Before I get into the recent rumblings in the Bay Area vis-à-vis bagels, let me start with what I wish was a joke. A man (me) walks into a noted bagel store (not Noah’s) in San Francisco on a Friday afternoon and asks the clerk, “Do you sell challah?” Her reply: “What? What’s that?”
Uh, excuse me?! When an employee at a bagel store doesn’t even know what challah is, well, I’m sorry, but that’s a deal-breaker. I’ve never been back.
But that’s pretty much the state of bagelry in the Bay Area, isn’t it? Products are mediocre to decent at best, and the employees might as well be assembling Whoppers at Burger King. Oy vey, don’t get me started.
Instead, I’ll turn my attention to three recent developments in our local bagel world.
First, there’s Spot Bagel, a huge new bagel bakery in Burlingame that’s ready to launch. The company’s calling card is artisan bagels, as owner Jay Glass, 51, wants Spot Bagels to be to bagels what Ritual Roasters and Blue Bottle are to coffee and what Cowgirl Creamery is to cheese.
Glass, a Chicago native, operated Spot Bagel in Seattle about 15 years ago, but sold his three stores and then came to the Bay Area to work in high-tech. The stores in Seattle went bust shortly after he sold them, so he reclaimed the name.
Spot Bagel won’t have any local shops. Rather, starting the second or third week of July, its baked-daily bagels will be in self-service bins at some local markets: Bi-Rite, Real Foods, Canyon Market and Good Life Grocery in San Francisco; both Berkeley Bowls; and Earthbeam Natural Foods in Burlingame. They also will be served at a few local eateries, and sold at two farmers markets (the Ferry Building in S.F. and Temescal in Oakland).
The bagels have interesting names, such as “Everydurnthang” and “Joy of Garlic,” and colorful, whimsical graphics for each; “Sesamimi” is particularly cute.
More importantly, the bagels taste great. The “Double Onion,” for example, isn’t just plain dough with dehydrated onion baked on top; it’s all organic, with red and yellow onions baked right into the dough. The Everydurnthang, billed as “Lower East Side meets Santa Cruz,” is overloaded with the requisite toppings, plus sunflower and hemp seeds. The plain bagel is called the “Yosemite” because of Hetch Hetchy reservoir.
“We tend to think the water that comes from melting snow allows you to create a better boiled bagel than that mythical New York water everyone points to,” Glass said.
If all of this sounds frou-frou, worry not. The texture of the Spot Bagels I tried was classic New York, Chicago or Detroit: a crispy crust and a very chewy center. I’m predicting that bagel purists are really going to like them.
Glass said his lineup of 10 or 11 bagels covers three categories: “traditional” (with better ingredients and amped-up flavors); “local” (made with area fruits, herbs, etc.); and “global” (nontraditional, such as a Greek bagel with brine- and oil-cured olives, fresh thyme and chili flakes).
Some of you might be familiar with Spot Bagels, as they were served by Wise Sons Deli last month at Israel in the Gardens. Which brings me to another new bagel bakery — Beauty’s Bagel Shop — also sold by Wise Sons, the Saturday morning pop-up in San Francisco.
Beauty’s makes Montreal-style bagels, which have less dough and larger holes than traditional bagels. The owners are scouting for a location in Oakland, so actually it’s not a “shop” yet. But they are baking/testing at a Berkeley pizzeria, and one of them just did an apprenticeship at a bagel bakery in Montreal.
Interestingly, word of these two new bakeries comes on the heels of some big bagel news that rocked New York recently: the shuttering of the H&H Bagels store on the Upper West Side.
The local angle comes in the form of a sigh of relief. Because H&H didn’t close its main bakery, San Francisco’s Crossroads Café is still getting shipments of H&H bagels nearly every morning. And serving them up.
To which I offer a toast — even though I prefer my bagels, especially if they are of high quality, untoasted.
Andy Altman-Ohr lives in Oakland. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.