Chef Nicolas Abrams has been on a quest to create the perfect East Coast-meets-West Coast bagel for years. But it took a pandemic to finally get them to market.
Ethel’s Bagels, named for Abrams’ Los Angeles-via-Brooklyn grandmother, was born of a desire for Jewish comfort food and a family with extra time on their hands during shelter-in-place orders.
“This is an idea I’ve had for so many years,” said Abrams, a 30-year culinary veteran. Enlisting the help of his two children and his wife, he has created a delivery-only bagelry in Petaluma that’s gaining word-of-mouth traction throughout the Bay Area.
“I never had time to go full bore into this with family, kids, insurance. But COVID-19 gave me all this time. I had all the pieces in place, and this was meant to be a family business. So we came together and did it,” Abrams said.
It started, as most good things do, with grandma’s cooking. “What drove me is remembering the days when I was young, growing up and heading to grandma and grandpa’s and all the amazing spreads, friends and family, that community and warmth,” Abrams said. Grandma Ethel inspired Abrams’ lifelong love of Jewish comfort food.
But it was the bagels that stood out in his memory. So, for several years, Abrams experimented. He landed on an organic sourdough base using flour from Central Milling, which he calls the “perfect flour.” No, it’s not a Gold Rush-era starter or made with magical tap water from New York City. Abrams doesn’t necessarily buy into all that voodoo.
After plenty of carbo-loaded research and development, Abrams created a bagel he liked, adding malt flour and boiling the bagels in water, malt syrup and local beer. He prefers Lagunitas, which he said helps create a crispy exterior with a chewy interior.
Thus Ethel’s bagels were born. Flavors include plain, salt, sesame, poppy seed, onion, everything and black pepper Parmesan and cinnamon raisin. They are exceptional; they are crispy and chewy. They are, as Abrams explained, a West Coast bagel with an East Coast attitude.
But any good bagel needs a good schmear. Abrams also makes Oy Vey cream cheese schmears that are required eating with the bagels. We loved the fresh, light spring chives, pickled shallot and herbs and luxe wild smoked salmon. But the earthy-sweet black garlic and sherry schmear is a game-changer.
There are also bagel “kits” that range from classic with cream cheese, capers, lox and lemon to avocado delight to an olive and scallion mix.
Tempted? You should be. Just know you’ll have to plan ahead a bit. Deliveries to Sonoma County are on Friday, and you’ll need to order the week prior. It’s worth the wait. Order online at ethelsbagels.com