Can you find a good bagel in DC? It can be difficult. Certainly you aren’t going to get one a grocery store; what I’ve seen has really epitomized the “round bread” nature of bad bagels. Too soft, no crust, almost crumbly. A friend of the blog, and an inveterate New York-ophile, maintains that a good bagel is impossible to get “this far south,” though if pressed, he’ll admit to going to So’s Your Mom, a little deli in Adams Morgan. Another friend swears by Heller’s in Mt. Pleasant. Buy a bagel, get a pistol! [Yes, that is a little politically topical DC humor for you. Love it. -Ed]
Now I’ve never been to either place, but I have another contender for “somewhat more than palatable DC bagel:” Bagels Etc. of Dupont Circle. Bagels Etc. is right around the corner from work, making those mid-morning breakfast runs convenient and delicious. Its a tiny little counter, run by very friendly Chinese ladies who immediately try to take your order when you walk in the door. Make sure you take a moment, though, because the menu is extensive: a large selection of cream cheeses for the ever elusive shmear, classics like lox spread, cream cheese cucumbers and sprouts as well as a full selection of hot and cold deli sandwiches. They even have a number of vegetarian options.
Really though, a broad selection of options means nothing if the bagels themselves are no good. But don’t worry, these are tasty: chewy, crusty, with a defined bagel shape. There’s nothing I hate more than the creeping disappearance of the hole in the middle of a bagel. Bagels should be defined loops: the dough should not swell to fill the hole, and, horror of horrors, the hole should not be obscured by a clump of filling. The national bagel chains (Bruegger’s and Einstein’s come to mind) are the worst offenders in this; but it’s good to see somebody standing strong against the general decline of bagel standards.
Not only are Bagels Etc’s bagels tasty, but they have the right flavors. Note that “right flavors” does not necessarily equal “lots and lots of flavors.” In fact, there are really only eight or so acceptable flavors for a bagel: plain, sesame, poppy, onion, salt, everything, egg and cinnamon raisin. And cinnamon raisin is just barely cutting it – bagels should not in general be sweet. Once again, it is the national chains that have turned their bagels into bready donuts with flavors like apple cinnamon and brown sugar. Bagels Etc. has all the “right” flavors, and a few interlopers; no one is perfect. But at least these other flavors are largely savory or based on classic Jewish favorites: rye, black and white, jalapeno, sun dried tomato. Then there are a few more sweet bagels, but they are largely the least offensive of this class: blueberry and honey whole wheat. And all of this is outweighed by the presence on the menu of the Holy Grail of Jewish-invented starch products: the bialy. I’m not going to explain what that is – you can follow the link if you don’t already know. But I will say this: finding a bialy of any kind is exceedingly difficult outside of New York City, and finding even a decent bialy is cause for celebration. I would suggest a Shehecheyanu.
Anyway, on my visits to Bagels Etc. I have tried to sample as much of the menu as possible: I’ve had bagels with cream cheese (I would recommend the onion with garden veggie), hot sandwiches (the spinach melt is quite nice), but the best thing I’ve had was the “Super Bagel:” cream cheese, tomato, sprouts and cukes. I’ve done it with a bialy, and it is fantastic. A great breakfast or lunch.
Value-wise, Bagels Etc. is a fantastic option: nothing on the menu is more than $6.25, and I think that you get plenty for the price. The Super Bagel, for example, is $3.25. Now its not a Chipotle burrito, but that kind of is the point, isn’t it? Maybe you wouldn’t think that a bagel place in Washington run by Asians would be a go-to destination; but then you’d be wrong. Go to Bagels Etc. pretend your sitting on the Lower East Side; I could almost believe it.