A bagel renaissance is afoot in Seattle, driven by perfectionist tinkerers eager to master this difficult corner of baking, and a pandemic-weary population’s desire for carbs.
Seattle’s homegrown bagel chain opened in 2001, an era of bagelry that was all about flavors. Four funkily industrial area shops fill wire display baskets with 30-ish options that range from snickerdoodle to rosemary; categories on the menu include “Cheesy” and “Meat Topped.” Lean into that bready texture and explore the expansive menu of bagel sandwiches…and the throwback-delicious bagel chips.
They’re not Montreal-style bagels, exactly, but these slender little numbers do share some characteristics with Canada’s famed bagel culture. Eltana boils its bagels in honeyed water and fires them in a wood-burning oven, a prep that allows poppy or sesame seeds to coat the entire surface, not just the top. Slightly fatter than a true Montreal ring, they sport a dense crumb, its architecture more apodment than open-air. Eltana’s bagels also benefit from a menu of spreads that plug into Levantine flavors, like a bright combo of red pepper and walnut, harissa hummus, or honey almond cream cheese that’s sweet without cloying. In recent months, Eltana supplemented its three Seattle counters (Capitol Hill, Stone Way, and the Armory food court at Seattle Center) with a neighborhood delivery service.
The pinnacle of the local bagel scene has no physical storefront nor even a user-friendly website, but should you succeed in summiting Mt. Bagel—aka completing an online order in the mere minutes before things sell out each week—you’ll understand why its baked goods inspire such fervor. Former musician Roan Hartzog has nailed the crucial interplay of crispy crust, chewy middle, and classic seasonings (from everything to cheddar), parceling out small batches of bagels that are not just “good enough for Seattle,” but good enough to compete with East Coast contemporaries.
At Paul Osher’s undersung Ballard restaurant, bagels have ascended from side project to main event, tweaked assiduously in the name of a crispy outside and what he calls “a moderately open crumb.” Before the pandemic, Osher and his wife, Raquel Zamora, were considering their own bagel shop. Now he captains Porkchop’s big front window each morning and dispenses bagels dark as a perfectly roast chicken, the demarcation from the interior chewiness clear as the boundary on a map. Osher augments classic bagel flavors (sesame, everything, etc.) with versions coated in togarashi or za’atar. Both the flavored spreads and the hefty bagel sandwiches display the same level of care as the rest of Porkchop’s menu.
These slow-fermented sesame seed, everything, and garlic bagels hit the sweet spot of high quality and generally available, despite their avid following. Rubinstein—named for owner Andrew, who debuted his brand at downtown’s Cafe Cortina before going online-only—delivers to far-flung locales like Sammamish and West Seattle and doesn’t immediately sell out each order, so thankfully even casual admirers can acquire a batch. Look for a postponed retail shop to appear in Via6 near the Amazon Spheres, hopefully by mid-October.
White subway tiles along the wall and few frills give Jonny Silverberg’s Ballard restaurant a classic Jewish deli vibe, drawing the eye straight to the cases filled with babkas and black and white cookies worth the name. Schmaltzy’s precursor, the food truck Napkin Friends, laid a foundation of meaty sandwiches stacked between crisp latkes instead of bread; the new incarnation builds on that success with perfect pastrami spilling from savory rye rolls; bacon, egg, and cheese squashed by soft challah buns; and tasty housemade bagels punching above their weight thanks to magnificent schmears like roasted poblano cream cheese and herbed caper. An online shop, built to deal with the forced pivot to takeout, even features “Lox in a Box,” a package of six bagels, 12 oz plain cream cheese, 1/3 lb of lox, capers, and red onion.
Monica Dimas’s Capitol Hill walk-up—another example of her flair for packing massive flavor into teeny spaces, like the original Neon Taco—arguably kicked off Seattle’s current bagel bonanza a couple years ago. Eight-ish solid flavors include cinnamon-currant and pumpernickel, two varieties notably absent from many newer purveyors’ lineups; schmears galore range from smoked lox to dill and black pepper to whitefish salad; and it’s hard not to upsell yourself on Nutella or apricot rugelach and chocolate matzo.
Josh Grunig’s Jewish deli in a tidy, semi-suburban Pinehurst strip mall boils its bagels in water and malt syrup for a glossy, dark surface around insides properly chewy. Toasting a bagel of this caliber, at least when it’s fresh, feels almost disrespectful to all the fermenting and hand-rolling Grunig and team put in to produce their plain, salt, poppyseed, sesame, and (onion-forward) everything creations. Right now, the deli’s front window serves as a counter for contact-free walk-up orders, but bagels sell out often. The safest bet is Zylberschtein’s pandemically new bagel club, which delivers its marvelous wares (plus cream cheese, loaves of sourdough or rye, and various pantry staples) to your door each week.