Shmeer Job

Bixby's Bagel Co.
200 Sixth St. S. (Pillsbury Center), Minneapolis; (612) 630-2766
Hours: 6:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Monday-Friday

Brother's Delicatessen
607 Marquette Ave. S. (Firstar Bank Building, skyway level), Minneapolis;
(612) 341-8007
Hours: 7:00 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Monday-Friday

Big Apple Bagel
849 University Ave. W., St. Paul;
(651) 209-6020
Hours: 7:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m. Monday-Friday; 7:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m. Saturday; 7:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m. Sunday

Big Apple has seven other local locations; checkwww.babholdings.com for details

True Brew Bagel Bar
5121 Gus Young Ln., Edina; (952) 929-8900
Hours: 6:00 a.m.-7:00 p.m. Monday-Friday; 7:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m. Saturday-Sunday

Bagelman's New York Bakery and Deli
825 Hennepin Ave. S., Minneapolis;
(612) 305-4880

Hours: 6:30 a.m.-6:00 p.m. Monday-Friday

Bruegger's Bagels
1500 W. Lake St., Minneapolis;
(612) 823-2756

Hours: 6:00 a.m.- 9:00 p.m. Monday-Friday; 6:30 a.m.- 9:00 p.m. Saturday; 6:30 a.m.-8:00 p.m. Sunday

Bruegger's has 33 other Minnesota locations; checkwww.brueggersmn.com for details

Einstein Brothers Bagels
1513 W. Lake St., Minneapolis;
(612) 825-5113

Hours: 6:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. Monday-Friday; 7:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. Saturday-Sunday

Einstein has nine other nearby locations; checkwww.einsteinbros.com for details

It was a dark day, a cold day, and a group earnest and serious, if somewhat anemic, was gathered around a large table in a windowless conference room, discussing matters of the utmost urgency. Suddenly, without warning, the conversation veered to a topic of little apparent relevance: Twin Cities bagels. Suddenly, the room erupted in the most sardonic chuckling, bitter cackling, and dark, knee-slapping hilarity that I had ever seen outside of France. Were we suddenly transported to France? A look outside at the gray snow dashed my hopes. But are local bagels really as bad as all that? I resolved to find out.

I set out with a list of bagelries and my ace in the hole: I knew from long toil in these streets that Brother's Delicatessen imports their bagels daily from famed New York bagelry H&H Bagels--a ringer! If all the local bagels really are bad, at least I'd have a fail-safe to recommend. I quickly drafted ground rules, so as to compare apples to apples, so to speak. The competition would be held in three rings, arenas I decided are the essence of bagelness: First, an everything bagel, unadulterated. This is a bagel made with a combination of most of the traditional savory toppings--onion, garlic, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, and sometimes salt. Next a garlic bagel, topped with lox, cream cheese, and red onion, a preparation universally acknowledged as the highest form of bagel, and, of course, a small cup of coffee.

What? Already you object? You wonder about blueberry bagels, banana bagels, and frosted cinnamon bagels with cappuccino cream cheese (not joking)? I say fie to your abominations. If you wish to read of cranberry-orange cream cheese on a chocolate chip bagel my advice to you is to go suck on a bottle of syrup as you waddle over to a box that holds one of our local dailies: This is not that review! I am not that girl. Just because people want to eat deep-fried baby seals doesn't mean I have to review them.

Crabby? Me? Well, it didn't start out that way. It started at the Uptown Einstein Bros. Bagels, which I've always dismissed as a sort of oddly accessorized would-be hipster of a place. Those bagel-Zelig pictures on the wall are creepy. Why are bagels inserted into old-timey photos of flappers and ice wagons? Is this mirth?

On closer viewing, I grew to like Einstein: Earth tones, wood, and steel dominate the space, and the lighting is so varied in intensity and design that it feels like a place, not a corporate vestibule. Plus they've got big, spread-the-newspaper-out tables, and everybody was rocking out to light, modern, contemporary smart-rock: Indigo Girls and a shmeer!

I got what I was gonna get: 65 cents for the everything, $5.49 for the garlic bagel with "N.Y. Lox and a shmeer," $1.25 for a small coffee. The bagel itself was soft and lightly chewy and smelled pleasantly of wheat. While it lacked the smooth, almost glazed crust of the best bagels, and while it had the distinction of being the only bagel I tried that had a noticeable bottom crust of cornmeal, overall I was pleasantly surprised. The coffee was perfect mellow morning stuff, not too acidic, not over-roasted; a rare find. The bagel with lox came open-faced--the only one that would--with cream cheese on both sides of the bagel, some awful cold-winter tomato that was easily cast off, red onion, and a whole bunch of capers in the middle. Capers? A little country-club, but tasty nonetheless.

Next, I dodged traffic with an across-the-street sprint to the Uptown Bruegger's. Going from Einstein to Bruegger's is time-warpy: Bruegger's, with its cheaper metal chairs, mauve and dusky turquoise paint scheme, and uncomplicated lighting seemed very Michael Jackson's the King of Pop! U.S. Out of Nicaragua!, if you know what I mean. Now, before I get too far into this, I want you to know that I know that you all have devised your own, patented favorite Bruegger's sandwich, and I will not take that away from you. Simply, I am here to judge the inherent bagelness of Bruegger's bagels, not their soup or affordability or closeness to your office. A single bagel ran 65 cents; smoked salmon and cream cheese on a bagel, $4.59; a small coffee, $1.09.

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