Thursday, February 4, 2010

Rose-coloured reviews The Bagel House

Bagels are so often the default food of picky children, harried airport travellers, and breakfast-bar buffets, it's hard to believe that 25 years ago my dad had to drive across Hamilton to Switzer's so that my family could have them. And the kids at my tiny rural school, though not quite mocking, were fairly incredulous about my lunches of "bread doughnuts."

Those were "New-York style" bagels--puffy with a moist crust, denser than bread, still a lot like bread. I don't know if my New-York-born parents even realized there was another kind, and I don't really know if, when I moved to Montreal, I realized I was eating a sweeter (they're apparently boiled in honey water), less salty, denser smaller bagel--with a unique flavour that turned out to be smokiness from being baked in a wood oven. I knew they were a lot harder to cut for the toaster and that they had a wider hole, making it difficult to have a bagel sandwich or really any kind of tidy bagel topping. In the end, though, I also liked them better plain, untopped and untoasted, especially after I discovered Fairmont Bagels near the place I got my hair cut. There, you could buy just one bagel, just hot, and eat it as you walked across the mountain.

Montreal bagels are farther away from the dinner-roll pole, and closer to the soft street-vendor pretzel--I actually remember the Fairmont onion bagels having a bit of kosher salt mixed in with the onion bits--anyone else remember that?

*Anyway,* I'm not much of a bagel-eater on an everyday day--they're more a special-occasion food for breakfast out in a deli (could also be a problem that I don't have a toaster). But I searched out The Bagel House in pursuit of a treat for a bagel-loving comrade, and found it's delightful. The Bayview location (there's several, and I think they also stock a few grocery stores) is just a teeny store with a couple cramped tables, but you can watch a guy flipping bagels in and out of a huge wood-burning oven, the bagels are amazing and not *that* pricy, and you can get tonnes of Jewish pastries you don't see anywhere else. Hamantast in winter is a bit dissonent, it's good to know it's any option.

The first time I went, it was a Saturday morning, unusual for a Jewish bakery even to be open, but this one was packed (note: every time I've been in, the counter staff was exclusively Asian, and the bagel baker African Canadian, but obviously *someone* in the background there is Jewish). There was a lot of quick in-and-out trade--people carrying coffee beans and buying half-dozens with a pot of cream cheese, obviously on the way to a bagel rendez-vous. The tables were all taken up, though, with people (often with kids) eating toasted bagels with a variety of toppings (from Hungarian salami to chopped chicken-liver to a wide variety of fancy-schmancy cream-cheeses.

Which is what the bagel-lover and I did last weekend. We went on a Sunday afternoon, when most people are already safely brunching (but the lady in line in front of us had a bag of Starbucks beans) but there was a still a nice small crowd. I got the most expensive thing on the menu, the classic cream-cheese-n-lox for $5.99, and I was seduced by the "healthy" multigrain bagel. No idea if it was healthy, but it sure was wonderful. Here, look:

(I had to get in that first bite before I bothered getting out the camera.)

These are stellar Montreal-style bagels, crispy-crusted and chewy, with a good hit of sweetness. The cream cheese (just plain) was a bit runny and there was way too much of it, but every place ever over-applies cream cheese--perhaps it is the nature of that condiment. The lox was excellent--obviously out of a package (we could see it in the display case, Nanuk brand) but nicely salty and generously applied.

There are cheaper options--like, say, just a bagel with cream cheese for $2.99. I sampled my companion's onion-with-pesto-cream-cheese (green!) and it was stellar. You wouldn't think the sweet bagel would go so well with the savouries, but it does!

So, I'm recommending this place, is what I'm saying, to the Montreal-homesick and the carb addicted and, yes, the brunchers alike. It's awesome!

I don't know why they have samosas. We didn't try them.


1 comment:

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