Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Beauty's Bagel Shop

The goods, plus cream cheese and liver and onions.
When you grow up "back east" and move out west, there are many wonders to discover and riches to enjoy. Pacific sunsets, palm trees, warm autumn nights, avocados and citrus everywhere, road trips with the top down in December down the Pacific Coast Highway, wine country, gold-rush county, all of California's Gold and most of all not spending 30 minutes in the freezing cold scraping the ice off your windows before you try to slide down an ice covered driveway and onto treacherous pothole filled roads.

That said, there are some tradeoffs that you have to endure moving from the harsh hinterlands of the east coast to sunny California, many we've remarked about on this blog:

  • Sandwiches served on the wrong kind of bread with inferior deli meat and avocados on everything (do not ask me what kind of bread I want for my pastrami sandwich, the only acceptable choice is rye).
  • Sad, limp, puffy, curiously adorned pizza; pizza with sad crusts.
  • Snappy hotdogs (this I don't mind, but it's "different").
  • Real bagels nowhere to be found.

They sell something called a bagel all over northern California: a sad, steamed little loaf of bread with a hole in the middle. Calling this a bagel is like gluing antlers to a basset hound and calling it a buck. Both a buck and a basset hound are mammals that walk on all fours, and there are many other similarities, but one is not the other.

A bagel must meet more rigid criteria to pass the taxonomy test of a red-blooded east-coaster:

  • A bagel has a tough, almost crisp crust that is formed by first boiling then baking the bagel (at a high temperature).
  • A bagel has a soft, slightly chewy crumb that should have a hint of maltiness. 
  • A bagel expires mere hours after its birth, the best bagel is not older than a couple of hours.
  • Therefore there is often no need to split and toast a bagel – tear it up with your own two hands and dip it in the schmear of your choosing.
Not actually a kosher tattoo.
Wherein the author attempts to resist using the word "diaspora" to describe the phenomena of east coast persons migrating to the west coast...

Jews. There, I said it. Jews make the best bagels (although the origin can be traced back to any number of eastern European pastries or breads from hundreds of years ago, particularly the Polish "bialy" – a sort of pretzel-like boiled and baked bread containing fried onions and poppy seeds).

If you don't have a large enough Jewish or eastern European population in your city, you won't have proper bagels. If you don't have enough Vietnamese, you won't have proper phô or bahn mì. If you don't have Indians, you'll never find a proper naan or tikka masala.

In San Francisco there are enclaves of Jews (usually Russian or Ukrainian) out in the Sunset and Richmond, but anyone who's ever endured the MUNI 38 will tell you that it's easier to cram yourself into an airplane and fly home to get a good bagel.

I grew up in Shaker Heights, one town over from Beachwood, Ohio. Beachwood, astonishingly, is about 90% Jewish in make-up. There are Hasidic enclaves in Cleveland Heights and University Heights, both bordering Shaker and Beachwood, as well as large populations of Russian and Ukrainian Jews in the further eastern suburbs of Mayfield Heights, Euclid Heights and Highland Heights.

The corner of Silsby Road and Warrensville Road in South Euclid is where you'll find Bialy's Bagels, where they bake the best bagels in Ohio and bagels as good if not better than any you could get in Brooklyn, New York (come at me, New Yorkers!).

A Bialy's mish-mosh, split, served with a proper toddy-brew at Phoenix Coffee in Coventry Village.
The bagels at Bialy's are made in the traditional manner: a malted dough that has an overnight rise, using local hard water full of dissolved minerals (notably limestone), that is boiled in hard water (again, full of alkaloid limestone) then baked.

The process is relatively straight forward but requires the local water to be slightly alkaline and produces a bagel with a short shelf life (no more than a day, if not half a day).

In Cleveland this is not a problem: from the moment Bialy's opens at 6AM to the minute they close a steady stream of customers (black, white, goyam, members of the tribe, Russian, Polish, muslim or atheist) happily devour the bagels well before they begin to show their age.

My favorite is the "mish-mosh", and when you try to order one on the west coast you will draw a blank and unknowing stare (similarly when you order a drink "on the rocks" or ask for a can of "pop").

Of course everyone on the east coast knows that this is a bagel that has been topped with a "mish-mosh" of all the toppings.

Un-creatively this is called an "everything" bagel in the west.

And then my fucking mind was blown...

Tony Bourdain proves himself once again useful when, several years ago, he films an expedition to Montréal, Quebec, Canada.

The food in Montréal is hearty, to say the least... this compared to the food of upstate New York, Vermont or Maine for that matter – all are locales that boast rib-sticking faire. 

The apparent mode in Montréal is to take something that is a treasured dish from somewhere else and just push it over the top.

You like pommes frites? Cheese curds? Gravy? Why not put all three together in one bowl? And if that's not enough, let's put some foie gras on top of it. Poutine!

Same with that light snack* the French make in the countryside, cassoulet. Take a casserole of beans, game meat, up the ante, add the foie gras, make it with confit du canard and make sure to add some maple bacon.

(* Not actually a light snack. )

Montréal boasts a deli meat that is described thus: "if corned-beef and pastrami had a baby, then that was smoked."

Hardwood cooking factors into Montréal's version of a bagel.

I know what you are thinking: real bagels are perfect as is.

That's what I thought too, until I encountered a bagel cooked in a hardwood fired oven: Montréal style.


When I first met the fine folks from Beauty's Bagels in Oakland they were serving their wood fired bagels at pop-ups in the Bay Area looking for a permanent home.

They found that home on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland where you will often see a line out the door of happy East Bay residents finally getting a taste of something folks used to have to hunt high and low for in the Bay Area: a real bagel.

I just wish they would adopt the nomenclature of "mish-mosh."

Be sure to try the excellent store-made schmears in addition to your bagel: chopped liver and onions, smoked whitefish and of course all sorts of cream cheeses. Grab a lacto-fermented pickle too, it's good for your guts.

Lined up out the door.
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3838 Telegraph Avenue
Oakland, CA

Bialy's Bagels
2267 Warrensville Center Rd
South Euclid, OH