Separating the wholewheat bagels from the chaff (Oct. 1997)

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By Fritz Hahn, for the Mitzpeh

For centuries, man has attempted to find the perfect bagel. The best are airy, crunchy yet tender, while the worst are flat and sodden, toasted cardboard with a lopsided hole.

But now the rush to mass market bagels resembles the coffee wars of the early ‘90s. Bagels have gone mainstream, beyond the realm of Jewish cultural identity. And like the coffeehouses, there are so many bagel bakeries permeating the malls of America that the question of where to go can be difficult.

The best place to go to satisfy your urges is Einstein’s Bagels, even though you have to drive all the way to Bulletway Plaza to get there. I know that’s a problem for me, but the reward is often enough to spur me to action.

The décor screams “Starbuck,” with a glossy look and long, natural wood tables and metal chairs flooded with light. Cute pictures of the Einstein boys cover the walls. The numerous tubs of cream cheese are stored in a glass counter case lie ice cream, while the bagels are piled high behind.

All this is only the cream cheese on the bagel, because they offer the widest and tastiest selection of both bagels and toppings. I love the sun-dried tomato. If you get there when the bagels are still warm (if you can wake up that early), the sun-dried tomato and cinnamon raisin are to die for, because the aroma – and the latter’s somewhat gooey raisins – adds an incalculable amount to the taste.

At other times of the day, though, you still get bagels touched by the hand of genius. How they manage to stay so perfect, midway between tender and crusty, is beyond me, but they do, especially when toasted and [coated] with one of the many varieties of cream cheese.

A word of caution: every time I’ve been there, they slather the bagel in cream cheese. I suppose that’s OK if it’s lite, but if it’s not, tell the counter person to hold back. It’s so thick and smooth that it could crowd the taste otherwise. And don’t be boring. Try the salmon. Try the sun-dried tomato. Mix and match.

One last thing, get the bottomless house-blend coffee. It’s worth the $1.09. You might also want to pick up a tub of their cream cheese for your home enjoyment.

Nick Wass, the Diamondback photographic legend, prefers Bruegger’s Bagel Bakery, located in Wawa Shopping Center.

“Early or late, they always have hot bagels,” he said. “You can watch them make them through a window.”

He loves his fresh bagels with Honey Grain, Chocolate Chip and Blueberry topping the list. Honey Walnut, Jalapeno and Light Veggie are the choice spreads, Wass said.

A bonus is that they sell cheap day-old bagels in a bag, although Wass doesn’t get those – he likes ‘em fresh.

Beyond the bagels, Bruegger’s is still good.

“They’ve got great soups and good coffee – this guy I know who works for Reuters [News Agency] has three at a time,” Wass said.

Another draw is the décor. They have a TV set, usually set to CNN or cartoons.

And the walls have jerseys from various campus sports teams.

“Oh, and it’s very clean, and they have a bathroom. That’s important,” Wass added.

Closer to campus, The Bagel Place, across from the South Gate on Route 1, offers the widest food menu of the three local bagel shoppes.

If you get a chance, add some of their delicious soup and make a meal out of it.

The Bagel Place also sports the best coffee, even if it is the most expensive.

The cappuccino didn’t have too much froth – just enough, and the mocha was sweet without being syrupy. Oh, wait. This is supposed to be about the bagels.

The bagels at the Bagel Place were pretty good – solid, but unspectacular.

The taste of the egg and the rye were a bit strong for my liking, but they blended well with the cream cheese. For me, the bagels were just a tasty snack to have with the java.

But no matter where you go, an overriding similarity is in the horrible store hours.

If you get a hankering for an after-dinner bagel, you’re S.O.L.

Why do they all seem to close at 6 p.m.? I know bagels are traditionally a breakfast food, but like Lucky Charms or the dining hall’s Belgian Waffles, they’re an essential food staple at any time of the day.

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