My friend asked me recently what kind of food is missing in Tel Aviv, if he wanted, hypothetically, to open a new place. I told him that many stalls and eateries open with great fanfare and close fast, and quietly, just because of their desire to invent something new or revive an old trend that has faded. I told him that as long as you aim for high standards and maintain them, the choice should be completely routine. In other words, Tel Aviv will always welcome another successful hamburger or pizza, as common as they may be, while another exotic breakout will not necessarily be received with the same affection.
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That’s why I was somewhat skeptical on the way to Bagel Market, a new bagel shop that recently opened near the junction of Yehuda Halevy and Allenby streets. Never mind the location, opposite the fortifications of the light rail project, but bagels, really? After all, we’ve been there, in the 1990s, when it seemed really cool and New Yorky to fill bagels with cream cheese, vegetables and more, and we swore not to return. There was a reason why this food survives only in old-fashioned cafes and sad catering services.
Yet slowly but surely my fears began to evaporate. It started when I picked up the phone ahead of time, in the late afternoon, to find out if they were still open. “We have seven bagels left,” said someone with a French accent, who later turned out to be the owner of the shop. “When they’re gone, they’re gone. So it depends when you come.” I appreciate sincerity but I appreciate freshness even more, so I got going.
At Bagel Market they prepare the sandwiches every morning using the traditional method (first boiling, then baking) and offer several different types - salt, garlic, grains, poppy seeds, sesame seeds, onion and plain. And if this variety isn’t enough for you, in the center of this tiny, pleasant place there is a sparkling clean show window with quite a broad and rather sinful array of possibilities: cheeses (cream, cheddar, mozzarella, brie), vegetables, meat (shoulder of beef, smoked turkey pastrami), salads and sweet alternatives (Nutella, Lotus spread, peanut butter and dulce de la leche).
When I write about street food, I don’t usually mention service, out of principle: Street food is first, last and only about food; all the rest is negligible. But this time I’ll deviate somewhat, because it’s been a long time since I’ve encountered the kind of friendliness I found at Bagel Market on the part of the owner Nastasia, a new immigrant from France, who was happy to answer any question or solve any dilemma.
So I ordered one “free” bagel, containing cheddar cheese, slices of shoulder of beef and a poached egg, and one bagel from the menu, containing brie, cranberry jam, walnut fragments and onion confit (27 shekels each; about the highest price they charge for bagels there, convenient and very reasonable, when you also get a small salad as a side dish).
I’m not sure when exactly I last ate a quasi-American bagel in Israel, but I do remember that most of the time when that happened they were dry, dense and had a strong smell and aftertaste of yeast. That’s why it was delightful to discover that the bagels in Bagel Market are soft and airy, very tasty, the type of baked item you’re happy to eat as is, without anything.
From here on in, everything depends on the freshness and quality of the ingredients, and their combination. And that’s the point when I already stopped being surprised and started to enjoy myself. A first bagel (poppy seeds) was halved and sent for a short toasting with slices of orange cheddar cheese on it. The heating melted it a little, creating a wonderful base for the shoulder of beef and the poached egg; cutting the bagel in two released its liquid yolk, and turned every bite into a great pleasure.
The second bagel (natural) gave a sense of an improvised picnic on the banks of the Seine in Paris, rather than a hasty meal opposite Tel Aviv’s Blaumich Canal. The soft brie, the kind that is more delicate and less aromatic, received the support (and counterbalance) of the sweet-and-sour jam, the crunchy nuts and the excellent onion confit. Do yourselves a favor, take this bagel as take-away and go look for a nice park in which to eat it.
This bagel shop is a gourmet’s jewel in an area that aims at the broadest common denominator, out of a need to catch as many of the workers in the nearby offices as possible. At Bagel Market they’re aware of that, and Nastasia informed me that my first bagel won’t be an option for much longer – soon the place will become kosher in order to expand its potential target audience. On the other hand, she hastened to say, she and her husband are planning to open another branch with a full menu. Whatever the case, you shouldn’t wait. So you won’t wake up too late and discover that they have run out of bagels for today.
Bagel Market. 47 Yehuda Halevy, Tel Aviv. 03-5527337
Open Monday-Thursday, 11 A.M.- 4 P.M. (or until they run out of bagels)