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Find bagel paradise at Garden State Bagels

David Boylan

Garden State Owner Steve Amster with his 75-year-old classic bagel dough mixer
Garden State Owner Steve Amster with his 75-year-old classic bagel dough mixer. Photo David Boylan

Garden State Bagels has been at their Encinitas location for 28 years. That in itself should be all the proof you need that they are doing bagels right. And how you may be asking, does someone do bagels right? Well, in the humble opinion of Lick the Plate, there are several key elements involved in making worthy bagels. It’s good to know that there are some East Coast roots involved in the business. It’s even better if there are still some relatives back there keeping the bagel maker honest. Bagels are taken very seriously back east and that passion needs to be present. The next key element is probably the most important; the bagels must be made from scratch, on premise, by mixing and kneading the ingredients to form the dough, then shaping the dough into a traditional bagel shape with a hole in the middle from a long, thin piece of dough. That should be followed by boiling the bagel in water then baking. Simply ask your bagel shop if they are hand-rolled, kettle-boiled bagels made on-premise.

It is this unusual production method which is said to give bagels their distinctive taste, chewy texture, and shiny appearance. In recent years, a variant of this process has emerged and is favored by chains, producing what is sometimes called the steam bagel. To make a steam bagel, the process of boiling is skipped. The steam-bagel is not considered to be a genuine bagel by purists, as it results in a fluffier, softer, less chewy product. Many of the chains also bring their bagels in frozen from a regional distribution center. I was also surprised by the number of places that don’t even make them in-house, opting for the convenience of bringing them in from an outside supplier. I’d have to be very desperate to go that route.

Steve Amster, who opened Garden State Bagels first location in 1985, is a New Jersey native whose dad taught him the finer points of bagel making, having been in the business for over 50 years. A tour of his kitchen confirmed that he takes great pride in his equipment that includes several industrial size mixers, kettle boilers, and ovens. His passion for what he does comes across when talking about the demise of family-owned, independent bagel shops. He may be a bit more sensitive than most, being located El Camino Real, on one of the most chain-dominated strips anywhere. It really is refreshing to see a guy like Steve still thriving amongst the chains and franchises. What’s even better, is knowing that a sizable segment of the local population is supporting him.

Besides over 30 varieties of real-deal bagels and several cream cheese spreads, Garden State offers up some fine deli fare. If you have not tried a bagel sandwich, it works on so many levels. Their offerings include deli meat sandwiches, chicken, tuna, and whitefish salad sandwiches, cheese melts, pizza bagels and even bagel dogs. The open faced nova with capers, fresh tomato and red onions is a best seller. Their breakfast sandwiches are in a league of their own; give them a try next time you are heading to McDonalds for an Egg McMuffin. All the salads are made in-house and the chicken and whitefish salad rank right up there as some of the best I’ve had.

Since bagels are best eaten as close to fresh-out-of-the-oven as possible, there is always the question of what to do with day old bagels. Toasting is an option and does suffice, but next time, try smothering each bagel half with butter, then frying them up in a hot pan. I put a heavy pan on top of the bagels to infuse the butter and soften up the whole bagel half, and the result is a crispy, chewy fried bagel delight, ready to hold an egg, some cheese and a slice of Canadian bacon. Or simply smother it with your favorite cream cheese, preferably whipped.

Garden State Bagels has been voted "Best" Bagels in San Diego more times than any other bagel in town. If you like bagels, and have not tried theirs, I urge you to give them a shot. Besides discovering real bagels, you will be supporting a local, independent, family run business. They have two locations, the original at 191 N. El Camino Real #106 Encinitas, and also at 755 Carlsbad Village Drive Carlsbad.

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