I've spent much of my recent time at home frantically trying to order bagels online. Specifically, Mt. Bagel bagels, the Hamilton ticket of bagels, Instagram-famous without so much as a storefront and touted by those in the know as "Far and away the best in town and worth the effort." To experience them ourselves, my girlfriend—whose bagel obsession far surpasses my own—and I set calendar alerts and alarms for Mondays at 11:55am, five minutes before orders open. We created accounts in advance to shave seconds off our checkout speed after learning the hard way that items can disappear from your cart while you type in credit card numbers. (No, it's not a perfect system, now that you mention it.) Week after week, we simultaneously went through the entire process, selecting different delivery days, hoping one of us would break through.
This is a good time to be a bagel fan in Seattle. After years of mediocre substitutes, a trickle of worthwhile options has turned into something closer to a wave, connected to the welcome growth of the Seattle Jewish deli. Arguably kicking off the current era when it opened on Capitol Hill a couple years ago, Westman's Bagel and Coffee's baked goods are lovely if not earth-shattering. Around the same time, Ballard brunch pro Porkchop and Co. quietly began rolling out some of the city's finest fermented rounds. Rubinstein Bagels turned heads when it launched at Cafe Cortina last year, and now runs a brisk delivery program. Ballard newcomer Schmaltzy's Delicatessen (spawned from the Napkin Friends food truck) carries popular Beep Boop Bagel, which, like Mt. Bagel, was once available mostly via Instagram orders. You can pick up bagels from Dingfelder's Delicatessen, another hot ticket on Capitol Hill thanks to its corned beef and chopped liver. Zylberschtein's, the latest Northgate evolution of Standard Bakery, even offers a bagel club at this point.
This week, one of the city's best-known bakeries entered the fray. On May 21, Macrina Bakery unveiled its first-ever bagels, "MadRy Organic Sourdough Bagels," named after company president Scott France's kids, Madeline and Ryan, who were indispensable helpers during recipe development. France says fans have requested bagels for years, but until recently he never had a recipe he was confident in selling. "I wish I had a long history of some grandma that made bagels, but I don’t have that good of a story," he joked over the phone. He's just a bagel fan who attended a class at a bread conference by an East Coast bagel maven named Melissa Weller (whose resume includes New York heavyweights like Per Se and Roberta's), which inspired him to develop his own take. France doesn't want to label his creation as a specific style, partly for fear of potential backlash by purists, but here's hoping some of that New York magic rubbed off.
The main ingredients, at least, originate purely from the Pacific Northwest: for color and depth of flavor, barley malt powder from Skagit Valley Malting and rye from Fairhaven Mill in Burlington, WA, plus high-protein bread flour from British Columbia, all organic. The leavening mixes sourdough starter for tanginess and commercial yeast to ensure a robust rise. The golden-brown exterior blisters beautifully, suggesting the crucial interplay of chewy exterior and tender interior. Four classic flavors form the initial lineup: plain, poppy seed, sea salt, and France's favorite, sesame, available individually or in single-flavor four-packs at Macrina cafes for now and, over time, spreading to other retail outlets.
As usual, no one shares the same preconceived notions of what constitutes a proper bagel. One woman told France he had to start with a pumpernickel bagel. "And I said, 'I appreciate that but I think you’re the only one in Seattle who’d buy it, and we need to be financially viable.'" It's hard to get customer feedback right now since no one's allowed to hang out in the stores, but one Macrina cafe GM reported that a customer came in early on launch day, grabbed a bagel, and came back the same day because it was so delicious. "It’s not data, but it’s a nice anecdote to start the day," France says.
While the city has embraced stay-at-home sourdough baking during Covid times, bagels require a complicated process that keeps them out of reach for most recreational bakers. France himself tweaked his recipe for a year. Because the dough was so stiff, "I almost broke our KitchenAid at home, so I went to the test kitchen," he says, "where I broke our 20-quart Hobart [mixer]!" Fortunately conditions have never been better for getting your hands on an exceptional bagel—whether by retail, delivery, or seven-week internet odyssey, which was how long it took my girlfriend and I to successfully complete a Mt. Bagel order.
I regret to inform anyone who missed out this time around that we both succeeded, and we're awaiting two separate Mt. Bagel deliveries on different days next week. I almost hope they're not as good as promised so we can cancel the Monday calendar alerts.