Bagels are the perfect on-the-go breakfast, lunch, or dinner and are one of the most versatile foods out there. Plain, everything, cinnamon raisin, blueberry, asiago; the list goes on. And those are just the bagels themselves! You can spice them up with toppings like schmears (plain, strawberry, jalapeño, etc), butter, avocado, lox, and more. Bagels are one of those foods that it’s hard to get sick of, and a good bagel can brighten up even the dullest of days. Thinking about the amazing food that bagels are makes you wonder: where would a bagel fanatic go to find the best bagel in Portland?
I made my way to four different bagel shops on one fine Sunday afternoon in pursuit of an extraordinary bagel. The bakeries were chosen randomly, with one here in Southeast, one just one block into Northeast, and two out on the West side. With my venues picked, my car full of gas, and my stomach empty, I set out on the adventure of the year: one day, four bagels, and a girl on a mission. I was determined to find a delicious plain bagel worthy of writing home about, based on color, texture, size, price, and taste.
The first place I visited was Bowery Bagels (310 NW Broadway). The inside of this small bakery is designed to look like a New York subway stop. Here, a bagel costs $1.75 and plain cream cheese is $1.00. The man who handed me my order scoffed as he repeated, “plain bagel, toasted, with plain cream cheese.” The outside was a nice golden brown shade and it was a satisfactory size; not big enough to leave you feeling stuffed, but not so small that you were left craving more. The crust was deliciously crunchy, but the inside was quite chewy, a combination that made taking a bite difficult and caused melty cream cheese to spill onto my lap. The overall taste was very enjoyable, however. The cream cheese was sweet and perfectly complimented the warm, yeasty, sweet flavor of the bagel.
The next place I traveled to on my endeavor was Pop Bagel (555 SW Oak St). This quirky little shop grabbed my attention because of its trendy decor and wide range of bagels and schmears. Upon entering, I was instantly struck by the scent of fresh baked bread and was in heaven. The schmears were quite intriguing (brown butter sage, pineapple, honey walnut, etc), but I stuck to my plain-on-plain. The bagel cost $1.75 and the disappointingly small amount of cream cheese cost me $1.25. The crust was a dark brown color and the bagel was relatively small and thin, but the taste and texture were delectable. The outside was crisp, but the inside was deliciously soft and its flavor leaned more toward soft pretzel than your classic plain bagel. Although the size of the bagel and the amount of cream cheese were lacking, considering the price, its flavor definitely helped earn back some points in my book.
Then I made my way to a family favorite and a Southeast Portland classic, Henry Higgins Boiled Bagels (6420 SE Foster Rd). There, the bagel was $1.25 and the cream cheese was only $0.50, the lowest price of the day. It was a very traditional looking bagel with a golden crust and a perfect round hole in the center that the cream cheese oozed its way into. The outside was crunchy and the inside was tender and warm. It was slightly chewy and had more of a sourdough flavor than the other bagels of the day. The delightfully tangy cream cheese was spread generously, making it the best bang for its buck.
Finally, I drove on over to Bridgetown Bagels (545 NE Couch St) and found the best bagel of the day. This petite bakery was filled with natural light and aesthetically pleasing, family-friendly Halloween decorations, a touch I much appreciated since I’m always down for a bit of holiday spirit. The bagel was $1.50 and it was another $1.50 for the cream cheese. The high price of the schmear was a bit bothersome at first, but my bagel was served with what one might call the largest slathering of cream cheese that I had ever seen. However, the large size of the bagel was almost enough to balance this generous amount of schmear. I was taken aback by the cracked, shiny, perfectly golden crust. This bagel was the perfect combination of tough crust and soft middle, with the sweet bready flavor of the bagel perfectly complimenting the sour and tang of the cream cheese. In the humble opinion of this inexperienced food critic, it sure was one extraordinary bagel.