Over the summer, I saw ‘coming soon’ signs for a new place to eat on Smithdown Road, near Dafna’s Cheesecake Factory, that I thought might offer something a little different from the usual takeaway sandwich shop. Namely, bagels. Called ‘Bagelicious’, it promised bagels, paninis, the usual variety of coffee drinks, etc.
I should have realised the sign above their door announcing said “bagel’s” was a warning to be heeded.
Now, I’m probably a little luckier than most Americans who didn’t grow up in the New York metropolitan area, because I was familiar with bagels from an early age. Every Saturday after ballet lessons (which I enjoyed despite my total lack of grace or rhythm) we would go to Bageland, the bagel bakery in Murray Hill, one of Pittsburgh’s Jewish neighborhoods. Strictly takeout, there were 6, maybe 8, flavors of bagels. Plain, sesame seed, onion, poppy seed. Cinnamon raisin was the only sweetened variety available (and I’ve debated with another baking friend whether or not it counts as a ‘proper’ bagel flavour; she says no). They were fresh from the oven and exactly what a bagel should be; chewy inside with a perfectly thin, shiny crust on the outside. I don’t even feel right calling it a crust, because that implies a flaky crumbliness that it doesn’t have; it’s more like a skin, because of boiling the bagel dough briefly before baking them, which seals it.
This was long before the chains of Bruegger’s and Einstein Bros came along to introduce bagels to middle America. Before flavors like asiago cheese and blueberry were sat along side the plain and the cinnamon raisin. Though Bageland is sadly long gone, I was lucky enough to live in New York for a few months after graduating and experience some gorgeous (and frankly, enormous) bagels and shmears from Ess-a-Bagel. So I admit, my standards are probably unfairly high.
That said, if you’re going to make bagels a cornerstone of your brand, then for the love of cream cheese, the least you can do is sell actual bagels. Not barms/baps/sandwich buns with a hole poked in the middle. That is what we were served yesterday, with a fairly average choice of catering pack sandwich fillings available. And since they were still packaged in the wrap of the wholesale bakery from whence they came, I now know exactly which company to thank for making a product that was far less authentic and palatable than the Tesco brand bagel I had for my breakfast that morning. Cheers for making decidedly average supermarket bagels look downright appealing.
Still, I can see it doing well among students who can’t be bothered to walk to Oomoo. The exposed brick walls, wooden tables and brown leather seats are attractive enough, and free wi-fi is meant to be available, though we didn’t test it out.
I’m as disappointed in the lowest-common-denominator approach to food and the wasted chance to stand out and provide something not widely available in this city as much as the mis-selling of their key product. If you do bother going to Bagelicious, save yourself the letdown and skip the bagels.