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The bagel platter at A Little Moore Café. Photo by David Boylan
The bagel platter at A Little Moore Café. Photo by David Boylan
Columns Food & Wine Lick the Plate

The joy of bagels

I’ll begin this week’s column with my firm belief that bagels done right, toasted and served with a schmear (or cream cheese) are one of the great culinary pleasures of my life.

I was reminded of this recently while scanning the menu at one of my favorite restaurants: A Little Moore Cafe in Leucadia. For the first time, I noticed A Little Moore’s bagel platter, something I would usually avoid in a non-bagel joint, but given how well they do everything else, I decided to try it.

It was an everything bagel, sourced from Top of the Bagel in Carlsbad, with sides of avocado, capers, cream cheese, sliced onion and tomato, and it was fabulous. Just another winner on a long list of them at A Little Moore. I should also mention they offer a bagel plate with lox; more on that combo shortly.

Some research on Top of the Bagel uncovered that besides their thriving Carlsbad location, they wholesale to restaurants and coffee shops around San Diego.

So I stopped for lunch to continue my area bagel research and indulge in my second favorite bagel experience, the Nova lox and bagel sandwich with capers, sliced onion, tomato and cream cheese on a poppyseed bagel, not toasted and cut in half. It’s imperative not to have the flavor of the bagel interfere with the ingredients in between.

Yet, the poppy seeds give it a nice subtle texture that accentuates that symphony of goodness. This sandwich is big enough to split or divide into two meals as it comes with a lovely side of potato salad. 

And to be honest, before this writing, my knowledge of lox was limited to it being cured salmon of some sort, so I did some digging. First, two major cooking processes are in play when talking about salmon of the variety that accompanies a bagel – curing and smoking. Curing is the process in which food is preserved in salt and sometimes additional flavorings. 

The Nova Lox bagel sandwich at Top of the Bagel in Carlsbad. Photo by David Boylan
The Nova Lox bagel sandwich at Top of the Bagel in Carlsbad. Photo by David Boylan

Smoking any food occurs due to smoke exposure at a low temperature over time — hence the term low and slow. Lox is salmon cured in salt. It’s the version of preserved salmon people ate before refrigeration was widely available when companies hauled salmon across the country in gigantic salt baths.

The authentic taste of lox is incredibly salty, which brings me to the point at hand: Nova Lox. Nova refers to the location of the fish (Nova Scotia) and a style of smoked salmon, in which the fish is first cured and then lightly smoked, making it that combination perfect for a bagel and cream cheese. 

I also have to admit that I grew up very close to and still frequent a place called NY Bagel in Ferndale, Michigan, that has set the bar very high regarding bagels. Probably because they sell so many of them, they don’t have much time to sit in the bin resulting in fresh out-the-oven bagels. It’s also where I learned that boiling the dough is part of the exact process, and if that’s not happening, well, let’s not get into that debate.

 However, I will say that Ferndale’s location is in an urban area where the population is probably more appreciative and discerning of bagels than North County San Diego. But they don’t have fish tacos, which balances out in the culinary universe. 

Find decent bagels at Garden State Bagels with locations in Encinitas, Carlsbad and Del Mar, and a recently discovered 101 Bagels & Subs in Oceanside. Both have been in business for a while and have that old-school bagel shop vibe that is part of the experience – longevity is enormous in the bagel business.

Other solid local options include Signature Bagels & Deli in Escondido, NY Bagels in Rancho Bernardo, and I Heart Bagels in Oceanside. 

Now to discuss the bagel chains: Bruegger’s, Einstein’s, etc. In a pinch, all of these will suffice, like if no local option is available. However, boiling is a vital part of the cooking process, and some of these chains do it. And honestly, had my bagel bar been not set so high at a young age, I’d be perfectly content with a chain bagel. 

Here are a couple of bagel tips to close this one out. First, never request a gluten-free bagel in an independent bagel shop. Gluten, it’s widely known, is a crucial ingredient in the authentic bagel experience. Sure, gluten-free bagels exist, but I don’t know why. 

Also, here are a couple of solid bagel tips. First, fresh bagels freeze nicely in airtight freezer bags for future use. And lastly, if you have a one or two-day-old bagel that is not entirely dried out, cut it in half, slather it with some quality butter, and fry it up golden brown, weighing it down on the hot pan to soften it up (Try this on a day-old baguette). 

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