Where to get good bagels in Philadelphia

On a bit of a bagel riff recently, I was excited to discover that Philadelphia has a “Montreal Style” bagel bakery called Spread Bagelry.  I hot footed it down there yesterday (on the first spring day Philadelphia has seen and EVERYONE had ditched their jackets and was eating lunch outside) to try it out.  In the process of chatting to another customer and (rather embarrassingly caught in the act of photographing my bagel) I met one of the owners who was so friendly and welcoming in spite of some of my observations.

WHere to get good bread in Philly
Spread Bagelry is in a cute neighbourhood in downtown in Philadelphia

The bagels at Spread are good.  They are certainly better than 95% of Montreal Bagels you can get in most places, including Montreal.  They are shaped properly, as you can see from the seam, they are boiled in a solution of honey water (perfectly acceptable as are molasses water and malt syrup water) and they are baked in a beautiful, envy inspiring, wood fired oven.  So far so good.  The crust is shiny and “neither crispy nor soft” which is as it should be and the sesame seeds were perfectly toasted and delicious.

Bagel shops philly
The seam that shows it was shaped authentically

My criticism of the bagels – and remember this is is completely personal – is that there is too much sugar (or honey but if honey it’s a sweet, simple tasting honey as opposed to a honey with a deeper flavour) in the dough.  This leads to two things:

1.  The overwhelming flavour of the bagel is that it is sweet.  Like candy.  I did not get “dough” or “bread” or “flour” – just sweet.  One of the difference here, though, is that a lot of food in the USA is sweet.  Not just bread (notoriously sweet just like in the UK) but also weird things like ham and bacon and cheese and tomato sauce  – things that should be super savoury to my mind are often packed with sugar and their flavour does not appeal to me but that could be because I am not used to it.  So, an American may not notice that the bagel is particularly sweet but it was to me.

2.  The bagels were – again, this is just my opinion – over proofed – too fat and too soft.  The crumb was very airy and doughy so I did not have to work to chew it and I personally like chewing my food.  You cannot really tear a true Montreal bagel in half on the horizontal plane (you have to cut it), in the same way that you cannot tear apart a loaf of good German rye bread.  It has to be sliced – unlike baguette, for example, that can be torn.

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Airy and doughy crumb
Good Bagels in philadelphia
It's a fattie

The embarrassing thing is that Lisa caught me in the act of discussing the bagel with another customer but I tell you something, she was gracious and kind and made the decision to go into the kitchen THAT MOMENT to see how the baker was putting together the bagels, how much sugar was in the dough and how much honey was in the water.  That is not to say she will change the recipe – after all the bakery is going great guns, they have thousands of loyal customers and are opening up a cafe down the road – but it does mean that she is serious about her business and curious about her product.  In the end, we have to sell a product that the customers like – satisfying the market demand if you will – but we can change people’s tastes and provide a healthier product at the same time if we want to.  This is something all good bakers and the Real Bread campaign are doing.

Lisa is rightfully confident enough about her product to have introduced me to another good looking bakery in Philadelphia:  the Metropolitan.  I nipped in there to have a look (beautiful looking bread) and bought some hand made dog biscuits for Lex (who has really bad breath) and am going there for breakfast today so will report back.  Good bagels in Philly?  You bet – and Spread is the place to find them.

Click here for more information on Philadelphia. And come back soon to read my recipe for Montreal Bagels.  Try it and compare it to your own!  Let me know the difference.

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