CAPITOL HILL’S NEW wood-fired bagel shop doesn’t have that sweet bakery smell intrinsic to most Seattle bagel joints. Instead you’re hit with a blast of smokiness, tinged around the edges with onion and garlic. A quick glance behind the counter explains everything—beyond the display of seed-crusted, oddly shaped orbs is a wall of stacked apple wood, used to fire the bakery’s 10,000-pound oven.
Eltana ’s (1538 12th Ave, 206-724-0660; eltana.com) product is lumpy and irregular, like a mangled Hot Wheels tire. Bite through that crunchy coat and you’ll find the true difference is the texture. Chewier and denser (a result of hand-rolling, which develops the gluten) with a slightly sweet outer layer, it’s a true Montreal-style bagel. And there’s nothing quite like it.
“Most of the West Coast’s bagels are either not really bagels, because they’re not boiled before being baked, or they’re New York style, very doughy and salty,” says Stephen Brown, who co-owns Eltana with bakery manager Daniel Levin. “Seattle bagel shops are really sandwich shops, serving sandwiches on round breads with holes in the center.” Because they’re smaller and have a larger hole in the center, Montreal-style bagels aren’t suitable for sandwiches; fillings would also dampen the flavor of the toppings that should take center stage on the tongue. Some varieties, like za’atar, taste best dipped in olive oil, since it won’t overpower the delicate, grown-up flavors of sumac and sesame.
The bagels simmer in a 45-gallon vat of water mixed with two cups of honey, thus their sweet exterior. Next they are placed on a “seeding table,” where they’re blanketed on both sides with poppy or sesame seeds, salt, za’atar, or a mixture of everything. Finally they’re loaded onto long pine boards, which are then slid into the oven. Midway through toasting, the bakers use a “shiba,” a long, wooden oarlike device, to futz with the bagels, turning and flipping and rearranging them so they get an even, crisp tan. Fresh and hot, they’re dumped into a custom-made steel bin—so when you walk in, you can instantly tell which flavor is freshest.
Seattle’s not exactly famous for bagels, but Eltana strays far enough from the American norm to change preconceived notions about what a bagel can and can’t be. And although they’re tight-lipped about the details, Brown and Levin clearly have big plans. Don’t tell New York, but we may have a new reputation on our hands.