I’m sure that there’s someone reading this who doesn’t enjoy a good bagel, but I don’t want to meet them. (Just kidding. Sort of.) A token of esteem from America’s rich, diverse Jewish emigres, the bagel is the perfect breakfast food. You can slather it in cream cheese of any kind – what folks call a schmear – or drape it in luxuriant lox with capers and red onions for a piquant, salty bite. The city of New York has long laid claim to bagel supremacy, but Philadelphia has been giving the Big Apple a serious run for its money in the past ten years or so. All styles of bagel – New York, Montreal, vegan, etc. – are represented, and chances are there is a fantastic bakery in a neighborhood near you. Read on to find out about Center City’s best bagels.
Run by a husband-and-wife team, Knead Bagels is a fabulous hotspot for traditional bagels, spreads, and luscious breakfast sandwiches. The shop also has a creative streak: to wit, you simply must try a cardamon bagel with the floral, fruity blood orange spread. Feeling your inner hippie? Check out a light, bright lavender bagel. If you love spice, the togarashi (dried red chili pepper) is the way to go. You can’t go wrong with any of their housemade cream cheese options, but the strawberry balsamic and roasted tomato come highly-recommended.
A small chain with other locations in South Philly, Grad Hospital, and Passyunk, the Chestnut Street location of Philly Bagels takes pride in doing things the old-fashioned way. Their quintessential New York-style bagels are cooked just like others have done for generations: from scratch, using unbleached and unbromated flour, without preservatives, then boiled in a kettle and subsequently baked on burlap covered wooden boards. Egg- and deli-style sandwiches are available. With St. Patrick’s Day just around the corner, keep your eyes peeled for their kelly green novelty bagel with a think schmear of Irish potato cream cheese. You’ll think you’ve died and gone to carb heaven.
This bakery takes a bit of a novel approach to making bagels. Instead of boiling them in baking-soda-infused water, Philly Style Bagels uses a mixture of water, beer, and malt flavoring for a rich, hoppy taste that shines through in each bite. Bagel sandwiches are the highlight of the menu, including a BLT, both lox- and whitefish-stacked offerings, and a veggie sandwich that will go down like sunshine in your soul. The everyday bagel selection is tastefully curated, with classic flavors like everything, poppy seed, and salt + pepper available seven days a week. Certain days have a specialty bagel, like blueberry and pumpernickel.
The Bagel Place is a bagel place you can feel good supporting. Staff are paid a living wage, and leftover bagels are donated each day to help feed the homeless. The menu is nothing to overlook, either. Classic Jewish deli-style baked goods are prominent offerings, like bialys and rugelach. But of course, you came here for the bagels. Choices are playful and delicious, like French toast, pretzel, and basil pesto. You can round out your meal by picking any bagel for a deli- or salad sandwich (egg, tuna, whitefish), adding a cup of strong La Colombe coffee, and picking a baked sweet from their extensive selection.
It is fitting that the star menu item at a place called The Kettle Black should be a black bagel. Made with activated charcoal, which the owners claim is terrific for digestion, this inky bagel has featured in many a hipster Insta snap. Vegan diners will fall in love with the extensive plant-based menu, which includes dairy-free spreads and veggie lox. Be sure to queue up early for your bagel, croissant, or loaf of oven-warm bread – the shop shutters at daily once everything sells out, or at 2pm (whichever comes first). A full coffee menu is also sure to please, with all drinks available to be made stronger or vegan. Note that The Kettle Black is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
Who else is craving a bagel and cream cheese right now?