwiches with the additional option of bacon or sausage. I chose the latter ($4.25), which came — to my foolish surprise — on a plain donut. Rather greasy, but still good, this concoction revealed how lightly sweetened the batter is, a basic bitch ready to be turned into whatever the assorted toppings decree. This is a smart move, as it affords each donut a distinct flavor.

Net impression

FP: While the space and the multi-generational family behind the counter are charming, the nutmeg level in the recipe is too high and the steep price point is worrisome. Even with the ample donut choices and cute building, it's hard not to worry about this little business enterprise.

DD: Whether or not piping hot, freshly iced and adorned donuts will be an enduring trend is hard to say. Duck Donuts seemed plenty busy, and its strip mall location conducive to the business model. Moreover, the sunny yellow, lightly sweet batter allows the varied and sundry toppings to shine.


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