In order for a bagel to be truly a bagel, as opposed to a round dinner roll with a hole in the middle, it needs to be boiled before it’s baked. When you do this, the bagel develops a tough, shiny crust that contrasts pleasingly with the soft, bready interior. (Allegedly they were teething rings for Jewish children back in the Old Country.) This is what a bagel should taste like. There have been debates about whether there are special, unduplicatable components in the water of New York City that make it impossible to bake a real bagel elsewhere. I will not go into those here. Just know that it takes, at most, five extra minutes to boil a bagel. Now think of all the inferior bagels you’ve been forced to eat. There should be an uprising.
(I feel very strongly about this. I once lived for more than five years in a bagel-less city. It was so painful, I resorted to making my own. Boiled.)
There are two major species of bagel: the New York and the Montreal. The Montreal bagel, like the stereotypical Canadian, is more modest and sweet than its inflated New York cousin, but it’s more of a snack than a full meal. You can find an excellent specimen at Reno in Logan Square. The best New York-style bagel in the Chicago area has for years been the one at New York Bagel & Bialy in Lincolnwood. The store’s always open, which is great, but its location on Touhy is not the easiest to get to (that is, you need a car), and it doesn’t deliver.
Now Brobagel has opened to fill the void within the city limits. The eponymous bros are the Jacobs brothers, who had a bagel chain here in the 80s and 90s (Jacobs Brothers Bagels); one of them, Bill, later became the mastermind behind Piece. Brobagel opened in August in the storefront next to Piece in Wicker Park. There’s no seating so it’s all carry-out, but Brobagel delivers south to Grand and to the Loop. (Reader world headquarters, sadly, falls in the no-delivery no-man’s-land.)
But what about the bagels? After all, if you’re in the Loop, it’s much easier to grab a box of Einstein’s or even Dunkin’ Donuts.
The good news is that Brobagel makes real bagels, tough on the outside, chewy on the inside. It requires a bit of effort to eat them, which is how eating a bagel should be. There’s the standard array of flavors and toppings (nothing that would appall a bagel purist), plus beer, which is made from Piece’s Flat Iron stout and is pleasantly, but not overwhelmingly, sweet. You can get them with cream cheese, both plain and flavored (again, nothing to appall a purist, except for maybe whipped tofu and sriracha), or in a sandwich with your choice of eggs, meat, cheese, vegetables, lox, chicken or tuna salad, or any combination thereof. Kosher-ness is not a consideration here. The cream cheese is smooth and—for lack of a better word—creamy. The lox are good. If that’s what you’re craving, Brobagel satisfies it nicely.
The bad news is that the bagels are slightly dry. If this were New York, where there are great bagel shops in every neighborhood (some that even sell bagels that are still warm), you would probably give Brobagel a pass. But since this is Chicago, and since it’s pretty easy to get to—or will be, once the Damen el stop reopens—it will do.
Brobagel, 1931 W. North, 773-276-2343