The subject first came up in conversation with a faculty couple from the East Coast. "Where can you get a decent bagel in Hyde Park?" It's come up many times since then. It's not that bagels are unavailable; it's just that, well, they're not really bagels. I don't mind being thought of as a bagel-snob, as I'm sure there are others who would join my club. The point is, progress comes in all shapes and sizes, and in this case it comes with a hole in the middle.
So I've decided to go on a hunt for Hyde Park's best bagels. I'll start with 2 local bagels, and one bagel of reference, imported, of course, from the North Side. There will be future reviews, and this is by no means a definitive or comprehensive sampling. I'll taste bagels as I find them, and maybe readers can tip me off to some purveyors that I've missed. But for starters, here's what I've come up with.
The Bagel Standard
OK, these are real bagels. They look the way a bagel should look, like that girl your mom keeps inviting to dinner, the one with hair on her forearms and a broken nose, but an undeniable va va voom. They're lumpy and have a nice, random smattering of topping. They're nice and crispy-golden on the outside. But let's not limit ourselves to superficial appearances, as pleasant as they are.
Now, when you cut one open, here's what it looks like:
Like good French bread (which is another post, Bonjour Bakery), there should be some small holes in the dough, which displays a varying density throughout. This contributes to the bagel's "mouth feel" of chewiness, in pleasant contrast to its crisp shell. If I cut into a bagel and it looks like a slice of Wonder Bread -- smooth and fluffy and even -- I give it to my dog.
OK, so armed with a standard of reference, let's see what we've got.
The Medici Bakery
These bagels are beautiful. I can't deny that. I like looking at them. The problem arises when I decide to eat one. But sticking to aesthetics, these bagels strike me as the kind that Jimmy Stewart would make with his family on Christmas Eve. No hairy forearms here. They are perfectly round, have geometrically round holes in the middle, and look at that almost perfect band of poppy seeds. It's all just so nice!
The problem is, these are bread rolls with holes in them. I think they might be good with butter and jam, but I don't eat bagels with butter and jam. I'm not quite sure how they got this way, but the dough lacks the chewiness and tastiness that lets you know you've bitten into a bagel that means business. I buy these once in a while, but they always leave me wistful for Dempster Avenue.
Third World Cafe/Costco/Einstein's Bagels
Third World Cafe buys their bagels outside. When I asked the cashier most recently, she told me they were from Costco. I frequently buy bagels in bulk from Costco, and they are usually labeled as Einstein Brother's Bagels. So my assumption -- and it could very well be wrong -- is that these are Einstein's bagels.
I've had Einstein's around Chicago and they are good, and they are just as good when served up at Third World Cafe. They're a little on the oval side, with a nice messy smattering of topping, and when you cut into them, they look like this:
Nice and doughy with plenty of holes inside, all translating into that light-but-chewy mouth feel that I love in a bagel. So, you can't really go wrong with the bagels at Third World, but that's because you're more or less buying standardized Einstein's bagels. Not spectacular, but pretty good. They're the best I've been able to find in Hyde Park so far, but I'm not done looking.