Bag a Bunch of Bagels

Twin Cities bagels, revealed, celebrated, or mocked mercilessly, depending on which paragraph you read

Simmering rage is one thing if you're a police sergeant with a shady past whose daughter has been kidnapped by a ring of thugs who are in cahoots with your police chief and want you to keep your mouth shut about their arson ring. It's quite another when you're simply looking for breakfast.

Which is why lately I grow ever more concerned when Twin Citians stop to talk about bagels. Once you all seemed to discuss local bagels with simple Upper Midwestern exclamations like, "Aw, shucks, maybe it'll get better one day, those boys do try to boil them some dough loops, but it just ain't in their blood. Hey there, Sven Svensen, you git your head out of that there lutefisk barrel, or we'll starve to death come February!"

Yet now, now it seems that you greet the very topic of bagels with a dispiriting urban cynicism, saying things such as, "Bagels? Did you say bagels? I'll kill you. I'll rip off your head, and use your skull as a to-go cup for my morning half-caf-soy-shade-grown latte with just one grating of fresh nutmeg, my everyday morning treat."

So I set off to sample local bagels. Over the course of a week, I hit nine local bagel shops, in six different municipalities, from Hopkins to Woodbury. I sampled an "everything bagel" immediately at each of them, and also purchased a few bagels to take home and examine with my own onsite, high-tech, super 21st-century, state-of-the-art bagel examination tools, which were not limited to a cutting board and knife, but also included plates and napkins. Here are my conclusions:

 

St. Paul Bagelry, 1702 Lexington Ave.,
Roseville; 651.488.1700

Bagels: Overall, excellent. These are without question the best homegrown bagels in the Twin Cities. Chewy, hefty, idiosyncratic, sturdy, and delicious.

Weight: Hefty, feisty, and just right. A good bagel should be more like Jimmy Durante and less like Rock Hudson, more like a short story and less like a billboard--it shouldn't be bloated and pleasant to people who aren't really paying attention, as seen from a great distance; it should be unique, a little tough, a little strange, the way faces are strange, and life is. St. Paul Bagelry bagels are just that way: Each is unique and obviously handmade, they have a truly robust and resilient crust, a nice interior crumb full of good sized holes and rich-tasting bread.

The house slogan at St. Paul Bagelry is "No pale bagels," which may not seem like a big deal to you, but to me, after seeing bagels that looked like those ghostly fish that dwell on the sea floor, to me, "No pale bagels" sounds the same way "Live free or die" does to a native of New Hampshire.

I hadn't been to the St. Paul Bagelry since it changed hands a year ago, but I was thrilled to discover that this mom-and-pop gem is better than ever.

Extra points: Fantastic cream cheese; again, easily the best in the Twin Cities. Every day the Mancuso family--Mom and Pop Theresa and Randy and manager-son Tom--blend up their own batches of cream cheese, using just-chopped ingredients, like lox, or pimientos, olives, and olive juice. The resulting concoctions taste utterly real, and brought true happiness to this roving critic. Making flavored cream cheese out of cream cheese may seem like faint praise, but it's far from normative in today's sad bagel world: Most corporate bagel chains make their cream cheeses with things like locust bean and guar gums, dehydrated vegetables, and preservatives. Since a dehydrated chive in an MSG and hydrolyzed soy protein bath is to fresh chives in cream cheese as a Slim Jim is to a real steak, I can only weep for the masses.

Offenses against humanity: None, except for the fact that, like the last of an endangered species, the rarity of the true family-owned bagel shop that cares about their bagels says something dark about our world.

 

Zeno Café, Dessert & Wine Bar, 2919 Hennepin Ave. S., Minneapolis; 612.746.4170
800 Lasalle Ave. S., Minneapolis; 612.746.1045
www.zenocoffee.com
Bagels: Zeno air-freights bagels in daily from famed H&H bagels in New York City, and you can buy them anytime for either 95 cents a pop or $9.99 a dozen, at either the Uptown or Downtown location. (And, Eden Prairie, celebrate! You'll be able to get them this September when Zeno opens a location in your ever-ballooning neck of the woods.)

Weight: Exactly right. As heavy, forceful, and ungentle as a thorough argument, H&H bagels are the real New York deal: Substantial, feisty, uncompromising. These lovely loops of old-fashioned goodness are cooked to a gorgeous dark golden color; inside they smell a little of ferment, the way real bread should, from a long, natural period of rising (or proofing) the dough. Eat one and you won't be asking yourself, "Am I eating a Kaiser roll? Is this French toast?" No. You will experience the true essence of the sturdy, urban hunger-killer known as the bagel.

Extra points: Zeno opens at 7:00 a.m., and, if you don't know already, makes some of the best coffee drinks in the Twin Cities. Which is to say, if you zip over there and pick up lattes and bagels for your sweetheart before said sweetie emerges from pillows and slumbers, you will score major points.

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