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PizzaHacker’s New Bagel Pop-up Is a California-Morocco Mashup

Not your bubbe’s bagel.

BagelMacher’s wares range from standard bagel varieties to the adventurous raisin ras el hanout.

 

If you're the kind of purist who gives the side-eye to the mere idea of, say, a blueberry bagel, you might be downright scandalized by a legitimately spicy bagel that features raisins and ras el hanout. Such is the madness, and the genius, of BagelMacher, the Sunday bagel popup that recently took up residence at the Bernal Heights pizzeria PizzaHacker: It expands the bagel world’s famously conservative flavor palette.

The pop-up is a collaboration between PizzaHacker owner Jeff Krupman and cook Roger Feely, who has slung pies with Krupman on and off for eight years, since the pizzeria’s renegade street-hawker days. Feely is the one who actually makes the bagels, which sell for $2 to $3 each.

While bagels were a staple of Krupman’s Jewish American childhood in a suburb of Columbus, Ohio, he says he never particularly “got the New York bug.” And Feely, for his part, says his recent bagel-making efforts have aimed only to please his own palate and his young son’s—not to mimic some Brooklyn archetype. “I don’t really have my finger on the pulse of the bagel world,” he says. “I’m in my own bagel world.”

If there were such a thing as prototypically Californian bagels, they would probably look something like BagelMacher’s hand-rolled specimens: The dough is a variation on PizzaHacker’s pizza dough, which in turn is based on Tartine Bakery’s legendary bread recipe. It’s naturally leavened with a sourdough starter and allowed to ferment, slowly, for three days to develop the deep, complex flavor typically associated with a good pain au levain. Like any proper Cal-Med restaurant, the bagelry borrows liberally from the global pantry, with a particular emphasis on North African and Middle Eastern spices.

As it turns out, in the weeks leading up to the first pop-up, PizzaHacker happened to run a Moroccan-inspired pizza special that had a za’atar crust and lamb sausage seasoned with North African spices. So Feely used the zesty za’atar spice mix to liven up his sesame bagel. And he figured that since cinnamon is one of the prominent spices in ras el hanout, he could use the North African blend to create a spicy-savory-smoky-sweet twist on a cinnamon-raisin bagel—BagelMacher’s signature item and maybe the most unusual, but still compulsively eatable, bagel in the city. With a slather of soft butter, it’s hard to top. Another version replaces the raisins with Medjool dates. Some weeks, a goji-berry-and-Sichuan-peppercorn bagel makes for an inspired variation on the sweet-and-spiced motif.

Still, it’s not as though anyone is reinventing the wheel here. Feely boils the bagels in a lye solution before baking them—the traditional way to achieve that telltale snappy, well-browned crust. The bagels are appropriately chewy, if perhaps slightly less dense than some of their East Coast cousins. Their best quality—thanks to the high, concentrated heat of the pizza oven—is their exceptionally crunchy, well-blistered exterior. Apart from the aforementioned wild cards, Feely sticks to the typical bagel varieties: poppy seed, everything, and so forth. Even the biggest stickler for bagel orthodoxy will find very little that merits complaint.

Well, maybe one tiny complaint: BagelMacher’s $11 default bagel sandwich, the Big Macher (the Yiddish rough equivalent to “big shot”), is your classic combination of smoked salmon, cucumber, onion, capers, and cream cheese, with the somewhat disgusting-sounding—but actually not bad-tasting!—addition of fruit preserves. Lox and jelly together? “I’ll take the blame for that one,” says Krupman, who has topped his bagels that way since he was a kid.

Anyway, traditionalists can always opt for the jellyless Lil Pisher—Yiddish again, for a small, insignificant person. Don’t be a little pisher. Or do! Because if there’s one rule that BagelMacher seems to adhere to, it’s that when it comes to bagels, or any breakfast food, you should do exactly what makes you happy. 3299 Mission St. (Near 29th St.), 415-991-6911

 

Originally published in the May issue of San Francisco 

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