Monday, December 8, 2008

The Great Bagel-Off of '08

Welcome, everyone, to the Great Bagel-Off of '08. This momentous occasion was inspired by visits to two bagelries in the span of a week, and it got me to thinking: Who makes the best bagels in Vancouver? There aren't that many in the running, though we could have expanded our group of contestants just to make sure we didn't miss any hidden gems. As it was, we decided to have a head-to-head with the two acknowledged leaders in bagel baking in the city: Solly's and Siegel's. Both have multiple locations, making for a difficult choice: Do we try to include bagels from all locations? In retrospect we maybe should have,* but we decided on bagels from two Solly's locations (South - 28th and Main; and North - 7th and Yukon) and one Siegel's location (Granville Island), mostly out of convenience. Off we went.

We decided we would try three classic varieties from each place: sesame, poppyseed and cinnamon-raisin. Why not plain, you ask? Not sure, but it made sense at the time (and would quickly complicate things; see below). We also grabbed some cream cheese and jam, though they didn't really factor into the contest.

Me: Your fearless correspondent. Rode around Montreal on an old cruiser eating bagels and drinking espresso alongee. Some bagel-cred.
Matt: Thinks he knows bagels, but has NEVER BEEN TO MONTREAL! (that I know of)
Kaia: Lived in Montreal. Mad bagel-cred.
Lucas: His brother lives in Montreal. Bagel-cred by association.
Joanie: Has also lived in Montreal. Great hair.
Nina: A peripheral bagel-tester. Mostly napped, but made coffee for everyone.

First up, untoasted sesame:
Siegel's was warm and fresh. A bit doughy, but that's to be expected of a warm, fresh bagel. Kaia was having none of it, though. Solly's South was decent if unremarkable. Solly's North had good texture, nice and chewy, and a bit more salt. The winner. Lucas agreed with me that the fresh Siegel's deserved better. A stand-up guy, that one.

Next we tried untoasted poppyseed:
We quickly discovered that the clerk at Siegel's had made a mistake and given us plain instead of poppyseed. Marks off for incompetence. Solly's North had great flavour but was a bit too chewy. Solly's South was too thick and too chewy.

Siegel's plain deserves special mention at this point. Top marks overall, and by a wide margin, but with no direct competitors. The outside crust was a bit crunchy, split with the perfect sound and had great texture. It was a bit sweet, which was curious, but this was a great bagel. All four specimens were gone by the end of the Bagel-Off. Kaia really loved this bagel. A lot.

We got the toaster involved for the cinnamon-raisin round:
Solly's North and South went head-to-head out of the toaster. Neither had much flavour. North didn't have many raisins. South had better texture. Siegel's came in with a great-looking bagel that had a bit more cinnamon flavour but was also a bit doughy. This round was a disappointment for everyone, with no winner and real desire to repeat the cinnamon-raisin experience.

The fourth and last round was toasted sesame:
Siegel's was a great-looking bagel, with nearly no difference between the top and bottom. It was a little gooey (never good for a bagel), but tasted like a sesame bagel should. Solly's North took this round with a great entry: good texture and the best flavour. Solly's South was similar to North but their entries varied widely in the coverage of sesame seeds. (It should be noted here that Matt thought the South took this category while Joanie thought it tasted a bit weird.)

Siegel's definitely wins this. Thin, bumpy (can't think of a better word), round without being symmetrical. Both the Solly's were too thick, and some from South were horrible to look at.

Solly's North. South was puffy, Siegel's suffered from some doughiness.

Solly's North edged this category, but Siegel's plain was the best overall.

A fine Bagel-Off, as bagel-offs go. No doubt there will be more in the future. I can't help but think that this was only round one, and that round two will be far more comprehensive. Benny's Bagel's was suggested. Any other suggestions? I know Mount Royal Bagels has a factory in North Van to supply Choices and/or Capers.

* Great Bagel-Off of '09, anyone?

It all started with a few bagels and a few labels.

Note-taking was an important feature of the Bagel-Off, obviously.

Those are some fine looking bagels from Siegel's.

A horrible, horrible specimen from Solly's South.

The aftermath. Not much of an aftermath, true, but we did start with 26 bagels. And if memory serves, the three plain bagels in the Siegel's pile were gone shortly after this photo was taken.


Zoe said...

Wanna know my bagel heaven? Mount Royal cinnamon bagel first thing in the morning, freshly baked and oven warm. Mmmmmmmmmmm.

Brenton said...

Agreed. When I was staying with Ryan and Sara for a while, our morning ritual involved a bodum and a walk down the alley to pick up a half-doz (as Ryan liked to say) of cinnamon-raisin from Mount Royal. Siegel's and Solly's clearly have a thing or two to learn about cinnamon-raisin bagels.