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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

S.F. Rising: Spot Bagel Plays with Seeds, Chiles, and Corn

Posted By on Tue, Aug 2, 2011 at 3:25 PM

click to enlarge Spot Bagels: double onion, plain, cinnamon raisin, and the Frieda. - JONATHAN KAUFFMAN
  • Jonathan Kauffman
  • Spot Bagels: double onion, plain, cinnamon raisin, and the Frieda.

Red boxes with clear plastic doors began appearing in local markets like Bi-Rite and Good Life a few weeks ago, labeled with the name of the Bay Area's newest bakery, Spot Bagel. Tantalizingly empty at first, the boxes filled with small, glossy bagels with names like "Yosemite" (aka plain) and "Frida" (aka Frida Kahlo, aka Mexican) last week.

Spot Bagels' founder, Jay Glass, owned a bagel company in Seattle until 1995, when he left baking for the tech industry. But a "number birthday" had him looking over his old notes, plotting out how he would resuscitate the business in San Francisco. "For a region with a premium version of every type of product," he says, "there was no premium bagel here." It took him a year to raise funds, build a bakery in Burlingame, and reach out to grocery stores and restaurants (there's a full list of locations on Spot's website). He's applying to farmers' markets instead of seeking building permits on a retail space.

Glass is attempting an odd feat: to get both the traditionalists and the heretics nonpurists behind his bagels. He's re-engineered a classic like the onion bagel so that it now has flecks of roasted red and yellow onion scattered through the dough as well as baked on top, avoiding that sharp, charred flavor too many have. But he's also heading into the lunatic fringe with flavors like orange poppy and that Mexican bagel, which has chipotle and guajillo powder, roasted poblanos, roasted pumpkin seeds, and a little cornmeal.

Spot Bagel's everydurnthing, toasted. - JONATHAN KAUFFMAN
  • Jonathan Kauffman
  • Spot Bagel's everydurnthing, toasted.

The bagels SFoodie bought at Bi-Rite (99 cents apiece) are nothing like the puffy, steamed rings that resemble mantou more than bagels. They're dark-crumbed and intensely chewy. In fact, we felt like a pit bull tugging at a length of rope until we broke down and sliced the bagel in half.

Broken down into manageable bites, the taste of grain (organic wheat, FYI) finally comes through. Barley malt is used to help the yeast proof, Glass says, but it doesn't leave that wisp of sweetness House of Bagels' bagels have.

Is a Spot Bagel a revelatory bagel, the one to trump all claims that no good

bagels exist west of Chicago? No, though even old-time New Yorkers think bagels in

New York are no longer real bagels, leading to a measure of eye-rolling in those of us not privileged enough to be born in the Bronx in 1928.  

To a Midwest-born SFoodie, the onion bagel, when toasted and slathered in Sierra Nevada cream cheese, seemed a good one. There was a little cardamom in the cinnamon-raisin bagel, if you like that sort of thing, and the fruit and spice flavor was much richer. We couldn't get behind the Frieda -- paradoxically, it was so far from a bagel that we wondered why we were putting so much effort into chewing a spicy corn muffin. Our favorite: the "everydurnthing," which toasted up beautifully, doubling the crackle of the crust with seeds and coarsely ground cornmeal on the exterior, and amping up the flavor with mellow notes of garlic and onion.

Follow us on Twitter: @sfoodie, and like us on Facebook.
Follow me at @JonKauffman.

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Jonathan Kauffman


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