Once upon a time not too long ago, Providence was a bagel desert. The options were sparse and dry, and, well, kind of pathetic: frozen hockey pucks of bagels in the supermarket’s frozen aisle, or maybe a mass-produced and pale imitation of a bagel in the supermarket’s bakery.
Fortunately, those days are now just a memory. You can now get a freshly baked bagel at shops all around the city. And this isn’t the variety so common outside of New York City, “bagels” that are basically dry white bread shaped in a circle. These are genuine New York style bagels: Dense and chewy on the inside with a slight tang, and golden brown and lightly crisp on the outside.
These are bagels that demand a schmear of house-made cream cheese, whether plain or flavored.
These are bagels that are so delicious, you can eat them whole, right out of your hand, and that it would be a sacrilege to toast. We visited shops that concentrate on bagels, not, for example, doughnut shops that also serve bagels. And we know we didn’t get to all the bagel shops. That would have been impossible. Everyone has a favorite, but we concentrated on a few.
So, without further ado, our survey of seven bagel shops in the Providence area, in no particular order:
Rebelle Artisan Bagels are prepared with the same ingredients you’d use at home – yeast, flour, water, salt and sugar – if you were brave enough, or ambitious enough, to make them at home. Then they are hand-rolled, boiled and baked into more than a dozen varieties with a satisfyingly soft and chewy center.
Owner Milena Pagan says she actually perfected her popular bagels at home, using some of the science she learned while attending the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Rebelle’s also offers more than a dozen toppings for your bagel, from honey and fleur de sel cream cheese to tomato jam and chopped liver.
The topping for the everything bagels is made in-house, and available for purchase, and the lox is cured in-house.
Atmosphere: The shop has a decidedly millennial vibe, with burgundy- and pink-haired servers taking orders on iPads. The crowd – and it often is crowded – also tends toward millennials.
Price: An everything bagel with plain cream cheese and a small coffee will run you a hefty $6.75.
Tip: Stop in on Wednesdays for beet bagels. And stop in any day for mouthwatering baked desserts.
Fun fact: Rebelle’s commitment to whole foods extends to the freshly picked herbs used to flavor their cream cheeses.
Location: 110 Doyle Ave.
Contact: 401-349-1263, rebelleartisanbagels.com.
Providence Bagel offers two dozen varieties of fresh, large bagels every day – sometimes including a mac & cheese bagel! – that are the end result of “much research and development,” according to its website. We don’t know how they do it, but they found a way to skip the boiling step and still produce a bagel with a deliciously dense, chewy interior.
Atmosphere: Providence Bagel is often crowded with families, millennials and businesspeople. The shop offers plenty of prepared items for sale, including its everything bagel spice mix, and has a small parking lot.
Price: An everything bagel with plain cream cheese will run you $3.22; with a small coffee, it’s $5.21.
Tip: Providence Bagel opened a second location, at 1480 Mineral Spring Ave., in North Providence, early this year. All the bagels for both shops are now baked in North Providence.
Fun fact: The shop’s “Baked in Providence” T-shirts are a popular item.
Location: 695 North Main St.
Contact: 401-421-2222, www.providencebagel.com.
The Bagel Gourmet has been producing more than a dozen varieties of bagels for more than 20 years at its unassuming shop in a small strip mall. These bagels are a little smaller than those in some other shops, but they get my nod as the best to eat whole right out of your hand, with a soft, chewy interior and lightly crisp crust.
Owner Richard Weis is said to have brought the recipe from New York City, and on a recent weekend day, several customers enthusiastically volunteered that the Bagel Gourmet’s bagels are as good as any in that bagel mecca.
Atmosphere: The small shop has a few tables and a counter, but many of its orders for bagels and bagel sandwiches are to go. Service here is more personal than in some of the fancier shops. “We treat our customers like family,” says employee Hector Martinez.
Price: Every bagel here is $1. Add plain cream cheese and a small coffee, and it’s about $4.
Tip: The Bagel Gourmet also makes all the bagels for its sister shops, Bagel Gourmet Café and Bagel Gourmet Ole.
Fun fact: If it’s 2:30 a.m., it’s time to make the bagels in this shop.
Location: 250 Brook St.
Contact: 401-453-5560, www.bagelgourmetcafe.com.
Bagel Gourmet Ole features the same tasty bagels as The Bagel Gourmet, but in the trendier atmosphere of Thayer Street. About that Ole – yes, you can get a taco or a quesadilla here along with that whole-wheat bagel. How does that work out?
“It’s a perfect combination,” says manager Eduardo Perez.
Atmosphere: The small shop is not fancy. It has a few chairs at a counter and the menu is written on a chalkboard. The vast bulk of orders are to go.
Price: Like its sister shops, every bagel here is $1. Add plain cream cheese and a small coffee, and it’s about $4.
Tip: Gourmet Bagel Ole is open until 10 p.m. seven days a week, for those night-time bagel cravings.
Fun fact: For many years, this was a bagel shop — then they hired a Mexican chef.
Location: 288 Thayer St.
Contact: 401-331-1311, www.bagelgourmetcafe.com.
The Bagel Gourmet Café is housed in the same building as Brown University’s Warren Alpert Medical School. Unlike many bagel shops, this one is busier on weekdays than weekends, so this might be your best bet if you want a bagel and peace and quiet on the weekend.
Like Gourmet Bagel Ole, most of the entrees here are Mexican, and the same delicious bagels are served.
Atmosphere: The Bagel Gourmet Café is more spacious and inviting than its sister stores, with plenty of tables and chairs in an airy environment. But in all three shops, the focus is on the food, not the décor.
Price: An everything bagel with plain cream cheese and a small coffee is around $4.50.
Tip: Customers rave about the breakfast sandwiches.
Fun fact: Some people say this is their favorite restaurant in Providence for – drumroll please – burritos and bagels. Go figure.
Location: 222 Richmond St.
Contact: 401-454-8800, www.bagelgourmetcafe.com.
Bagel Express on Broadway is a small neighborhood shop that attracts a steady stream of customers for its 15 varieties of bagels, which were the softest and fluffiest in our survey. The bagels are made at a sister shop, Bagels Express, in North Providence, and are proofed a little longer than usual, then steamed and baked, which creates the lighter texture. The six flavors of cream cheese, including scallion, are made in-house.
Atmosphere: While most orders are to go, there are a few tables in the shop where you can sit and enjoy your bagel or bagel sandwich as you check out the artwork on the walls.
Price: An everything bagel with plain cream cheese and a small coffee will run you $4.69.
Tip: Bagel Express on Broadway often sells out of bagels, so come early to avoid disappointment. Or check out its sister shops, Bagel Express, 1848 Smith St # D, North Providence, and Bagel Express Deli & Cafe in the Village, 2190 Broad St., Cranston.
Fun fact: The owner has decorated a wall in the North Providence shop with photo portraits of young family members – all posed with bagels.
Location: 262 Broadway.
Contact: 401-455-1212, bit.ly/2Ji8Po4.
CYNTHIA BENJAMIN is an editor, writer and chef. She is a member of Congregation B’nai Israel, in Woonsocket.