Sunday, April 29, 2007

The soul of the roll with a hole

It seems like it's been a while since we've seen a new bagel shop in Portland, particularly here in inner Southeast, where the nearest bagel specific operation is the local Noah's franchise on Hawthorne. There are other bagel options of course; Kenny & Zuke's features local artisanal bagels and most of the better grocery stores carry somewhat substantial New York-ish bagels, but the bagel shop itself is a pretty rare animal in these parts. What few of them we do have tend to fall flat, at least when held up to their distant relatives on the east coast. Now don't think that I'm a bagel snob; it's been more than 20 years since I've had a real New York bagel, so I'm not using that as my yardstick here. But most of the bagels I've had since coming west have paled in comparison to even what I could get back in Michigan. I do have some standbys in Portland; specifically, Noah's, Kornblatt's and New Seasons. While they all adequately satisfy the occasional bagel jones, I've not been wowed.

So I was glad to notice, on my way to work one night, a bagel shop in the making on SE 11th Ave, called Kettleman's, just a block down from Tennessee Red's (some of you may remember that TR's is where the late, great Jake used to go whenever he broke loose from Greg's yard). Kettleman's finally opened last week, and I made it down there today to have a look.

I ordered the Oregon Lox sandwich with cream cheese, onion and capers to judge their lox chops, which in my estimation is the acid test for a bagel house. I also got two bagels to go, one plain and one everything, with a tub of scallion schmeer. The lox was very good. The bagel was toasted perfectly, the salmon and cream cheese were both generous but not ridiculous, and the onions were added conservatively so as not to overpower things. My only critique would be that they went a little bananas on the capers. A few capers go a long way. I had a little chunk each of the plain and everything bagels, with schmeer, when I got home. The crust was great, thin and crispy, and the crumb was good, moderately dense but with a little sweeter flavor than I like in a bagel. Nick from Kenny and Zuke's reports on Extra MSG's recent bagel round up that their bagel guy, "Mczlaw," uses a sourdough starter and a 24 hour retard to get a good tangy, malty flavor. Mczlaw himself asserts that he pushes the bake for maximum caramelization. Loath as I am to admit it, I can't comment on this as, well... I have yet to try Mczlaw's bagels. Incidentally, Kettleman's got a B- in the bagel crawl, the best grade of any of Portland's bagel shops. High praise, indeed!

I headed back a little later with my camera after they'd closed, and met the proprietors, Jeffrey Wang and his wife (I think I'm getting this right...) Melinda. Jeffrey had been a bagel man for a number of years back in the 80s and 90s and is returning to the bagel business after a ten-year hiatus. I have to say, they've done a good job with the place. Jeffrey handled the tile work, and the walls, painted in tasteful hues of red and orange, are adorned with local art. And it's nice and spacious, something all too lacking in a lot of hole in the wall delis. They're still working out some of the kinks, of course (the elevator jazz needs to go, and some decent reading material wouldn't hurt; a few copies of the Times and maybe the Village Voice would be a nice detail), but all in all, I think they're on the right track.


extramsg said...

Email me through or PM me on and I'll get you some bagels.

tommy said...

Thanks! I'll be in touch once I've recovered from tomorrow's root canal...