Cambridge’s Bagelsaurus Has Saved the Boston Bagel From Extinction

Bagelsaurus is a good bagel place. But they don’t have lox. They don’t have the smoked salmon you can get at any bagel shop or Jewish deli, the kind that’s pearly-pink and peels off a pack one slice at a time. Bagelsaurus has shredded smoked salmon from Boston Fish Co. It’s lighter pink, and instead of slices, it looks like someone took a fork and shredded bits off a larger chunk of fish. It’s good. But it’s not the same. And so Bagelsaurus is good. But it’s not the best bagel place of all time.

By the time you get to college, you already know what the best bagel of all time is. It’s the one that comes hot out of the oven from the neighborhood bagel place, wrapped in wax paper, and delivered into your hand for a few crumpled bills. You went there in high school. This is the place you’ve been going to since you grew enough teeth to take a bite out of a just-toasted everything bagel. And everyone has one.

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When Mary Hyatt moved to Boston in 2007 to go to the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts, she couldn’t find her perfect bagel. Boston’s a college town, so she thought that a high-quality bagel shop would soon come to the city. After culinary school, she worked in the food industry. In America’s Test Kitchen she tested recipes and prepared dishes for photo shoots. At Clear Flour Bakery she baked pastries. The whole time, she tested bagel recipes. When no one opened up a reputable bagel place, she decided to do it herself.

Bagelsaurus began as a Friday-through-Saturday pop-up shop in Cutty’s in Brookline. While the shop ran regular hours, Hyatt sold bagels in a corner. Back then, they didn’t have a full menu, just eight or nine flavors. Even still, the reception was enthusiastic. In August 2014, after a year as a pop-up, Bagelsaurus moved to the major leagues—a storefront in Cambridge.

Hyatt found her bagel inspiration on a post-grad trip to Portland, Maine. There, she ate a bagel that changed everything, at Scratch Baking Company. It tasted unlike traditional New York-style bagels. Before she ate it, she had never expected much out of the flavor of a bagel. But this bagel had been made with a sourdough starter, which made it unlike any bagel she’d had before.

“That put the notion in my head that I could change the bagel and make it whatever I wanted it to be,” she said.

But for Hyatt, the best bagel of all time isn’t the one in Maine. It’s one of her own. She designed Bagelsaurus bagels to incorporate all of her favorite things about bagels, like the extra chewiness, which in her recipe comes from high-gluten flour and a sourdough starter. Like the bagel from Scratch Baking Company, hers are texturally unusual. Bubbles start in the dough and nearly break through the crust. And she makes the rounded circles differently. Instead of grabbing a rope of dough and twisting it, in the style employed by airport pretzel makers and backroom bagel shops across the country, she forms a mound, and presses a thumb in the middle. The punched-out circles of dough sit overnight in the fridge, where gases build up inside and bubbles pop. Early in the morning, the bagels are boiled, baked, and served to customers fewer than 40 minutes after leaving the oven. When the bagels are this fresh, they don’t need to be toasted.

Taking a bite requires a clenched jaw and firm teeth. These are not soft grocery store bagels. You have to wrap your mouth around layers of ingredients, and puncture a shiny crust laced with bubbles. Take the T-rex, a spur-of-the-moment bagel added to the rotation the day before the shop opened in 2014. Homemade almond butter, honey, bacon, and banana are sandwiched between two halves of an extra-chewy bagel. Half the ingredients are bound to spill out as soon as it reaches your mouth, even as the honey and almond butter stick to crevices inside the bagel.

“Basically,” Hyatt said, “I wanted to create what in my mind was a perfect bagel.”

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Bagelsaurus and my bagel place at home both have one mirrored wall, but in Cambridge, the mirror reflects a clean white wall and a dozen young people wearing glasses and Harvard sweatshirts. Sometimes there’s a baby or two. And they don’t have lox.

But this is what they do have. Pretzel bagels, so salty that one bite makes the back of your teeth ache. Mustard butter paired with cheddar cheese. Real, fresh dill nestled between hot smoked salmon and melting cream cheese. Dijonnaise. Housemade pickles and almond butter. Coffee from La Colombe, that hipster carpetbagger from Philadelphia. Cucumber lemonade. Tomatoes that come oven-roasted. Sometimes, tomatoes that are fresh. A line out the door, at any time. A friendly dog straining at its leash toward the smell indoors. Onesies, for babies who just can’t live without bagels. Two Best of Boston posters, from this year and last. The same bearded man at the front counter, from morning to afternoon. And sold-out bagels if you get there too late.

Hyatt knows that the lox is missing. At Bagelsaurus, the salmon they sell is hot smoked, meaning that it’s cooked as it’s smoked, so it doesn’t have the characteristic raw texture of traditional Jewish lox. People often ask for lox, Hyatt said, but Bagelsaurus isn’t trying to be a Jewish deli. The reason for the shredded, cooked salmon is uncomplicated: there isn’t an excess of space at the back of the store, and Hyatt wanted to focus on bagels rather than on slicing lox per order off a slab of fish.

“It’s not for everybody,” she said. “It’s not for the super traditionalist.”

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The best bagel I’ve ever had was at my kitchen table, when I was 10 or so. Right after church. My dad had gone to the best bagel place ever while the rest of us sat on hard pews, and by the time we got home, a paper sack sat on the kitchen counter. I fought with my brothers about who would get plain and who would get sesame, and had somehow landed a coveted plain. It came out of the toaster, layered with lox and onions, and suddenly, magically, was on my plate. And I took a bite.

The second-best bagel I’ve ever had was the hot smoked salmon sandwich at Bagelsaurus last spring. After 15 hours of newspaper deadlines, four hours of sleep, and a 30-minute drive through Brighton and across the Charles, biting into the layered mess of pickled red cabbage, flaky salmon, and dill was like finding God on a Thursday.

Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Editor

 

About Carolyn Freeman 155 Articles
Carolyn Freeman is the Editor-in-Chief for The Heights. You can follow her on Twitter at @carolynrfreeman. She drinks her coffee iced with chocolate soy milk.