Pittsburgh’s best bagels: Area cooks unlock secrets of the favored food
There’s a shortage of great bagels in Pittsburgh.
When you ask someone where to get one, most will point you in the direction of New York City.
With the culinary scene in Pittsburgh steadily on the rise, it’s about time we get some great bagel shops.
Here are a few people making great bagels. So much so, you can confidently point any out-of-towner in their direction.
JESSICA SHOEMAKER, BEAVER BAGEL CO., BEAVER
On May 9, Jessica Shoemaker headed from her parents’ home in Brighton to her first appearance at the Beaver County Farmers Market in Beaver. Her car was loaded with 275 bagels of the basic flavors: plain, everything and blueberry.
“I cried the whole way, saying to myself, ‘What are you thinking?’ ” Shoemaker says.
On her first day, she sold out in 30 minutes, shocked and grateful that people bought her product. It was then that she knew she was on to something.
After moving back home from Asheville, N.C., she was working as a pastry chef and got to thinking that her hometown of Beaver really needed a bagel shop. She researched and tested recipes and is proud of her final product. It’s similar to a New York-style bagel with a soft interior and crunchy exterior. She uses local honey from McCormack’s Apiaries in Aliquippa for sweetness and is starting to use cornmeal from Zanella Milling in West Sunbury, Butler County, to give the bagels a crunchy bottom. There’s also a secret ingredient added to the boiling water that makes them special.
For Shoemaker, what makes a better bagel is that it tastes good on its own. But every morning when she has one of her bagels, it’s usually a toasted everything bagel with salted butter.
“I eat the top half first,” she says. “I then use the bottom half to pick up all the toppings that have fallen off.”
Shoemaker says she couldn’t have done it without her family’s support. Her brother mixes the dough, her parents help load her car with bagels, and her aunts, cousins and husband help sell at the market. With a constant line at her booth every Saturday, she’s selling 500 to 800 bagels and offering eight to 10 varieties. Making a fresh product is important to her, so she wakes up at 2 a.m. every Saturday to make the bagels before heading to the market.
You can find Beaver Bagel Co. at the Beaver County Farmers Market in the Beaver Train Station from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays. In April, she’ll open a small storefront in Bridgewater offering coffee, bagels and other pastries. Like at the market, there’s sure to be a line anytime you go.
KATE ROMANE, E2, HIGHLAND PARK
On E2’s weekend brunch menu, you’ll find house-made bagels served with smoked salmon, hard-boiled egg, heirloom tomatoes, chili cream cheese, dill and capers.
Kate Romane has a history of baking bread and started dabbling in making bagels last June just for fun after a trip to New York City. For advice, she headed across the street to Highland Park’s Axel’s Pretzels and turned to the Internet for recipe research. Her bagels started out as bialys, a Polish pastry similar in shape to a bagel. Unlike a bagel that is boiled first, then baked, a bialy is just baked. After a lot of trial and error, she now makes them in a more traditional method, which involves proofing, boiling and baking.
“It’s fun to find a new little outlet in the restaurant,” she says.
Every Friday morning, she wakes up early to get the bagels started for the weekend brunch, with flavors like onion, everything and sesame rotating weekly.
For Romane, the perfect bagel is chewy on the inside and crunchy on the outside. It has just the right amount of sweetness. Her favorite bagel is an onion bagel simply toasted with olive oil. But, she also prefers an onion bagel toasted with a thick slice of heirloom tomato and cream cheese.
She says a great way to host a brunch at home is to create a bagel bar complete with a variety of bagels and an ample amount of toppings and accoutrements.
STEVEN THOMPSON, BLUEBIRD KITCHEN, DOWNTOWN
Baking bread is an essential part of Bluebird Kitchen’s operations.
“There’s no comparison to freshly baked bread,” says executive chef Steven Thompson. “You can’t buy that type of freshness.”
Eight varieties are made daily for the hot and cold sandwiches, including buttery croissants for the confit chicken salad sandwiches, ciabatta for the Cubans, brioche for the Croque Monsieurs and, of course, bagels.
The bagels at Bluebird sell out quickly. Only 20 are made every day, and when they’re gone, they’re gone, so be sure to get to either the Forbes or Stanwix location when they open at 7 a.m. At this Downtown breakfast and lunch spot, you can order up a housemade everything or plain bagel with pastrami-cured salmon, cucumber, cream cheese and oven-dried tomato.
What makes a good bagel to Thompson is that after it is proofed, it is boiled longer than you think it should be.
“And, good cream cheese can make or break a bagel,” he says. “Philadelphia (cream cheese) all the way.”
Though he’s a sucker for a good cream cheese, his favorite way to eat an everything (or sometimes poppy seed) bagel is piled high with aged gouda and grilled vegetables, toasted to melty perfection.
DAN TALLARICO, BAGEL FRIDAY, LAWRENCEVILLE
For Dan Tallarico, there is nothing better than a fresh, everything bagel straight from the oven, topped with cream cheese and served with a cup of coffee.
Every Friday, Tallarico would wake up early and head to Downtown’s Bluebird Kitchen and get a bagel and coffee. Bluebird’s bagels blew his mind. After learning they were made in-house, he got to thinking, “If they can make delicious bagels, why couldn’t I?”
After experimenting with recipes, he came up with just the right one and gave the bagels to his friends to try.
“The light on people’s faces for those bagels makes me want to get them into more people’s hands,” Tallarico says. He did just that a few weeks ago, letting Joey Hilty of The Vandal in Lawrenceville try some.
“The bagel Dan made was amazing,” Hilty says. “The spice blend on the everything still perplexes me.”
Tallarico has always been drawn to carbs, professing his love for pizza on his website,pizzawalkwithme.com. After making his own pizza dough for years, bagels were a natural progression.
He is producing small batches, about 10 that he calls a Danny Dozen, in his home on Friday mornings. He wakes up at 5:45 a.m. to make the dough, then goes for a run while it’s rising. After his run, he makes the bagels, typically everything and sometimes sesame seed, then heads into work.
What makes a great bagel is that it’s fluffy on the inside, he says.
“You want a good rise, and you know if you got one when you drop them in water and they immediately begin to float,” he says. “If they don’t, they’re dead inside.”
He is looking for kitchen space to mass-produce his bagels, which he hopes to sell at farmers markets this spring and summer, with a dream goal of selling in restaurants and coffee shops. To be kept up-to-date on his progress, sign up for alerts on his website,Bagelfriday.org, a fictitious organization that he made up to get people excited about eating bagels, especially on Fridays. Soon there’ll be a newsletter with updates as well as tips and tricks for bagel lovers.
Full article via Pittsburgh Tribune-Review available here.