Although I've been back in Pittsburgh for a month, I've been putting off writing my last bagel blog post, caught up in schoolwork and responsibilities. It is, however, finally time to relinquish the last sweet sigh of summer and face my bagel-less reality.
I learned during my workday Bagel Blitz that the East Bay lives up to its bagel-haven reputation. On my last day in California, I decided to make the pilgrimage across the Bay myself, and made my way out to Berkeley. Although I lived in South Berkeley last summer, I never tried the city's bagels — at the time, I knew that eating a subpar bagel would upset me too much. Luckily for all of us, I've become a stronger person since then.
When in Berkeley, I made my way to Saul's Restaurant and Delicatessen with a couple of intern friends, tempted by rumors of delicious French toast and bagels straight from Baron Baking. Upon being presented a menu, I was torn between French toast — one of my favorite foods since I've been a child — and the necessary bagel. Naturally, I ordered both.
When my carbo-loaded brunch arrived, I started in on the French toast. I know this is a bagel blog, but I must digress to say that this is the best french toast I've ever had, hands down. This is a strong statement, coming from a man who's eaten thousands of slices of French toast in his short life.
After eating the light-yet-rich, perfectly caramelized, and flavorful French toast, I eyed the bagel. It came on a plate with a lump of cream cheese and a couple of extraneous and lonely slices of cucumber. Ignoring the cucumber, I slathered the bagel with cream cheese and chewed thoughtfully.
The New York Times called Baron Baking's bagels "as good as Brooklyn's," so I knew that I was dealing with some serious bagelsmiths. Dan Graf founded Baron Baking when he dropped out of Rutgers (a short 20 minute drive from my hometown in New Jersey) to answer a higher calling, perhaps the highest calling there is: bagels.
Graf moved to California and started working at Saul's, taking time to perfect his bagel recipe. The bagels, like virtually everything in the Bay Area, are organic and locally sourced. As I always do, I chose a poppyseed bagel. The bagel had a dark, chewy crust, and the unmistakable interior of a Real Bagel. This bagel wasn't perfect, but it was pretty damn good. Although I don't agree with the New York Times that it was quite as good as an East Coast bagel, it was a close facsimile.
I left Saul's with a heavy heart, thinking about my redeye flight back to New Jersey taking off in only a few short hours. Although I never quite reached Bagel Nirvana this summer, I came closer than I had ever thought I would. In the end, my pick for best bagel of the summer has to be Baron Baking's offering, with Beauty's Bagel Shop's Montreal-style bagels an extremely close runner up.
Although the summer is over, I'll never let go of my San Francisco memories, and I will never stop trying bagels. In a couple of short weeks I'll be back in San Francisco for a weekend, and you can bet that I will relentlessly drag my friends around the city to try new bagels — It is my duty, and my responsibility to bagel society.