What makes a great bagel?
Achieving the distinctive moist, chewy texture, surrounded by a shiny crust, requires the right flour, time for proper fermenting and contact with boiling water before baking. Whether it's toasted and slathered with cream cheese and lox, or simply buttered and slid under the broiler, who doesn't love some form of the bagel, be it topped with seeds and salts, or containing dried and fresh fruits, vegetables and cheese, and even chocolate chips?
Until recently, however, the ideal had eluded Lexington. To be fair, that's hardly a hit on our city; good examples are rare.
But now, Lexington has Great Bagel, a locally owned café, modestly set in the University Plaza shopping center. I challenge anyone in town to come up with a finer rendition than their bagel.
This modern shop, painted in warm shades of tangerine and mustard, serves freshly baked bagels of 15 types three times daily: at 7 and 9 in the morning and again at noon. So they are always warm and fresh for everyone, from the early breakfast crowd to the very late lunch crew.
Start your day with a bagel sandwich. What is called an omelet is really an egg so lightly beaten that the yolk and white are still distinct in some places. You select one cheese (I chose Cheddar) and two extra ingredients (I picked scallions and mushrooms). But it was a hard call; there are 10 ingredients to choose from, and eight condiments, including sauerkraut.
Or you could opt for something sweeter. Try a cinnamon-raisin bagel with one of about a dozen cream cheese spreads that include maple-bourbon and blueberry.
And why have lunch on a roll or a bun when you can get it on a bagel?
There is a respectable BLT, full of bacon and lettuce and unseasonably ripe tomatoes. For creativity with a sense of place, there is a bagel hot Brown. Bagels even become platforms for pizza.
My favorite, however, is the stunningly original BMB, a Thai-inspired sandwich with pork meatballs, scallions, julienne carrots, slices of fresh jalapeños, ruddy Sriracha mayonnaise, the subtlest whisper of fish sauce and cilantro on an egg bagel. Kudos to whomever thought this up.
To round things out, get something green, like a good mesclun salad tossed with pears and candied walnuts, or a great spinach salad that includes bits of Gruyère, dried cranberries and a superb orange vinaigrette with shallots. Instead of croutons, there are — that's right — garlic bagel chips.
Finally, coffee and dessert.
Great Bagel brews Intelligentsia coffee, a brand that is giving the beloved Peet's a run for its money among aficionados. Try it even if you aren't in urgent need of caffeine.
The sweets, while not the main focus, are well worth saving room for.
I discovered Great Bagel through its "hermits," a vintage dessert bar that crossed the moist density of brownies with the heady spices of gingerbread. I was sad when I learned that Great Bagel is not baking them anymore, but the wonderful and enormous brownies that are available almost soothe the pain. Almost.
So, in one fell swoop, Lexington now has great bagels, great coffee and a whole lot of really great sandwiches.