Brownstein: 'That’s not a bagel' — unholy dough raises controversy at St-Viateur

Purists are aghast by these hole-less mounds, but they’ve been flying off the shelves.

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Right off the bat — or the wooden plank on which it is oven-baked — it’s not a bagel.

Bagel is derived from the Yiddish word beugel, which roughly translates as ring or bracelet — objects with holes.

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Ergo, a hole-less concoction does not qualify. Case closed.

Regardless, this didn’t stop the makers of Philadelphia Cream Cheese from initiating a self-serving plan to enter into an arrangement with five bagel-makers across North America to produce an unholy hole-less mound of dough for a two-week test period ending Feb. 12. The seven St-Viateur Bagel outlets in Montreal and environs are the only Canadian bakers participating in the making of this sacrilege.

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With less than a week to go in this experiment, Saul Restrepo, manager of the primo St-Viateur outlet at 263 St-Viateur St. W., reports that purists are aghast by this promotion, but that these buns have been flying off the shelves.

Flying might be the wrong word. Because they weigh significantly more than the average bagel, liftoff is not as easily attained.

“We can’t keep up with the demand,” Restrepo said Monday. “At this rate, we’re even thinking about stopping online orders a few days before the 12th.

“We’re not experts at making these hole-less bagels just yet. We’re learning the technique, but there’s only a few guys who can make them. So the weight of each one varies.”

Restrepo went to the scales and was surprised. The average regular bagel comes in at 85 to 90 grams, while the hole-less ones can weigh anywhere from 120 grams up.

“I had one today that was a whopping 200 grams. This is not for weight watchers. That’s like having two regular bagels.”

Most can understand why the Philadelphia group would be pleased with this ploy: the extra land mass provided by these hole-less heaps would enable consumers to smear — or the proper Yiddish word, schmear — cream cheese on them. Duh.

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“But these so-called bagels have created a real buzz in the city,” noted Restrepo, who has been toiling in the bagel biz over 40 years. “Customers come in and say they’re going to try them because everyone is talking about them. But then they go: ‘That’s not a bagel.’ A few people have said it’s OK if you think of them as sandwich material.

“I even had to set my daughter straight. She said they were a great idea. I had to tell her that’s not a bagel.”

And it sure doesn’t taste like one, either.

In the interests of science, I took a few nibbles. Forget the cachet of a simple sesame or poppyseed delight. These outcasts are way too doughy. They stick to the teeth. The honey that infuses Montreal bagels and makes them stand out from other varieties across the continent seems to be missing here. Bottom line from this bagel lover: The hole-less is soulless. Feh.

Restrepo concurred: “Just too doughy. Not for me.”

A pile of hole-free bagels, with swirl patterns, at St-Viateur Bagel.
St-Viateur’s hole-free bagels: “too doughy” or “delicious”? Photo by Dave Sidaway /Montreal Gazette

Longtime St-Viateur customer Mark Codogno was more diplomatic after taking a bite: “It’s more dense. It’s a different taste than a regular bagel. I don’t know if it’s because it has more dough. I would still take a regular bagel for my cream cheese and lox, but this I would use for a sandwich with prosciutto and other cold cuts. But honestly, a bagel needs a hole.”

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Customer Ana Kippel was on the fence: “It’s a little bit too doughy. It’s good. I would eat it. I just like the hole.”

Maria Giouitris was unequivocal: “It’s delicious. That’s because it has sesame and I love sesame. That’s why.

“I love bagels. I’ve been a bagel person all my life. When I go visit family in Greece, I bring bagels.”

Restrepo just shook his head and smiled listening to the last comment.

“I don’t get it. Some people seem to like it. It’s about 50-50. I’m surprised. To me, it’s not kosher at all,” he said, speaking from a philosophical rather than a religious dietary standpoint. “And think of all the extra calories. Not just the hole-less bagel, but all the extra cream cheese needed to fill it in.”

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As for the return of this outlier in the future if demand is there?

“I don’t think so,” Restrepo responded. “It’s another process of making. It’s longer.”

But one thing is certain, according to Restrepo: Myer Lewkowicz, the Polish immigrant who founded the St-Viateur Bagel dynasty in 1957, would not be amused with this gimmick.

“He’s probably turning over in his grave now,” Restrepo cracked. “Sesame, poppy — that was it for him. The cinnamon raisin wasn’t a bagel for him. At least that one, like our maple apple and butterscotch bagels, has holes. Can you imagine what he’d be thinking about this? He’d probably close the shop.”

Joe Morena, who now runs and owns the St-Viateur Bagel chain with his three sons, can relate. He sums up his feelings about this development in but one word: “Tradition.” 

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