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NEIGHBORHOOD EATERY

Bagging the Best Bagels This Side of Sixth Avenue

December 13, 1990|ZAN DUBIN

7:50 a.m.: It's crowded.

8:00 a.m.: The Line has formed.

8:10 a.m.: The Line has extended out the door.

8:20 a.m.: People are sitting at sunny, outdoor tables, sipping and munching. The Line has grown another three feet.

What, you haven't heard of Bagels Etc.? Well, all's not lost, the line forms to the right.

OK, OK, nothing can compete with Wolf's delicatessen in Manhattan, where bagels nearly the size of tea saucers with a consistency nonpareil satiate unlike the rest. But this side of Sixth Avenue, Costa Mesa's Bagels Etc., subtitled the Bagel Maven's Choice, outdoes any place I've tried in Orange or Los Angeles counties.

This small, tidy specialty store carries about 15 kinds of bagels, from wonderful water, egg and pumpernickle to delicious derivations, such as blueberry, honey raisin, cinnamon apple raisin, whole wheat apple walnut, pizza and super purist, which bites back with onion, garlic and poppy seeds. Everything is baked daily, on the premises.

What makes the standard varieties so good (water is called plain here) is the happy marriage of a soft but chewy inside and a hard shell for an outside that cracks, not bends, when you break it.

Owner Shirley V. Merrifield says her secret is "an old-fashioned" process. "We boil our bagels and bake them on a board.

"People take our bagels to New York to prove to their friends that, 'look, Orange County does have a great bagel.' And they have no fat, no cholesterol," says Merrifield, a former upstate New Yorker.

A friend of mine sniffs at the shop's fancier mutations, calling them nothing less than the "desecration" of a sacred institution. If you can get past that, however, guilt-free enjoyment comes with the moist, fruity morsels buried inside a cinnamon apple raisin or the nutty denseness of a whole wheat apple walnut. Both are subtly sweetened with honey.

The etc. at Bagels Etc. starts off with a wide selection of sinfully creamy cream cheeses, including a salmon-colored lox mix, a pungent Cheddar onion, a chunky garden vegetable, and fiesta, which contains mild, sliced jalapeno peppers.

Bialys, meat or cheese knishes, danish, bagel sandwiches (from tuna to peanut butter and jelly), pizzas, frothy cappuccino and Dr. Browns sodas complete the retinue. The eclectic clientele, who wait patiently in suits or bicycle shorts, most often take out, but there are about 10 outside tables.

Prices at Bagels Etc., which supplies several county restaurants and hotels, go from $4.80 a dozen for plain up to $15 for danish bagels. Two pluses: the 13th is always free, and there's the New York Times to read while you eat.

Bagels Etc., The Bagel Maven's Choice, 270 E. 17th St., Costa Mesa. Open Monday through Saturday, 6 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sunday till 3 p.m. (714) 645-7877.

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