The bagel is toast. Or has been, until a new generation began the long road back to revival. On the artisan end of the revival continuum: the East Bay’s Beauty’s Bagel Shop (makers of Montreal-style boiled, wood-fire baked bagels), which is gearing up for an actual shop, reportedly in Oakland. At the more scaled-up end is Spot Bagel, a strictly wholesale startup based in Burlingame that began rolling out product last weekend. Saul’s Restaurant and Delicatessen on Shattuck began offering them earlier this week, along with Berkeley Bowl West. The original Berkeley Bowl expects to start stocking them Friday.
Unlike the puffy, bready seven-ounce bagels America has embraced thanks to mass makers like Noah’s, Spot’s are relatively small (less than half the size of a Noah's, by weight), denser, and chewy enough to make you turn away form your laptop and focus on working through it. Spot's founder, Jay Glass, has spurned the steaming system employed by large-scale operators and returned to tradition, boiling the bagels (in batches of 58, no less) before sending them off to finish in the oven.
But even though Glass has been careful to forge a connection to traditional New York bagel-making, he’s also tried to position Spot as something new. “I thought, Why isn’t anyone doing an organic bagel in California, applied some creativity and applied the panache, what, say, Humphry Slocombe does to ice cream, or Alice Waters to that Slow Food, farm-to-table philosophy. It’s never been elevated.”
Part of that involves giving the bagels whimsical names — Everydurnthang for the everything bagel, Sesamimi for sesame. And it involves seasonal specials (try sweet corn and blueberry — in the same bagel!) that would make for serious eye-rolling by your bubbe in West Palm Beach.
As for Saul’s, it seems to be sticking to the basics. On Monday I picked up a couple of plain (Spot calls them Yosemite, for the Hetch Hetchy water employed in making them) and sesame ($1.50 each). The plain had a tight, cream-colored crumb (Glass ascribed it to the organic, unbleached, high-gluten flour from Giusto’s), and a complex, well-developed flavor. The sesame showed off even more complexity, thanks to a trace of sesame oil in the dough and a sprinkling of black seeds in the mix on top. Did it have too much sesame flavor? Maybe. Then again, like most Americans I’m used to bagels that taste like factory French rolls.