Monday, August 20, 2012

Beauty’s Bagel Shop Update: For Fans of Montreal-Style Bagels, the Long Wait Is (Almost) Over

By Luke Tsai
Mon, Aug 20, 2012 at 12:34 PM

Last April, Beauty’s Bagel Shop burst onto the scene with dense, ever-so-slightly-sweet bagels that were better than anything most of us long-suffering East Coast transplants had been able to get our hands on since — well, since we moved out West.

Still shopless at the time, Blake Joffe (then the sous chef at Pizzeria Delfina) and partner Amy Remsen (a server at the now-shuttered Addie’s Pizza Pie) were baking Montreal-style bagels in the wood oven during off hours at Addie’s and hawking their hand-rolled wares by way of two local delis: Wise Sons in the Mission and Saul’s in Berkeley. All the while, rumors kept circulating about an actual brick-and-mortar bagel shop that was supposed to open in Temescal, at 3838 Telegraph Ave.

So we, the bagel-obsessed, waited … and waited … and here we are more than a year later, and still no Beauty’s Bagel Shop. But this week, barring unforeseen circumstances, the wait finally ends: With one final hoop to jump through (the health inspection, which should take place early this week), Beauty’s is set to softly open as early as this Wednesday or Thursday.

Ready for business.
  • Beauty's Bagel Shop
  • Ready for business.
Remsen explained that the process of opening the shop was slow from the get-go. Wanting to maintain full creative control, she and Joffe had opted not to solicit funds from investors; instead, the shop was funded almost entirely by loans. As a result, the partners were hamstrung by a slow and complicated loan process — and the fact that the actual construction work, and subsequent city-mandated inspections, couldn’t move forward until said loans came through.

Finally, though, the build-out is complete, and Remsen and Joffe are ready to launch the cafe’s bagel-centric menu. Remsen told me that almost everything they sell will be designed to come on a bagel, with the exception of sweets like coffee cake and sticky buns. There will be chopped liver, lox and other smoked fish products, and assorted cream cheeses and butters. There will be vegetarian sausages, a vegetarian pâté, and chicken scrapple.

What Beauty’s Bagel Shop will not be selling is pork or beef. According to Remsen, that’s in keeping with the Jewish notion of an “appetizing store” (a la New York’s famed Russ and Daughters), where fish and dairy products (i.e. stuff that goes on a bagel) are sold — traditional Jewish meat products like pastrami remain the purview of the deli and are, thus, kept separate.

Remsen will also bake bialys (a kind of dense, onion-topped roll) in house, using a recipe the guys at Wise Sons shared with her — if they’re as good as the ones at Wise Sons, they would be, to my knowledge, the first authentic bialy available in the East Bay.

As far as the bagels themselves are concerned (in case you missed What the Fork’s earlier reports), Remsen explained that, traditionally, Montreal-style bagels have three defining characteristics: They’re rolled out by hand, boiled in sweetened water, and baked in a wood oven. Remsen said she and Joffe have tweaked their bagel-making process a bit since they first started, veering slightly away from a strictly-traditional Montreal recipe: They’ve added a 24-hour cold retardation period in order to allow the dough to develop more flavor and a crunchy exterior — though not as as crunchy as, say, Baron Baking’s bagels.

The bagels are baked in a wood-burning oven, as is traditional in Montreal.
According to Remsen, the quality of their bagels should also improve now that they’ll be able to use their own specialized equipment, including a Woodstone wood-burning oven that can fit 140 bagels at once, and a proper bagel mixer.

Oh, and now that Remsen and Joffe have to pay for the higher overhead associated with owning a brick-and-mortar shop, the Beauty’s bagels will be a little bit more expensive than they were before: $1.65 each (up from their most recent price of $1.25).

Of course, the bagel landscape in the Bay Area has changed tremendously since Beauty’s first came on the scene. A year ago, there was no Schmendrick’s, no Baron Baking — no real competition. Now, all of a sudden, the market is flooded. It’s a boon for the bagel consumer, of course, but for the fledgling bagel entrepreneur? It sure seems like the market is getting pretty crowded, especially since the average customer still seems satisfied with the Noah’s Bagels of the world.

When I broached the topic with Baron Baking’s Dan Graf, he’d said all of these new businesses were doing different enough things for them all to thrive — some were focused on retail; others, like him, were putting most of their time and energy into their wholesale operation. And, whatever your cranky uncle from Brooklyn might tell you, there’s no single formula for a good bagel. These newcomers are all good, but they’re all different from each other. In fact, Graf didn’t mind telling me that he thinks Beauty’s particular take on the Montreal-style bagel is “delicious.”

And Remsen, no bagel monogamist herself, said she also enjoys eating a New York-style bagel every now and again.

“It's like we all had the same idea at the same time,” she said. “More people are talking about bagels and thinking about bagels, and I think that's awesome.”

Everything bagels.
It’s true, too, that Beauty’s Bagel Shop will offer something none of the other new contenders can: a decent shot at a hot bagel. Remsen said that because they’ll be baking all day, you should never get a bagel that’s more than a few hours old. You can come into the shop and watch a batch of bagels getting baked, and snag one, still warm, fresh out of the wood-burning oven.

That, my friends, is something worth celebrating.

Once Beauty’s Bagel Shop opens, its tentative hours will be: Tues.-Fri., 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. The shop will be closed on Mondays.

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