Bagels rising: WNC bakers deliver the hole schmear

HOME, SWEET HOME: New York native Luke McDermott took ownership of the Black Mountain-based Home Free Bagels in 2016. "It takes a minimum of 24 hours to produce a single bagel when doing it in the traditional manner, which includes shaping, overnight proofing, boiling and baking," he explains. Photo courtesy of McDermott

While bagels haven’t yet reached the cult status in Asheville of their Southern counterpart, the biscuit, a growing number of locally owned bakeries and food spots are carving out a niche for this much-loved fixture of Northern food culture.

Recently, Cúrate and Nightbell chef and co-owner Katie Button became a bona fide member of Asheville’s emerging bagel scene with the opening of her new venture, Button & Co. Bagels. It’s here that Button’s signature sourdough-leavened bagels, made with locally ground flour, become vessels for an impressive list of local foods, from jams and Three Graces cultured cream cheese spread to smoked meats and other seasonal offerings.

“I didn’t just want to bring New York to Western North Carolina,” she explains. “I was really looking for ways to connect and incorporate local products.” So far, it’s a plan that seems to resonate with customers — Button and her staff are rolling out somewhere between 700-900 bagels daily.

And Button’s spot isn’t the only recent addition to WNC’s bagel scene. Brandon Murry, owner of Rise Above Deli (which shares space with Hillman Beer in Biltmore Village), opened a separate bakery venture on Nov. 5. Sticking close to its original brand, Rise Above Bakehouse offers two bagel varieties alongside a daily selection of other handmade baked goods from its Charlotte Highway location (formerly Ruth & Ranshaw bakery) in Fairview.

Murry and baker Sarah Purcell developed the recipe for the bakery’s bagels, which Murray says are close to New York style. “They’re dense enough to schmear with cream cheese, but soft enough to make into a sandwich,” he says, adding that both options are available at the bakery.

Around town

Throughout Asheville, in fact, there are a growing number of smaller “unchained” bakeries where folks can grab fresh, handmade bagels. Coming soon to the Wilcox Travel Center shopping plaza at 1550 Hendersonville Road in South Asheville is Ziggy’s Bakery & Deli — a partnership between Philadelphia transplant Robyn Ziegler and Asheville native Joshua Widner. Together, Ziegler and Widner bring nearly 20 years of culinary experience to this concept, where in-house baked breads will set the stage for sandwiches made from freshly sliced meats and cheeses.

All of the shop’s breads, meats and cheeses will also be available as retail items. This is especially important to Zeigler, who was disappointed upon moving to Asheville that she couldn’t find a local mom-and-pop deli where she could buy breakfast and lunch sandwiches as well as sliced meats and cheeses.

Widner will produce Ziggy’s bagels using traditional methods, including an overnight rise for the dough, which is then hand-rolled, boiled in a water bath with sorghum and, finally, steam-baked every morning. The shop will offer five varieties, including plain, everything, onion, sesame and egg, as well as special flavors that will rotate weekly.

Ziegler will also offer whipped cream cheeses featuring add-ins such as homemade strawberry preserves, veggies, smoked jalapeños and ramps. Keep an eye on the Ziggy’s Bakery & Deli Facebook page for the official grand opening date, which is projected to be the first week in December. Hours will be 7 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Saturday.

In East Asheville, Filo pastry chef Maria Papanastasiou fills her bakery and café with lots of classic pastries, bread and homemade Greek desserts. When it comes to bagels, she keeps it simple with plain and everything varieties, which are all vegan and made on-site. When the mood strikes, Papanastasiou will sometimes add a limited seasonal flavor, like the pumpkin spice bagel she developed in October.

On the west side, longtime gathering spot West End Bakery has likely been doing bagel business in Asheville longer than any of its competitors, serving the hole-y snacks since it opened in 2001. Head baker Josh Young updated the bakery’s recipe more than a year ago with a focus on basic ingredients, which he says are “flour, salt, water, yeast and time.” The bakery produces four vegan varieties — plain, sesame, poppy, and everything — daily.

Nearby, at 1570 Patton Ave., North Star Bakehouse recently changed ownership and acquired a new name, though the staff remains the same. Now doing business as Malvern Hills Bakery, Trish Sodano remains the shop’s resident bagel maker. She developed her recipe, which is made with sourdough starter, at the request of a former employer.

Customers can choose from a rotating selection of hand-blended cream cheese options as a schmear for Sodano’s small-batch bagels, which are available in two varieties and only Friday through Sunday.

The New York connection

While everything and plain bagels are hands-down the most popular varieties among all the makers in our area, there are still some independently owned businesses cranking out larger volumes and more varieties for adventurous bagel connoisseurs. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, they all share a common starting point — New York.

Geraldine’s Bakery counts some 120 years of combined experience among its bagel makers, who are led by owner Fred Dehlow. Originally from Long Island, Dehlow credits his father and other New York-area bakers with teaching him the art of bagel making. Asheville native Aaron Wiener, former owner of Carolina Mountain Bakery and employee of North Asheville’s old Rollin’ Pin Bakery, brings some local expertise to Geraldine’s bagel production. The bakery currently offers nine varieties of New York-style sweet and savory bagels.

Joe Scarlata is another New Yorker who brought his bagel know-how to the WNC mountains with the opening of his first Joey’s NY Bagel location in Hendersonville in 2011. A few years later he added a second location in Fletcher. According to the restaurant’s website, Joey’s offers 16 bagel varieties, all handmade daily. Spreads are also plentiful with hand-mixed additions like lox, scallions, chocolate chips and several others. The eatery also has a breakfast and lunch menu with lots of options for building hearty bagel sandwiches.

Fellow New York native Luke McDermott has also found success bringing high-quality, handmade bagels — and help for the homeless — to WNC since he took ownership of Home Free Bagels in 2016. Established in 2011, Home Free’s 11 bagel varieties and four spreads are sold at more than a dozen local businesses, as well as at the West Asheville Tailgate Market, North Asheville Tailgate Market, Waynesville Historic Tailgate Market and Black Mountain Tailgate Market. McDermott notes that he is “always looking to take on more wholesale accounts.”

If you happen to be in the neighborhood, you might be lucky enough to grab a fresh bagel on Tuesdays or Fridays from his regular baking spot inside Seven Sisters Tap Room in Black Mountain. McDermott also hopes to have his small “bagel buggy” truck back in service soon, offering bagels along Haywood Road in West Asheville.

McDermott is serious about his process. “It takes a minimum of 24 hours to produce a single bagel when doing it in the traditional manner, which includes shaping, overnight proofing, boiling and baking,” he explains. He is currently developing gluten-free and paleo bagels to satisfy multiple customer requests. Both varieties will be made from alternative flours and available in early 2019.

But Home Free isn’t just focused on bagels. Part of its mission from the beginning, the business has employed more than a dozen homeless people and continues to be committed to the company’s original vision by providing job opportunities and product donations to a population that is often overlooked.

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