The great bread hunt: Searching for the perfect bagel in the Twin Cities

    Okay, I’ll be the first to admit it. I’m a New York snob even though I’ve lived in Minnesota for years. Not about everything, of course, as there are many aspects of life here that are far superior to those of my hometown. But when it comes to food, there are certain NYC specialties that just don’t measure up. The almighty bagel is one of them.

    I remember vividly my frequent stops while en route to school to grab a 5-cent bagel that was hand-formed and served piping hot from the oven. Sure, prices now aren’t what they are today for good reason, but a dollar for a mediocre bagel seems a bit extreme. On the other hand, I’d be happy to pay a dollar, or maybe more, for a truly good bagel… if only I could find one in the Twin Cities.

    Oh sure, there are pretenders out there with their “New York-style” bagels, whatever that means, but I have yet to find anywhere in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area that bakes a bagel where I can close my eyes and imagine that I’m 1,020 miles to the east. That’s the air mileage from MSP to LaGuardia Airport, and my home borough of Queens.

    I don’t think I’m being unreasonable asking for a true New York bagel from a Minnesota bakery. I’m sure they’d sell like wildfire and make someone a good living, but first, that special “someone” needs to learn how to make them. Originating in Poland in the early 17th century and brought to the U.S. by Ellis Island immigrants, bagel popularity has spread nationwide over the years. But for some reason unknown to me, truly good bagels have yet to cross the Hudson River. (Reminder: I’m a bagel snob.)

    My search for the perfect bagel

    In my search for a truly good Twin Cities bagel, I’ve traveled around the metro area, sampling different bagel versions of what should be round and chewy on the inside, with a bit of crunch on the outside. While I did include the Bruegger’s and Einstein’s chains in my search, I did not consider any packaged brands such as Udi’s, Thomas’s, Pepperidge Farm, Sara Lee, 1st National or Lender’s. Also excluded from my search were bagels from local grocery chains such as Lund’s & Byerly’s, Hy-Vee, Cub, as well as Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and Fresh Thyme.

    While there used to be a belief that New York City water was the hidden secret between a good and great bagel, that myth has been blown out of the water by the American Chemical Society. Their findings found that soft water like that found in NYC doesn’t make an appreciable difference in the final product. Apparently, the real key to a notable bagel is to allow the dough to ferment, chilling in the fridge at least overnight. Some New York bagel specialists follow this procedure for as long as two days before boiling and baking. Not allowing time for the cooling process will produce a fluffy, cake-like bagel, without the desirable chewiness.

    All is not lost, however, as there are a handful of places in the Twin Cities where a tasty and fresh bagel can be had. Bruegger’s and Einstein’s are included as they will do in a pinch. However, these three locally-owned spots are without a doubt a much better option. In fact, they all make a pretty good bagel.

    Local Options

    • St. Paul Bagelry, two locations, Roseville – 1702 Lexington Ave. N., and Minneapolis – 5426 Nicollet Ave. S. Packaged bagels sold locally in co-ops and select grocery stores. Flavors include plain, poppy, pumpernickel, salt, sesame, sun-dried tomato, whole wheat, asiago cheese, blueberry, cinnamon raisin, cinnamon sugar, cranberry, everything, garlic, jalapeno cheese, multi-grain honey and onion.
    • Rise Bagel Co., Minneapolis – 530 N. Third St., in the North Loop neighborhood. Also available at the Wedge Co-op, Wedge Table and Linden Hills Co-op. Your choice of plain, salt, poppy, sesame, rosemary, onion, everything, whole wheat and whole wheat everything. 
    • Common Roots Café, Minneapolis – 2558 Lyndale Ave. S. This eclectic restaurant calls themselves a combo delicatessen/nosherie. They make their bagels in-house and are every bit as good as a bagel shop. Varieties include whole wheat, everything, sesame, poppy and onion.

    Chains

    • Bruegger’s, about 25 locations throughout the Twin Cities. The company started in upstate New York, moved its headquarters to Burlington, Vermont, but is now locally-owned by Caribou Coffee, a Luxembourg subsidiary of JAB Holdings. Got that? While the chain has 223 locations nationally, in late 2017, it closed 30 primarily east coast locations, which may say something about the quality of the product compared to small, independent shops in the Northeast. Currently offers 21 varieties of bagels, though many of them are more dessert than bagel.
    • Einstein’s, also owned by JAB Holdings of Luxembourg, has more than 700 locations in the U.S. including company-owned, license locations (airports, etc.), and franchisees. Originally opened in Miami, the chain has headquarters in the Denver area with a secondary headquarters at the Caribou Coffee offices in the Twin Cities. Same ownership as the smaller Manhattan Bagels and Noah’s Bagels chains. Offers 25 varieties of classic, gourmet and signature bagels.

    Maybe you’re wondering, “Do I have to go to New York to taste a New York bagel?” Well, being there is the only way to get your bagel along with the attitude, but there are NYC bagel shops that will ship them to you! You’re welcome. I just saved you hundreds of dollars that would have gone to airfare and a hotel, possibly a Broadway show and of course, dining out. Check out these online options:

    Any way you slice it, there’s really nothing quite like a New York City bagel.

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