Sunday, June 21, 2009

La Belle Province (Interlude): Montréal Bagels

I didn't know till relatively recently that Montréal has something like the world's third-largest Jewish population; knowing this makes it less surprising that there is a distinct style of Montréal bagel. I've been eating these out of Sarah's freezer since December, and of course going to Montréal afforded us the chance to eat them fresher. Actually it's literally the first thing we did there.

There's an excellent Wikipedia entry on the Montréal bagel, explaining its character. They're boiled in honey water and then cooked in wood-fired ovens; they're sweeter and breadier than New York bagels.

Two famous Montréal bagel smithies are located close by in the same neighborhood. We meant to find St-Viateur Bagel (the brand favored by Sarah's grocery-store-owning aunt, and thus the family favorite) but found our way first to Fairmount Bagel. The counter girl at Fairmount reluctantly provided us enough of an idea about where to find St-Viateur (hint: it's on Rue St-Viateur), and meanwhile we bought up a bag of poppyseed bagels and some red pepper hummus, which we ate ravenously on the walk over, it being about 6 pm on a day we'd mostly been on the road from Québec.

At Fairmount Bagel you walk in and approach a counter, surrounded on other sides by glass-walled cases with stacks and stacks of bagels inside. St-Viateur Bagel has more of its operation on display, the gape of its bagel oven and the chute extending from it being right there to see. Doubling down, we ordered poppyseed bagels again, these being the ones still hot from being just cooked, and at them with the same red pepper hummus. Bagelry this blissful does not visit itself upon you many times in your life.

You would hope that someplace in New York, or at least the northeast, there would be some entrepreneurial bagelsmith to introduce the Montréal bagel, if only as a niche product, but all indications are that this is not so. Which is a real shame, as satisfying as New York's bagels are; and for a city famed for its diversity in all aspects, a loss, frankly. You can order batches of bagels online from St-Viateur, though they have to be in bulk and there's an unsurprising disclaimer about customs delays. I'm just going to stay dependent on Sarah for obtaining these periodically.


Blogger Don said...

I've never had a Montreal bagel: it sounds like I'll have to try.

We were once told by a usually credible foodie about how no bagel could ever compare to Noah's Bagels (in Northern California), so we were quite excited to try one when we got out there. I'd liken the actual product to the two heels of a loaf of white bread glued together - possibly the worst bagel I've ever had, including the frozen Lender's bagels we used to get from the A&P. We later found out that she'd never tried any East Coast bagels outside of Einstein's and Brueggers (but then, I'd actually take a Bruegger's bagel over most on any given day).

6/21/2009 2:59 PM  
Blogger nate said...

They have Noah's Bagels in Portland, too, and they came similarly recommended by the natives (or at least a couple of Kyle's coworkers) with similar disappointment on our part. They weren't the worst ever but had nothing to recommend them -- just kind of bland and bready bagels. And I wasn't even anywhere on the East Coast where I could hone any kind of serious bagel snobbishness.

I do have strangely fond memories of frozen Lender's bagels based on us siblings eating bagfuls and bagfuls of them during our voracious adolescent years. Though I doubt they'd be as good now.

6/22/2009 1:01 AM  
Blogger Jack said...

I don't know if I ever became a bagel "snob" in NYC -- I remember getting bagels at classic spots for them in Manhattan a couple of times, but mostly I was buying bagels at a great place in Astoria right around the corner from my first apartment, where they made them on the premises in a no-frills little building. But make no mistake, those are fine bagels, and I lost my taste for generic or prepackaged bagels pretty much right there.

6/22/2009 8:21 AM  
Blogger Pete said...

Yeah, Jack, those Astoria bagels were not slouch bagels. Not that I'm a bagel-snob, but I am enough of a snob about other things to trust my taste in bagels.

I managed to keep eating freezer bagels through college (except for a brief phase where I had a friend that worked at a Panera bread that would slip me what would have been dumpster bagels now and then).

At some point early last year I went, actually to buy some freezer bagels, to make me some pizza bagels, but freezer bagels are made with High Fructose Corn Syrup, so were a no go.

6/22/2009 12:26 PM  

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