sasquatch special at bagel union in webster groves photo by izaiah johnson

Best New Restaurants 2023 // No. 2 Bagel Union

By any measure, the gold standard for bagel making is the New York method: simmering a ring of flour, yeast and malt-based raised dough in hot water, then baking it until shiny and glazed with a chewy interior texture. Given the large number of New Yorkers and Jewish people who have settled here over the years, St. Louis’ relative paucity of traditional boiled-and-baked bagel bakeries has always been a mystery.

After Pratzel’s Bakery closed in 2012 and the Bagel Factory closed in 2022, local bagel lovers have mostly had to endure frozen brands or fluffy bread-like simulations trying to pass for the real deal. But just when we thought we’d never eat another salt or onion or tzitzel water bagel, we’ve seen four new retail bagelries launch in the metro area in 2023 alone. Our favorite is Bagel Union, at the corner of Big Bend Boulevard and South Elm Avenue in Webster Groves. Co-owners Sean Netzer and Ted Wilson do for the modest bagel what they did for fresh baked bread and superb pizza and sandwiches at Union Loafers Café and Bread Bakery. Netzer and Wilson are obsessive about their bagels – their research for Bagel Union took them to New York City, where they drew inspiration from visits to favorite bagel shops including Shelsky’s and Absolute Bagels.

cherry crunch bagels at bagel union // photo by izaiah johnson

With over 10 types of bagel and a minimum of five varieties of schmear at any given time, Bagel Union will satisfy even the most ardent bagel snob. The classics are present – onion, salt, egg and plain – along with the expected everything, poppy seed, whole wheat and sesame seed bagels. Then there’s the tzitzelnickel, a rolled-in-cornmeal pumpernickel bagel inspired by tzitzel rye bread, a St. Louis classic that Pratzel’s Bakery in particular was renowned for. For a couple bucks more, there’s a cheese bagel featuring a rotating combination of cheeses (Chihuahua and cheddar, for example), available daily at 9:30 a.m. Three non-savory bagels are available: cherry crunch, blueberry and carrot. Bagel Union sources plain cream cheese from Sierra Nevada Cheese Co. – they use this as the base for other flavors like scallion, veggie, lox and jalapeno. Great coffee is a must with great bagels; locally based Coma Coffee roasts a blend of single-origin beans exclusively for Bagel Union.

the staff at bagel union // photo by izaiah johnson

Several bagel sandwiches and spreadable salads round out the menu, including the taste bud-tingling Iggy sandwich with hot-smoked salmon, scallion cream cheese, Passenger Foods’ chile crisp, and cilantro salad on tzitzelnickel (or your choice of bagel). If you like Union Loafers’ smoked beet sandwich, the Goldie Lox is for you: It pairs smoked golden beets with cream cheese, pickled shallot, dill and lemon oil. Chicken, egg, spicy tuna, and smoked trout salads are perfect with any bagel you choose.

After years of playing second (or 10th) fiddle to New York bagels, St. Louis is boiling and baking its way toward a bagel renaissance – and Bagel Union is leading the way.