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Reviews: Benchwarmers Bagels and Big Dom’s Bagel Shop elevate Triangle’s bagel game

In the mood for a bagel? Have I ever got a couple of great new places for you. Just be aware that these are not your typical old school bagel shops. I mean, who ever heard of a Carolina Reaper schmear?

Benchwarmers Bagels

500 E. Davie St., in Transfer Co. Food Hall, Raleigh

benchwarmersbagels.com

In the five years since Boulted Bread opened, the bakery has earned a reputation as one of the very best in the Triangle, selling breads and pastries made with house-milled flours to retail customers out of the little bakery on South Street as well as supplying some of Raleigh’s top restaurants.

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The #4 sandwich is made up of lox, a deviled egg spread and shaved onion on a bagel of your choice at Benchwarmers Bagels in Transfer Co. Food Hall. Juli Leonard jleonard@newsobserver.com

Naturally, then, when the owners teamed up with Jubala Coffee to open a bagel shop in February in the new Transfer Co. Food Hall, expectations were as high as the temperature in the new shop’s wood-burning oven.

Benchwarmers Bagels rises to the challenge in style. Sure, a rare charred bagel (the inevitable result of wood-fired baking) may slip past the controls from time to time. And New York transplants may quibble that these bagels — starting with dough slowly risen with a sourdough starter, then boiled in water that’s slightly sweetened with honey before baking — are not true New York-style bagels.

Maybe not, but they are very good. Bon Appetit named it one of the 50 best new restaurants in the country last month.

The menu board behind the order counter lists eight variations — the usual bagel shop suspects, plus a few curveballs: za’atar and sea salt, grits and maple-raisin. A selection of 10 cream cheese and butter spreads makes for bagel-and-schmear possibilities that are limited only by your imagination.

Keep it traditional (plain cream cheese on an everything bagel), or take a walk on the wild side (olive and caper butter on a za’atar and sea salt bagel). Treat your sweet tooth (honey and bacon butter on maple-raisin) or try a touch of Southern (pimento cheese on a grits bagel).

For my money, the sandwiches are the star attraction at Benchwarmers. The wildly eclectic selection ranges from fried bologna to duck rillette, each available on your choice of bagel. Even if I’m just picking up a couple of bagels and some spread for tomorrow’s breakfast (also an always mandatory cardamom bun), I can’t resist planning my visit around one of those sandwiches for lunch.

As I write this, I’ve got my eye on the smoked fish spread with pickle of the day, potato chips and roe. On sesame, I’m thinking. Or maybe poppy. If you’ll excuse me, I think it’s time to make another bagel run.

Big Dom’s Bagel Shop

203 E. Chatham St., Cary

919-377-1143 or bigdomsbagelshop.com

“We’ve changed the recipe a bit since we opened,” says owner Zach Faulisi, referring to the bagels at the shop he and his wife, Amber, opened a little over a year ago in downtown Cary. The couple, who own Pizzeria Faulisi just around the corner, named the shop for their son, Dominic.

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Big Dom’s Bagel Shop has a sandwich selection which includes a jacked up BLT with arugula and seven (!) slices of bacon. Juli Leonard jleonard@newsobserver.com

They initially billed Big Dom’s bagels as a hybrid of New York style and Montreal style, which are smaller, denser and crisper than the New York version. The change is a subtle but noticeable lean in the direction of the Big Apple. Not that these bagels are likely to be mistaken for New York style.

They’re still boiled in sweetened water before baking (a defining characteristic of Montreal-style), and baked at a higher temperature than New York-style. The result — a bagel that’s more broadly appealing while retaining most of its distinctive character — is a home run, regardless of whether or not you’re a Yankees fan.

You can mix and match your way to bagel bliss with a selection of seven bagels and five schmears. Scallion on sesame, say, or spicy pickle cream cheese on a bagel whose top is densely carpeted in a tweed of everything seasoning.

The sandwich selection entices with the likes of Hot Ham & Swiss, The Hova (smoked salmon, cream cheese, red onion, tomato and capers), and a jacked-up BLT with arugula and seven (!) slices of bacon. Or go rogue and create your own sandwich, choosing from a wide variety of extras. How about bacon, banana and cookie butter on a cinnamon sugar bagel? Or smoked salmon, egg, avocado and tomato on asiago?

Big Dom’s is a tiny shop with just four counter stool seats indoors (five if you count the bench at the upright piano squeezed into a corner by the door), plus a small cafe table and two chairs out front. At peak breakfast and lunch hours, a line of customers often forms. Not to worry, it’s mostly takeout, and the line moves along at a brisk pace.

Just think of the line as a sign that, wherever your bagel allegiance lies, you’ve come to the right place.

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