In the nearly four years that I’ve written “Hardly Strictly Bagels,” each column has been accompanied by the tagline “Send hot tips and out-of-the-way finds to firstname.lastname@example.org.” My dream was for recommendations to come flooding in.
Sad-face. It didn’t happen.
However, among the few I actually did receive over the years, two arrived in a recent three-day span. What a great angle for my final column: getting a chance to check out some “hot tips.”
“I can’t believe you’ve never mentioned the Redwood Bagel Company in Novato,” wrote Dr. Marty Rayman, a pediatric dentist from Kentfield. “I might not be a professional, but I am certainly a bagel maven. I grew up in Kew Garden Hills, Queens, around the corner from a bialy/bagel bakery on Main Street at Melbourne Avenue. I know from fresh New York bagels.”
Similarly, Sharon Bergson of Lafayette, owner of a travel agency, wrote, “As a person who grew up in Brooklyn, I feel like a maven when it comes to New York bagels — or just good bagels. And the best and most authentic bagel I have found is Sunrise Bagels Cafe in Concord. They are very good, and they have a great selection of cream cheeses. Check ’em out!”
First, I drove to Concord and tried Sunrise, which also has a location in San Ramon. Great call, Sharon. The boiled and baked bagels are the genuine article: very tasty, chewy, not at all puffy, and a crust that isn’t crunchy per se, but brings a discernable texture to each bite. The most popular varieties come fresh from the oven, as they are made on site throughout the day.
The everything bagel was super seedy and salty, and very flavorful. The plain tasted buttery inside. The bialy wasn’t great, but the New York rye bagel had a potent rye flavor and a tough cornmeal crust, just like the outside of good twice-baked rye.
Sharon likes the variety at Sunrise, but I’m a bagel traditionalist and I had no interest in trying banana, chocolate, cinnamon crunch, oat bran, sundried tomato or many of the other 30 varieties. Then again, I’m not complaining, as they are only 99 cents each, $1.45 for “gourmet” bagels. Most customers seem to go for bagel sandwiches.
Sunrise is located in a shopping plaza. Decidedly not artisan, it’s a bit rough around the edges, which adds to the ambience. A self-service cooler holds containers of cream cheeses, with standard flavors as well as chocolate chip, pineapple and walnut raisin. Hey, to each his own. I did try the chocolate chip variety, promptly giving it two chips down.
Sunrise scores 4.5 stars on Yelp and 4.8 on Google, and I heartily agree with what one reviewer wrote: “I cannot believe I never found this place sooner.”
As for Redwood Bagel Company … sorry, Marty, but I wasn’t as bowled over as I was at Sunrise. I do give Redwood big points for being open on Christmas, for opening at 4:30 a.m. every day, for having long lines and for being a go-to place for many Jewish Marinites.
Like Sunrise, it scores 4.5 stars on Yelp and 4.8 on Google, but I didn’t find the crust discernable enough from the interior, and I thought the interior, while not bready or puffy, also was not dense or chewy enough.
Located next to an armed forces recruiting station in the old Triangle Shopping Center in Novato, the shop has been under the same family ownership since it opened 25 years ago. The place has a great energy and feel, decorated with posters and sports memorabilia, some of it so weathered you can’t even read the signatures (Joe Montana?!).
If I lived nearby, I’d be there all the time. But it’s not quite a destination bagel place, in my opinion.
Sunrise Bagels Cafe
1701 D Willow Pass Road, Concord; (925) 686-4212
2005 Crow Canyon Place, Suite 132, San Ramon; (925) 242-1188
Redwood Bagel Company
1559 South Novato Blvd., Suite G, Novato; (415) 897-9007
IT TAKES A VILLAGE: A few months ago, Bon Appétit declared hummus its “2015 Dish of the Year,” calling the version offered at Michael Solomonov’s Dizengoff restaurant in Philadelphia “creamy [and] dreamy.” But by using the opening line “Spread the news,” the magazine sort of left the impression that hummus is just a spread or a dip or an appetizer.
Au contraire! Rich, creamy hummus topped with ground beef, mushrooms or other hearty ingredients — served like it is in Israel, as a full meal — seems to be emerging as a trend, and like many food trends, the Bay Area is an early leader.
First was Oren’s Hummus in Palo Alto (and later Mountain View), and then the pop-up Peas and Love (as in chickpeas, the main hummus ingredient). But perhaps the local entity doing “hummus as a meal” the best is Village Hummus, a 5-month-old fast-casual restaurant in San Mateo.
Micha and Dorit Lewis opened Village Hummus in August. Kudos to Mike, his preferred American name, for (a) keeping the menu simple, (b) offering some of the creamiest and richest hummus I’ve ever tasted and (c) importing thick, fluffy and sturdy pita from Israel.
The menu includes falafel, chicken schnitzel and shwarma, but the signature item is “Hummus on a Plate,” as the menu terms it. It’s a hearty bowl of hummus topped with things like mushrooms, fava beans or mesabaha (warm garbanzo beans, tahini, spices and herbs). Ranging from $7.50 for classic hummus to $8.95 for hummus topped with ground beef, each is served with warmed pita and a relish of olive oil, lemon juice, hot peppers and parsley. You eat it with a fork or spoon, or by scooping out generous hunks with your pita.
“I call it ‘Hummus on a Plate’ because if it was a ‘hummus bowl,’ that would confuse people even more,” Mike Lewis explained. “People would think it was a side dish or an appetizer. I wanted to make it clear: That’s your meal. And even at that, I still need to explain it every day.”
Lewis was born in Israel to parents from Texas and Delaware who met in Israel, married and stayed. Aside from a couple of years of elementary school in Florida, he spent most of his first 20 years on a desert kibbutz, Yotvata, about 25 miles from Eilat.
Speaking without a trace of an accent, as his parents always spoke English at home, Lewis beams about the hummus bowl concept. “Flat out, this is the way they do it in Israel,” he said.
Village Hummus is located in a slick business/residential park on the site of the former Bay Meadows horse track, a mere pita toss away from competitors such as Chipotle and Habit Burger.
The restaurant is decorated with photos of Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem, and one of the tables is a large one that Lewis loves to see strangers sharing (like they do in Israel). Though Israeli Jews from nearby tech firms are regulars, he said the eatery’s “Jerusalem vibe” also calls out to Arabs.
While Lewis can’t see a place like his opening in Texas or North Dakota anytime soon, he does think he could be at the forefront of a new trend. “People are trying to eat healthier, and Israeli cuisine falls right into that,” he said. “If more owners like me are willing to explain that hummus can be a meal, the more it will catch on.”
1001 Park Blvd., San Mateo
10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday
BACK TO BASICS: Last June, in conjunction with closing its San Rafael location, Miller’s East Coast Deli in San Francisco added a bunch of new items to its menu: Nashville fried chicken, Cincinnati chili, Chicago beef sandwiches and Sicilian pizza. Moreover, owner Robby Morgenstein also subtracted some Jewish favorites and trumpeted in a blog post: “You can’t get much more American than this!”
American?! Yo, boychik, we want Jewish!
Now, Miller’s is jettisoning many of the “American” items and returning a host of Jewish-centric items to the menu, such as smoked fishes, pickled tongue and a variety of knishes. A voluminous four-page menu is being printed and will be in use in a few weeks.
“I never felt comfortable without smoked fish and tongue and kasha varnishkes and all the other things that had made us something special,” Morgenstein said. “But it was a matter of getting our food costs under control. I felt it was something I kind of had to do. I needed to make sure we were going to be around for awhile.”
Smoked fishes such as sable, sturgeon, kippered salmon, whitefish and herring are back on the menu, as is stuffed derma (kishke). There are also some new sandwiches made with Jewish deli meats, and a knish lineup that includes one that is grilled, stuffed with pastrami or corned beef or brisket and smothered in gravy.
Morgenstein has changed some suppliers, so regulars might notice differences in meats and rye bread. The new bagel provider is Davidovich in New York, which has stepped onto the national scene since the demise of H&H.
Other changes are afoot, too, including the installation of new deli cases, lighting and playful artwork that combines images of Jewish deli food with tiny, plastic human figurines (for a sneak peek, visit www.matthewcarden.com/#/deli).
Miller’s East Coast Deli
1725 Polk St., San Francisco
8 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily
GOODBYE, BAGEL FANS: It’s with a lump in my cream cheese that I say goodbye after writing this column since May 2012. My debut topic was a new appetizing shop (“a deli, sort of”) getting ready to open in Oakland; Beauty’s Bagel Shop has since become one of the cornerstones of the nationally recognized resurgent Jewish food scene in the Bay Area.
A month later, I wrote, “We might not be in the middle of a Bay Area bagel renaissance, but at the very least, we’re on the threshold of one.” Indeed, there are now a decent number of quality bagel makers in our area, with others on the way. That old saw “You can’t get a good bagel in the Bay Area” just doesn’t fly anymore, no matter what the New York Times says.
I’ve enjoyed covering the Bay Area’s Jewish and Israeli food scene during such a vibrant time in its evolution. So many new places have opened, a few have closed, and I’ve reveled in bringing you the news of them all.
As for me, I’ll soon be leaving J., as my wife and I are planning to move south, probably to the Yucatan Peninsula. Last May, Stacey was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Thankfully, she is now in remission after surgery and 18 weeks of chemo — but we’ve decided not to wait around to live out our dream of “retiring” to a warm climate (we’ll both still work a bit).
If I find any good bagels in Mexico, I’ll be sure to let you know. Even if I have to boil and bake ’em myself.
Wise Sons Bagel and Bakery, the new Wise Sons Jewish Delicatessen enterprise at 1520 Fillmore St. (near Geary), has been quietly pumping out bagels for about three weeks. They’ve been sporadically available at the Wise Sons stand at San Francisco’s Ferry Plaza farmers market (Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays) and at the restaurant on 24th Street. As for the 10-seat bagel shop opening to the public, the new target date is Feb. 26, but kinks are still being ironed out, according to co-owner Evan Bloom … Two Local Girls, a new café tucked inside Rocky’s Market (1440 Leimert Blvd., Oakland), is selling bagels from Beauty’s Bagel Shop every day except Mondays (when Beauty’s is closed). A lot of Jewish families live in that area, so it’s great to have such good bagels nearby. The coffee/breakfast/lunch spot, with to-go dinner options, is open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekends. Details at www.twolocalgirls.com … Ducks and Dragons Bakery, which makes gluten-free bagels and other gluten-free goods, is on the rise (so to speak). The year-old operation now has a permanent baking location in San Carlos and has expanded beyond several farmers markets into stores such as Gus’s, the Market and Rainbow Grocery (San Francisco) and Berkeley Bowl (West Berkeley location). The owners use “Montreal-style” and “paleo” to describe their bagels, which are made from a blend of fine-ground almonds and coconut and also include tapioca flour, eggs and more. Details on ingredients and how to purchase at www.ducksanddragons.com … Marla Bakery of San Francisco, which makes good bagels (with gluten!), now has a permanent spot at kiosk 52 in the Ferry Building, so no need to shlep all the way to the Outer Richmond to try its excellent offerings … Seems as if everyone is working on bagels these days, including Goodman’s Jewish Deli, a warm-weather farmers market stand in Santa Rosa. Here’s an Instagram photo of test batch No. 2: www.instagram.com/p/BBQD7fiDAxZ … Philadelphia-based chef Michael Solomonov, who spoke at the JCC of San Francisco three months ago, is a big part of a new film that can be seen in Northern California next month. With the Israel-born chef serving as an Anthony Bourdain-like tour guide, “In Search of Israeli Cuisine” explores the fine restaurants, home kitchens and open-air markets in Israel to reveal the dozens of cultures that have made the Holy Land one of the world’s hottest food scenes. The 97-minute documentary will play at 6 p.m. March 5 in the Sacramento Jewish Film Festival (www.californiamuseum.org/jewish-film-fest) and 10 a.m. March 7 in Pleasant Hill in the East Bay International Jewish Film Festival (www.eastbayjewishfilm.org). The East Bay fest is also showing the popular Jewish delicatessen saga “Deli Man” at 10 a.m. March 10 … Progress on a kosher bakery/eatery in San Francisco called Taboon is slower than anticipated, with one of the owners, Israel native Isaac Yosef, now hoping for a spring opening. The bakery will specialize in sambosak (a Middle Eastern pastry pocket filled with cheese and other ingredients) and will be located across from the new, soon-to-open Chabad of San Francisco location on Sixth Street near Howard