S.F. Rising: Spot Bagel Plays with Seeds, Chiles, and Corn

Categories: Bread
Jonathan Kauffman
Spot Bagels: double onion, plain, cinnamon raisin, and the Frieda.
Red boxes with clear plastic doors began appearing in local markets like Bi-Rite and Good Life a few weeks ago, labeled with the name of the Bay Area's newest bakery, Spot Bagel. Tantalizingly empty at first, the boxes filled with small, glossy bagels with names like "Yosemite" (aka plain) and "Frida" (aka Frida Kahlo, aka Mexican) last week.

Spot Bagels' founder, Jay Glass, owned a bagel company in Seattle until 1995, when he left baking for the tech industry. But a "number birthday" had him looking over his old notes, plotting out how he would resuscitate the business in San Francisco. "For a region with a premium version of every type of product," he says, "there was no premium bagel here." It took him a year to raise funds, build a bakery in Burlingame, and reach out to grocery stores and restaurants (there's a full list of locations on Spot's website). He's applying to farmers' markets instead of seeking building permits on a retail space.

Glass is attempting an odd feat: to get both the traditionalists and the heretics nonpurists behind his bagels. He's re-engineered a classic like the onion bagel so that it now has flecks of roasted red and yellow onion scattered through the dough as well as baked on top, avoiding that sharp, charred flavor too many have. But he's also heading into the lunatic fringe with flavors like orange poppy and that Mexican bagel, which has chipotle and guajillo powder, roasted poblanos, roasted pumpkin seeds, and a little cornmeal.

Jonathan Kauffman
Spot Bagel's everydurnthing, toasted.
The bagels SFoodie bought at Bi-Rite (99 cents apiece) are nothing like the puffy, steamed rings that resemble mantou more than bagels. They're dark-crumbed and intensely chewy. In fact, we felt like a pit bull tugging at a length of rope until we broke down and sliced the bagel in half.

Broken down into manageable bites, the taste of grain (organic wheat, FYI) finally comes through. Barley malt is used to help the yeast proof, Glass says, but it doesn't leave that wisp of sweetness House of Bagels' bagels have.

Is a Spot Bagel a revelatory bagel, the one to trump all claims that no good bagels exist west of Chicago? No, though even old-time New Yorkers think bagels in New York are no longer real bagels, leading to a measure of eye-rolling in those of us not privileged enough to be born in the Bronx in 1928.  

To a Midwest-born SFoodie, the onion bagel, when toasted and slathered in Sierra Nevada cream cheese, seemed a good one. There was a little cardamom in the cinnamon-raisin bagel, if you like that sort of thing, and the fruit and spice flavor was much richer. We couldn't get behind the Frieda -- paradoxically, it was so far from a bagel that we wondered why we were putting so much effort into chewing a spicy corn muffin. Our favorite: the "everydurnthing," which toasted up beautifully, doubling the crackle of the crust with seeds and coarsely ground cornmeal on the exterior, and amping up the flavor with mellow notes of garlic and onion.

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Location Info



Bi-Rite Market

3639 18th St., San Francisco, CA

Category: Restaurant

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I tried these at Good Life after hearing all the hype.  "We felt like a pit bull tugging at a length of rope" is about right.  We had to return these terrible dough rings and we got the New York Bagels instead.   NYB was the opposite-- too soft.  However, at least they were edible.  I'll stick with Katz or House of Bagels. 


Bah and humbug. I haven't tried Spot, but I'll look for it now! NYC street bagels are just unglazed doughnuts as of my last one in 1998, and none of the bagels I've had in SF are the real thing to me either. I grew up near a great bagel place in a jewish-german community, and I miss those shiny-crust, chewy masterpieces. Spot sounds good to me, even with all of its new-multi-cultural blend of flavors. If I am going to eat something bready, I want to spend some of the calories on the chewing! 


"To a Midwest-born SFoodie, the onion bagel, when toasted and slathered in Sierra Nevada cream cheese, seemed a good one"  OK, that sentence shows you don't know bagels about bagels!

In New York, you don't toast a fresh bagel - you toast day old bagels or frozen ones.  Just as you don't toast a fresh baguette.  Toasting fresh bagels is a custom that has its origins where people are accustomed to eating frozen bagels.


Had the Frida bagel and the Orange Poppy bagel, both were fantastic.  Tried it plain and it was excellent.  Then tried it slightly toasted and it was even better.


Maybe the Spot sesame bagels that I bought at a local market yesterday were anomalous, but I was very disappointed, after reading all the hype.  Hard and slightly stale-tasting.  I even asked to make sure they were fresh, and the store owner assured me they had been delivered several hours prior to my purchase.

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