Twin Cities Bagel Roundup

I’m a Midwesterner through and through, but when it comes to bagels, I’m admittedly spoiled. Frequent trips to the East Coast to visit my grandparents in New Jersey and Florida taught me from a young age that bagels don’t belong in the freezer. They should come fresh from the bagel shop and served in halves with cream cheese (don’t even think about buying low-fat), lox, and maybe some tomato and onion if that’s your thing. No funky flavors like cinna-choco-walnut-surprise. No exotic cream cheeses. And definitely no ham and cheese.

So what makes a true New York bagel? Discussion among several former East Coast residents resulted in the following criteria:

  • A golden, toothsome crust that exhibits some crunch
  • A soft, light, and slightly moist interior
  • A flavor bordering on neutral to sweet and malty
  • A normal portion size — not one the size of a Frisbee

While we can get all the components for an authentic bagel brunch here in Minnesota, is it possible to get a bagel that lives up to snuff? The Heavy Table decided to put three local bagel establishments to the test, throwing one national chain into the mix for comparison’s sake, too. We gathered samples of the plain variety and served it with plain cream cheese, going with the theory that if a bakery’s plain bagel doesn’t taste good, throwing sesame seeds on top isn’t going to improve it.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

St. Paul Bagelry (99 cents each)

In a word: Oy. The St. Paul Bagelry’s plain bagel got an almost universal thumbs down, with several people comparing it to a high-school cafeteria bagel. Its very shiny texture did little to compensate for the lack of chew and synthetic taste. Yes, a bagel should have some pull when you bite into it, but it shouldn’t stick in your teeth for the rest of the day. This is the bagel to skip.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Seven Stars Coffeehouse ($1.50 each)

Dubbed the “Wonder bagel” by one of our tasters for its similarities to the classic sandwich bread, Seven Stars’ version was light on crust and heavy on dough. Bagels should have a clear distinction between crust and interior, both in color and in texture. Instead, this bagel tasted more like a sub-par croissant with its slightly greasy aftertaste. It’s the only kosher-certified bagel of the bunch, but unfortunately, kosher doesn’t always equal quality.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Common Roots Cafe ($1 each)

The closest among the local competitors to hit the mark, Common Roots’ plain bagel was a fine illustration of the “pull” factor that elevates a bagel from wimpy to satisfying. Its neutral flavor makes it the perfect base for any kind of sandwich you desire, from a traditional schmear to all the fixins. But its pale color and slightly damp texture indicated to us that the bagel needed a few more minutes in the oven. If it had been a little more well done, it could have been a contender. But instead…

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Bruegger’s (99 cents each)

There is something to be said for chains after all. Surprisingly, Bruegger’s plain bagel (the bagel above has sesame seeds because the plain bagel had already been cut up by the time we began snapping photos) was the clear favorite among our taste-testers, who praised its exemplary crustiness and chewy-but-not-too-chewy interior. With the best flavor among the four bagels sampled, Brugger’s earned an overall thumbs up. How it would compete against New York varieties remains to be seen (Serious Eats didn’t include it its bagel taste test last year), but here in Minnesota, it’ll do the job nicely. Don’t forget the cream cheese!

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Jill Lewis

The great-granddaughter of an Eastern European Jewish baker, Jill Lewis cannot escape her genetic predisposition to carbs. Her love of baked goods, wine, cheese and chocolate may not come in handy for her day job as a Twin Cities PR professional, but it proves infinitely helpful for her gigs as a contributing writer for The Heavy Table and the co-author of the Cheese and Champagne blog. A former resident of Illinois, Texas, Wisconsin and suburban Washington, D.C., Jill now lives with her husband, two young sons and cat in St. Louis Park.

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38 Comments

  1. wow! I’ve never had a bad bagel from the St. Paul Bagelry!

  2. Jason Walker10/19/2010Reply

    And I’ve never had a good bagel from Bruegger’s. The one by my house (50th and Penn) is particularly atrocious.
    What Bruegger’s did you go to?
    And I like St. Paul Bagelry bagels I get at the co-op … but there is a lower standard for bagged ones, I suppose. My son is obsessed with their everything bagels.

  3. I also have found the St. Paul Bagelry to have the best bagels here, not that that’s saying too much (in my experience, bagel quality varies inversely with distance from New York City). Their cinnamon raisin bagel is our household favorite…

  4. the everything bagel at st. paul bagelry is magnificent.

    i was hoping this east-coast-inspired bagel article would point us to the best bagel & lox. i’ve heard that common roots is solid – any other recommendations?

  5. I’ve never had these but I’ve always felt that both Brueggers and Einstein have a decent approximation of the real deal.

    I actually prefer the day olds as this seems to increase the chew.

    I am no connoisseur i’ll even eat lenders from the freezer section- those generally get peanut butter. As long as it’s got a nice dense center and takes some physical effort to get your teeth through the crust I am okay and it will pass muster for some lox, thinly sliced onion, cream cheese and maybe even some capers.

  6. NickSperr...10/19/2010Reply

    Odd, I’ve never seen a common roots bagel look like that. I know they are capable and normally produce much better bagels, too bad you got a mediocre one. I’ve had nothing but great bagels there – just one Goy’s opinion.

  7. Wow. Just wow.

    Granted, everyone has there own opinion and that’s cool, but I love St. Paul Bagelry. We get the blueberry, cranberry, or cinnamon raisin nearly every week from the Seward Co-op.

  8. Is Brothers Deli disqualified because the bagels are shipped in from NYC every morning? I believe that according to Dara they’re the best you can get in the Twin Cities.

  9. brothers deli downtown has the best bagel/lox I’ve found. I was told one of the reasons that brueggers isn’t a “real bagel” is because it is fried rather than boiled like traditional bagels. one of the reasons NY has a distinctive bagel is the boiling, because their water is different.

    I find making my own turns out way better than the bagels I find in the stores or restaurants. This recipe is pretty simple.

    http://www.melindalee.com/index.php?option=com_garyscookbook&Itemid=6&func=detail&id=161

  10. im surprised by this too but maybe it’s because i usually go for flavored bagels and skip over the plain.

  11. a bagel with fruit – does not compute!

  12. Also I am pretty sure they boil the bagels at Brueggers.

    In fact its the freakin title tag on the website.

  13. There’s a relatively new bagel chain in Madison called Gotham bagels — anyone had those? I know James was in Madison for a while; maybe he’s tried them?

    I’m hoping we get some decent ones in the Twin Cities — they really don’t even compare to the east coast.

  14. Whomever wrote this is clearly out of his/her mind. Common Roots bagels are BY FAR the best bagels in the Cities. Delicious, homemade daily out if fresh, local, organic ingredients. Go, purchase, eat, enjoy!

  15. I miss the Lincoln Del!! There’s where you could find a great bagel!

  16. NickSperr...10/19/2010Reply

    All these haters, west coast bagels are the bomb! l’chaim! just kidding.

  17. Jacqueline10/19/2010Reply

    I know this was a bagel tasting, but has anyone ever had a bialy?? I love Common Roots and have always thought their bagels remind me of the bialys from the Jewish delis of my childhood.

  18. with all the authority the east coast eating fresh bagels every week childhood affords me, i must say this taster is either a)crazy b)doesn’t know good bagels c)mixed up their notes and pictures or d)maybe maybe common roots and st. paul bagelry had a fluke bad bagel?

    I’d put the above two products as the closest to east coast bagel goodness as you can get here. Brueggers bagels are just off, flavor is no good and the texture is often too dense. Just had a St. Paul Bagelry everything bagel today and it was fantastic… also mine was only 89cents.

  19. Leave it to midwesterners to ruin a bagel tasting. Brueggers does not make a good bagel. Just no.

  20. Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl10/20/2010Reply

    I’m coming to the defense of St. Paul Bagelry too: Closest thing to an NYC bagel in this fair state, bar none.

  21. The nonsense about Bruegger’s frying vs. boiling can be debunked just by walking into one. At most locations the gigantic vat of boiling bagels is right there on the other side of a pane of plexiglass.

    That Common Roots bagel looks pathetic. Thankfully, it looks nothing at all like the dozens I’ve eaten from there… I wonder if they were goofing with you and gave you a cast-off.

    Jacqueline, bialys are one of my favorite foods. The only place I’ve ever seen them in MSP was at Bruegger’s and they actually did a very good job with them. Unfortunately, they stopped making them after several weeks.

    I actually brought a bag of bialys back from Russ & Daughters in NYC once — the guy who used to run Big Apple Bagels in Apple Valley told my dad that he would try and mimic them. It never happened for some reason…I want to say the guy turned over the shop, but I’m not sure.

    Anyway, the Common Roots plain bagel with lox, plain cream cheese and capers is my go-to in MSP. I’d kill for some good sable or salty lox and a bialy, but it just ain’t ever happening here.

  22. I believe Nick & Eddie has a burger served on bialy. Super good.

    I have no bagel opinion. Don’t understand why they are better in NYC, but they just are (per my own experience). But since I have no standards, I’ll eat the ones here. Frankly, my favorite is an everything bagel from wherever with loads of butter.

  23. it’s the water. I still have no idea what that means, but that’s what New Yorkers always say when I ask that question. Also, bagels here suck. and lox is that super salty salmon that I grew up with, not the mild stuff you get @ costco.

  24. ok, I’m kind of allergic to gluten now so this is from memory, but I have a very good memory for food. I’m from upstate NY but visited NYC often in my youth and later years so I’ve had bagels there. My opinion….Bruegger’s are not something awful, they do have the right chewiness which is important. But they aren’t transcendent either. I do think St Paul Bagelry’s are better, closer to the NY ideal. And I like Common Roots although they are very very chewy, almost their own animal. And I like the flown-in H&H bagels which are obtainable at Brothers.

    @geoff– there are 2 kinds of lox, ‘nova’ which is less salty which was my preferred type as a child, and what we called ‘salty’ lox.

  25. New Yorkers and their bagels. Just because they make good ones, doesn’t mean there can’t be different types of bagels. Just like pizza, skylines, and baseball teams.

  26. I’m very surprised to see the St. Paul Bagelry get an out-and-out thumbs down; I’ve never been disappointed by any of their bagels in texture or flavor. They may not be the best in the cities, but this place is definitely worth a try – especially for the amazingly greasy/delicious bagel sandwiches.

  27. I hear Common Roots has them a bagel robot now. Maybe that explains the odd shape

  28. MJ Gilbert10/20/2010Reply

    Bruegger’s is definitely boiled. Einstein’s, however are STEAMED, and thus can be considered NOT to be “true bagels”. I think Common Roots is outstanding, and share the opinion that the pictured bagel is not representative (n=1 seldom adds up to good research). I HAVE had St. Paul Bagelry, and thought they were just fine. Brueggers is a good “starter bagel” for my 7 year old.
    And BTW, Lucia’s to go has been known to make bialys from time to time. You won’t be transported to the lower east side, but they are yummy.

  29. Gotham in Madison is not a chain, and they make the best bagels I have ever had. Period.

  30. Just had Gotham in Madison this morning….mmmmmm! Everyone should make a special trip just to taste these amazing bagels. Oh, and by the way, customer service is another matter and Brueggers falls way short and Gotham hits the ball out of the park.

  31. While I’m not too picky when it comes to bagels, I do agree that East Coast bagels are far superior to any that I’ve had locally. I’m a born and bred Minnesotan, but went to college for a year in Vermont and I’ve never enjoyed so many plain bagels with thick cream cheese in my life. I literally had one every day for breakfast on the way to class (talk about freshmen 15). Now, I can’t remember the last time I ate a bagel…

  32. rational5410/25/2010Reply

    Personally i am not a big cream cheese fan, however the exception is a bialy, toasted with cream cheese and the onion coming thru… very nice, best can be found in NYC, LA, also a few in Skokie IL….

  33. RockstarMom11/02/2010Reply

    I’m surprised too. After having bagels from St. Paul Bagelry, I can’t even eat a Brugger’s bagel. Even worse is their creamed cheese. It just tastes awful to me. I love all the flavors from St. Paul Bagelry. But there are people who think Taco Bell is the best Mexican around, so there you go.

    Having had many a bialy from Skokie and that area, I have to say I just plain miss them! Some one in the TC must be up for the challenge!

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