Most Denverites are familiar with New York–style bagels (think: Rosenberg’s Bagels & Delicatessen), and, sadly, the bland gut bombs sold at many grocery stores. Also sadly, Montreal bagels are not as recognizable to many folks. They are, however, my favorite kind. The sweeter, smaller bagels—made from hand-rolled dough that’s boiled in honey water and then baked in a wood-fired oven—are so tasty that they can be enjoyed fresh-out-of-the-oven, sans schmear.
Restaurateur David Bowen shares my feelings. The Brit lived in Toronto for 25 years (where he started two fine-dining restaurants); when he and his wife moved to Colorado last year for her job, Bowen started thinking about opening a fast-casual spot. “I’m not a bagel geek,” he said, but “I’ve always loved bagels. There’s a craft to [Montreal bagels]. It’s a craft that’s disappearing.”
His ode to the Montreal-style bagel, WoodGrain Bagels, opened in Boulder’s Village Shopping Center in early April. The eatery has a comfortable, mountain vibe with its wood, metal, and tile design. The staff is warm and welcoming. But the bagels—on full display in an angled trough—are front and center. Bowen and executive chef Jeremy Schwartz (a former sous chef at Oak at Fourteenth) are trying to adhere to tradition as much as possible. However, to appease local palates, they’ve added everything- and cinnamon raisin-flavored bagels to the typical roster of plain, sesame, and poppy seed. They also offer a menu of breakfast and lunch sandwiches (most Montreal bagel shops simply sell the rounds by the dozen) and coffee drinks made with local Boxcar Coffee Roasters beans.
At breakfast, opt for the mushroom-and-leek Woodsman omelette, which comes with a choice of bagel on the side, or the Brooklyn Classic lox sandwich. Order either with a sesame bagel, which combines black and white sesame seeds for a lovely toasted honey flavor. For lunch, the Reuben has quickly become a favorite; WoodGrain cures the pastrami in-house. And vegetarians will enjoy the meatless banh mi. If you’re not in a bagel mood (is that possible?), poutine, a Canadian classic that combines french fries, cheese curds, and brown gravy, is also available.
Bowen and Schwartz—who traveled to Montreal, New York, and Seattle to do research—continue to tinker with the bagel recipe. Because they need to hold up to sandwich toppings, the rounds are slightly bigger than an authentic Montreal bagel, and they lack some of the sweetness and exterior crispness I expect. But making any type of bread at elevation is a challenge, and I expect WoodGrain will continue to eke closer and closer to the flavor and texture that make my favorite bagels so crave-worthy.
For the kids: Bowen has started hosting a Little Rollers bagel class for children ages three to 12. Keep an eye on the Facebook page for more details and upcoming dates.