Bagels and doughnuts in their many iterations (beignets, malasadas, bomboloni, etc…) are two of the more comforting breakfast – or any time – foods. It’s tougher than it should be to find proper bagels, but alongside notable SF sources, the East Bay welcomes a few new arrivals. I stop first for fuel at Berkeley’s just-opened coffee and wine bar Bartavelle for a well-executed Sightglass Coffee cappuccino in the tiny-but-charming former Cafe Fanny space next to Kermit Lynch and Acme Bread.
First, bagels. Like anyone who has ever lived near or in NYC, I miss New York bagels. There’s nothing like properly boiled and baked bagels, with dense, chewy insides and cracklin’ exterior, topped with excellent schmear and lox. In Manhattan, I’ve schooled my California born-and-raised husband, The Renaissance Man, on NY bagels, journeying to different neighborhoods, from Barney Greengrass and Ess-A-Bagel, to favorites like Russ & Daughters.
Outside NYC, we get little that is comparable. In the Bay Area there’s the likes of short-lived Spot Bagel or now the excellent Schmendricks in pop-up form at Fayes Video & Espresso Bar on Wednesday and Friday mornings or by individual order. I’m impressed by Schmendricks bagels from Brooklyn native, Dave Kover, his wife Dagny Dingman, lawyer-turned-baker, Deepa Subramanian, and her husband Dan Scholnick. While I anticipate a permanent storefront for Schmendricks, Wise Sons‘ bialys, as a cousin to the bagel, fill a void.
Then there’s Montreal-style bagels, less chewy than a NY bagel, slightly thinner yet dense, with a touch of char from wood-fired baking. Beauty’s Bagel has been the rave of Oakland since opening this Summer, their bagels hand-rolled, boiled in honey water, then baked in a wood-fired oven. Yes, it’s NY prices: $9 for closed, $12 for an open-faced bagel sandwich, or $1.65 per individual bagel (in a few choice flavors like sesame, poppy, onion, or everything). But the quality is a significant step up from most. After apprenticing at a Montreal bagelry and working as a chef at Delfina, Blake Joffe and girlfriend Amy Remsen, made roughly 800 bagels a week at Addies Pizza Pie in Berkeley before opening Beauty’s. Serving Healdsburg’s coffee king, Flying Goat, they also craft chopped chicken liver, deviled eggs, cream cheeses/schmear and pickles in house, sourcing smoked trout and lox. It’s a fresh lox, scallion schmear, tomato, red onion and capers bagel sandwich that makes me smile, almost as if I’m back in Manhattan on the hunt for a perfect bagel and lox… including the Manhattan prices.
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On to doughnuts. SF masters the best in both old school Bob’s Donuts (particularly at 1 or 2am when they’re pulling those gems out of the oven) or the newer gourmet wave at Dynamo Donuts, with their beautiful Campari or spiced chocolate donuts, to name a few. Oakland gained two doughnut newcomers this summer, Donut Savant and Doughnut Dolly.
Downtown Oakland’s Donut Savant serves essentially glorified donut holes, their Twitter feed making me crave flavors like key lime, pumpkin or an Old Fashioned with Bulleit bourbon glaze, Angostura bitters cream and a twist of lemon, which they introduced at Oakland’s Art Murmur in August. This led to disappointment when first crossing the Bay Bridge weeks after they opened only to be met with a sign during regularly scheduled morning hours saying they’d return hours later with more donuts.
When I was able to trek back to the humble shop and find actual donuts, I bought every one in sight. Flavors were straightforward, rather than the interesting aforementioned. Chocolate coconut donut holes won over chocolate or vanilla, though a dark chocolate donut with a light dusting of sugar was plain but more satisfying. One topped with butter cream stood out with creamy contrast and candied ginger strips.
Doughnut Dolly charms in an alley off 49th Street. Pastel-striped walls and a friendly woman graciously attending to each customer makes it feel immediately like a beloved neighborhood secret. By the bottle or glass, Jittery John’s (JJ’s) Cold Brew Coffee is bracingly strong, New Orleans’ style chicory coffee, made by a Oakland local – adding cream or milk makes one $10 bottle stretch to 4-5 glasses of iced coffee. Dare I say it’s almost worth stopping in just for this eye-opening brew that reminds me of Nola? Doughnuts are the filled kind (no holes), the strawberry jelly donut superior to a childhood favorite with fresh jam inside. On my visits, flavors were a little basic for my tastes, the “naughty cream” basically a standard vanilla, with the chocolate pudding-like vs. dark and seductive, but the donut itself has a soft, gratifying texture. When taking a few additional donuts home, a few seconds in the microwave ensured they melted warm in my mouth.