Cider Belly - Albany, NY
I was visiting my older brother and his in-laws in upstate New York for Christmas this year and had an aching for a new donut experience. One search pulled up over a dozen Dunkin Donuts, a franchise everyone is familiar with. I rolled my eyes. After further searching, I found two other local donut shops that offered artisan donuts. One of them doesn't have a storefront yet. The other, a quick 45 minute drive from his house, landing smack-dab in the middle of downtown Albany: Cider Belly.
My brother and I set out in the mid-morning to try the place out while sight-seeing the capital area.
The store is just a few blocks from the Capital Building.
The store is set up as a long walkway that leads you through the menu, glass cases, and ordering, all while showing off the creation process right there behind the counter. Cider Belly conveniently offers their menu online so I had some idea of what I wanted to try. Typically I'll take the traditional treats like a glazed and an old fashion, but there was no such options as these were all artisan donuts. It's refreshing to see, especially when the franchise business (DD) sells them all over the state. At least this could offer up some sweet variety to the donut scene.
You can even order ahead online to simply pick it up near the entrance. I imagine that's a nice bonus for folks who just want to get to the office.
This was right before Christmas, so the place had decorations which I can always appreciate! While the place does have a rustic feel to it, only the smaller tables had that reclaimed-wood look, and the chairs, for the most part, were the Eames-inspired round-molded armchairs. I've sat in some of those chairs and still felt uncomfortable because the plastic that was used wasn't pliable enough. It's always exciting to see these chairs because I know they have a greater potential of being comfortable! And they were. I was so happy. Haha. Most of the chairs however were metal and I wasn't able to sit in one of those.
The floor was one of the coolest polished concrete finishes I've seen. Subtle, and something a normal person wouldn't pay attention to, but it was nice. And clean.
There were historical photos and artwork on the walls which are always cool to look at. They have a case of merchandise that included mugs, coffee, and other souvenirs of the like. Also on the menu are things like bagels and scones. They also boast over 300 donut flavors that cycle through their inventory.
The staff was nice and accommodating of my questions. We seemed to have gotten there right before one of their rushes (while sitting there I noticed a couple more rushes before we left) which would lead me to think a second cashier to take care of additional customers would be beneficial.
Prices seemed extremely fair considering these folks are pumping out artisan donuts only. $1 for a single is even cheaper than the normal, bland donuts I got at the last place I reviewed. And like the last place, the donuts at Cider Belly are much smaller than I'm typically used to. There were other donuts that got higher with the different kind of flavors. So any of them ranging from $1 to $2.50
So many varieties to choose from, it was great trying to figure out what to try. There was a little bit of everything, except for any filled donuts. Which I found a bit odd. All of the other artisan donut shops I've been to always have a specialty filling, whether it be locally sourced, or a recipe of their own design. I was quite bummed about that.
I went with some of their "Usual Suspects", some seasonal, and a few random artisan. Altogether I tried the Sugar Daddy, Blueberry, Gingerbread, Peppermint, and a couple others that my brother tried. A half dozen of these donuts, plus a small and large coffee came to $9.50. Was kind of hard to forget because of how exact and cheap it was.
I'm afraid the review of the donut itself will be quite short. The only donut that made me want another was the Sugar Daddy donut. It was a perfect blend of crispy on the outside and super soft on the inside. The dough had a wonderful compliment to the sugar they used on top, making the whole donut well-rounded. Not too buttery, but a nice replacement of dough flavor to where you would expect the moist buttery taste to be on the inside. Sugar stayed on the donut very well, as with all the other donuts, which made the eating experience less messy.
I almost wish I had tried some of the other "Usual Suspects" because all of the other specialty donuts I tried didn't hit me the same way. Not as well balanced and the flavors were almost non-existent. I bit into the Blueberry expecting an explosion of beautiful bitter-berry that would force my mouth to salivate. I've had other donuts with that blueberry topping - Top Pot (Seattle, WA) and District Donuts (New Orleans, LA) comes to mind - but that was far from what I experienced. I could barely taste the berry and spent more time thinking about the donut texture.
The Egg Nog flavored donut was the same. As well as the Peppermint. Like I said, It just made me wish I had gone for their daily donuts instead.
The coffee was better than your usual diner coffee you get from Ma & Pa shops, but definitely not good enough for an artisan donut shop. It's the kind of coffee that you don't pay attention to in the winter because it's so early in the morning when you drink it and all that matters is that it delivers the caffeine in a warm substance. However, it doesn't destroy your experience with a burst of crappy coffee you get from a tin can forcing you to spit it right out and wince in pain as if someone switched your cup with a cup of paint. Good for when you don't have any other roast lying around, as it is locally sourced, which is always better than the alternative.
Overall I'd give Cider Belly a 2.6 out of 5 donuts. The exclusive choices of artisan crafted donuts begs for the quality but doesn't deliver, hindering the tasting experience. Prices make sense (though I believe to be on the cheaper side), staff are very nice, place is very clean, menu is clear and understandable, coffee is mediocre, and seating is comfortable to spend some extra time enjoying company. The donut portion sizes are small, flavor lacking, with only one donut that truly stood out. Would love to come back and try more of the daily made donuts!
Thank you for having me Cider Belly!