Short List: Bagels

When I packed my bags to move back to St. Louis after years on the East Coast, I couldn’t wait for the Midwest charm of my hometown. The one thing instigating my impending nostalgia, though, was the thought of life sans New York bagels. Soft and fluffy with just the right amount of chew, begging for some cream cheese and house-sliced Nova – how would I ever replace these perfect parcels of doughy heaven? Ever since I landed back home, I’ve searched for a bagel that would transport me back to my days standing in line at the corner East Village shop awaiting those softball-sized, fluffy discs to arrive fresh from the oven. Here, the tasty, toasty results.

Black Bear Bakery
2639 Cherokee St., St. Louis, 314.771.2236,

It took weeks to track down a fresh batch from this tiny co-op bakery, and now I know why. Larger and flatter than the others on this list, Black Bear’s bagels make up in flavor and texture what they lack in height. The perfect pick for those who like their bagels on the salty side, these light, soft spheres demand a topper that leans more toward savory than sweet – a thick slice of fresh tomato, piquant red onion and a dusting of capers would certainly do the trick. Just be sure to call ahead; these fresh-from-the-oven delights sell out fast.

The BitterSweet Bakery
2200 Gravois Ave., St. Louis, 314.771.3500,

Misshapen just enough to remind you that they were formed by hand, these bagels are for those in the camp of fluffy is better (raises hand). These just might be the softest, fluffiest baked little wonders I’ve ever tasted, like fresh pillows of doughy goodness I want to rip apart and spend the day with. Toasted, they miraculously maintain their billowy texture and, instead of sitting in my stomach like a rocky reminder of the carb-laden lunch I had just succumbed to, floated around happily, insisting I go back for another. And I did.

The Bagel Factory
11256 Olive Blvd., Creve Coeur, 314.432.3583

These bagels have the X Factor – in height that is. Taller than most, these yeasty discs live up to their reputation of old-fashioned water bagels, moist and tender just like they should be. A touch chewier than most, these bagels are even better with a good toast, maintaining their fluff and chew beautifully. They’re a bit smaller than their larger peers, but that’s just fine with me – one of these plump, hearty rounds and I’m stuffed till lunch.

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