I’m from Brooklyn. As you probably know from any conversation you’ve had with a New Yorker, this means that I can’t shut up about the place. It also means that I have a deep appreciation for a good bagel — and high standards.
You know the kind I’m talking about: risen past the point of having a distinct hole; crispy on the outside; chewy on the inside; crunchy with toppings; and, of course, sandwiching a ridiculously thick schmear of cream cheese.
Recently, I was at work at the Homewood Museum, talking about Brooklyn (as one does) with one of the tour guides. Also a native Brooklynite, he empathized with my disappointment in Maryland’s bagel scene. Beyond that, though, he suggested the one place he thinks has true New York-style bagels nearby: Goldberg’s New York Bagels in Pikesville, Md.
Thus began the Wednesday morning bagel tour. Each Wednesday for the past month, two of my roommates and I have gotten up at the unheard-of hour of 7 a.m. and set off to a different bagel shop. The goal is simple: find the best bagel in (or near) Baltimore.
I will warn you, we do not plan on ending this tour anytime soon. The data presented in this article are based on preliminary research only (women in STEM, anyone?). Here are my thus far inconclusive findings, presented in chronological order:
We began with the recommendation that started it all. Located just outside Baltimore City lines, the strip-mall exterior did not set my expectations high. Inside, though, they had emulated the bagel-shop feel perfectly. A bustling kitchen; a pastry case full of Italian goodies; it felt unmistakably like a New York bagelry inside.
To be completely honest, though: It was a bit of a disappointment. I ordered an everything bagel toasted with cream cheese (an order I tried to keep consistent for the rest of the stops, for the purpose of experimental efficacy), and the toppings were too sparse for my liking. The cream cheese, too, was lacking, not melty in the way I appreciate on a freshly toasted bagel.
I have to give them credit for the rise, though, something that is the hardest to come by. The bagel was thick and chewy in the best ways, and for this I must give them some credit.
Located right down N. Charles Street in Mount Vernon, Belvedere Bagels and Grill was much closer to campus than Goldberg’s. Luckily for you, these bagels were also better.
Though not risen to the same extent, my bagel was toasted perfectly, and the toppings did not disappoint. Here, I was convinced to order the Nova schmear, so I have to admit that the bagel tour is somewhat lacking experimental control.
However, the fact that I was talked into the flavored cream cheese is only a testament to the shop’s ambiance. The owner was friendly as we waited for our order, conversing with us about Baltimore’s history and the changes he’s seen. We ate our bagels at the outdoor seating on N. Charles Street and enjoyed the hustle of rush hour from a relaxed perch.
Overall, I would highly recommend this stop to those in search of a good bagel close to campus!
Roland Park Bagels, located close to campus on W. Cold Spring Lane, is the current favorite for the Best Bagel in Baltimore title. The shop itself was not what I typically associate with a bagel place; however, it was undeniably quaint. A glass display case allowed us to view our bagels before choosing flavors, and the warm light and aesthetic signage made the place very inviting.
The bagels, too, did not disappoint. Once again, I ordered an everything bagel toasted with cream cheese, and this was the first place where I was satisfied by the amount of bagel seasoning present— it was loaded. It was toasted to perfection too, with the satisfying crunch of the first bite giving way to a soft, doughy interior.
The one area it could have improved was in the rise. However, this did not detract from the overall bagel experience.
Bottoms Up Bagels is the closest bagelry to campus on this list, located on Greenmount Avenue between 27th and 28th Street. These bagels, too, were delicious. Once again, Bottoms Up did not skimp on the everything bagel seasoning, and they loaded my purchase with ample cream cheese.
If I had one complaint, it would be that these bagels were a bit dense. The crispy exterior did not give way to a fluffy interior in the way I would have hoped, making each bite a little harder than I wanted.
Their outdoor seating area, however, was very cute — had it not been 40 degrees at 7:30 a.m., I would have enjoyed sitting out there greatly. Despite the density of these bagels, I highly recommend taking a walk and switching it up from your typical Towson Hot Bagels.
We were particularly excited for this stop, as Greg’s Bagels claims to be “Baltimore’s Best.” Located just north of campus in the market at Belvedere Square, we were eager to fact-check this claim (hello, journalistic integrity).
Like Roland Park Bagels, Greg’s had us with its decor: Clearly labeled display cases promised a variety of flavors to choose from, and the black-and-white tiled walls paired with wood infrastructure gave the place a very retro feel.
The bagels, however, didn’t deliver on their promise. The flavor was tasty — in lieu of everything bagels, they have Colossus bagels, which is what I ordered. In addition to the typical ingredients of an everything bagel, the Colossus adds cumin, which sets it apart in distinct ways from my typical order.
Where these bagels fell short was, quite literally, their height. They were flat! Though flavorful and with good texture, I was disappointed by how thin they were — I wanted more!
Sam’s Bagels was a success. Located on Light St. in Federal Hill, we enjoyed watching commuters hustle to work and school from our perch at their outdoor picnic tables. Before even tasting the bagels, the ambiance is what caught our attention: the shop was playing jazz music on outdoor speakers, and people who were seemingly regulars were rotating in and out of the small space.
The bagels, too, were noteworthy — perhaps a favorite so far, though, like I said, the tour is not done and we have a few stops left on our list. Like Greg’s, these bagels lacked some rise. They were, however, impeccably textured, soft in all the right places and crispy in all the others. Their topping-to-dough-to-cream-cheese ratio, as well, was enviable. Though further from campus than some of our previous stops, I would highly recommend Sam’s if you are looking to have an adventurous Saturday or Sunday (or Wednesday...) morning.
I wish I could tell you with great certainty where to find Baltimore’s best bagel. Unfortunately, all I can offer are the pros and cons of each of the places we’ve tried so far. I hold in my optimism, though, that the perfect bagel exists somewhere in this city, and I am dedicated to finding it. There are many Wednesdays left in my junior year, and I plan on trying a different bagel on each one of them — if you have bagel recommendations in Baltimore, please send them my way.