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Bagel frustration

I moved to Toronto from Kitchener (after growing up in Ohio) a few months ago, thinking that a city with 100,000 Jews would give me the opportunity to enjoy bagels again. Unfortunately, I have been quite disappointed. I've tried Gryfe's, Hamish, Bagel World, Bagel House, St. Urbain and What a Bagel, let alone the dreadful offerings from Bagel Stop and Tim Horton's. My feeling on all of them is the same: There's no there there. There's no real bagel taste, just bread. None of them compares to even the Bruegger's chain in the U.S., let alone the independent bakeries of big U.S. cities. Unfortunately, Bruegger's doesn't seem to be interested in opening any stores up here anytime soon.

Have I left anyplace out? Is there a nugget somewhere I'm missing?

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  1. Bagel World has wonderful bagels,my family and I have enjoyed them for over 40 years! What a Bagel is good, St.Urban Bagel much better,Gryfe's (lovely soft bagels) Montreal has what I consider the finest bagels to my taste.

    2 Replies
    1. re: marc Bernstein

      This will ignite a firestorm of posts....There are as many opinions of Toronto Bagels as there are bagels to be sold anywhere in the GTA...good luck in choosing..
      Me, I'm a "Bagel World" girl but only if I 'm up that way and lucky for me I'm at Baycrest twice a week so it's not a stretch...other than that, we live south of St. Clair and use the "What A Bagel" on Spadina in the Village for convenience.........I don't even like Montreal Bagels...

      1. re: pearlD

        Buzz wrong. They open right on Yonge just south of the Atrium. They weren't the best but they were good. Too bad.

    2. Actually, just to set the record straight, I'm pretty sure Bruegger's **did** open a store in Toronto, about 5 or more years ago. It was on that dreary stretch of Eglinton, south side just east of Yonge. It didn't last long--poor location, or Torontonians didn't appreciate the bagels, I guess.

      1. I think that bagels are a pretty personal preference -- you like what you grew up with (unless, as in my case, you grew up with giant fluffy buns with a hole in the middle a la "Great American Bage"). I've learned to love Montreal-style bagels and am perfectly happy with the bagels from the Bagel House. I like the chew, the slight sweetness and the fact that they aren't monster sized.

        5 Replies
        1. re: TorontoJo

          "Who makes the best bagel in Toronto?" and "What is the meaning of life?" are two similar questions to which there is no definitive answer.

          For a Montreal-style bagel, in my view, Bagel House does it right, if you like Montreal-style. Though I think its bagels are overpriced - I've been around long enough to recall when Montreal-style was always substantially cheaper than Toronto-style, though it has somehow transformed itself to being substantially more expensive. Good bagel, though, and pretty much the only game in town - for Montreal-style. For Toronto-style bagels, I lean to Bagel Plus, a family-style bakery and coffee shop in the large plaza on the northwest side of Bathurst and Sheppard, surrounded by a heavily Jewish community that knows its bagels. The trick is to get there just as it opens (6 a.m., but 7 a.m. on weekends) to get the bagels fresh out of the oven (70 cents apiece) . Not lamely bread-like, but deliciously hot, crusty and chewy, the way the classic Toronto bagel should be. Still, any of the many Jewish bakeries along Bathurst between Lawrence Ave. and Steeles Ave. should give a good 6 a.m. account of itself. Bagel World, on Wilson Ave. just west of Bathurst, is also good, though recent expansion attempts seem to have taken its normally-outstanding quality down a notch. But a solid performer nonetheless, despite oft-graceless service.

          Somewhat off-topic: Bagel Plus also makes a killer bread on weekends (Fri., Sat., Sun.) only. It's a cheese-onion challa-style roundish loaf, liberally seeded throughout. Wonderful taste and, at $4.95, it had better be. (You can sometimes pick one up at half price on the day-old rack.) Good ryes as well, though average challas. Much better service than Bagel World offers.

          1. re: juno

            Ooh, thanks for the tip on that bread from Bagel Plus. It sounds amazing.

            1. re: juno

              I liked your 2 cents juno. Well put. I completely second The Bagel House as the best Montreal Style bagel in Toronto. I must try Bagel Plus.

              1. re: food face

                I have to say my family lives on Gryfes bagels. But, I prefer the way they are baked at Daiters then by Gryfes themselves. On top of that, Daiters makes more varieties including a whole wheat poppy seed that is great. My wife likes the flax.

                For a twister, I do love Kiva's but they go stale in about 10 after baking.

                I will say this: best bagels I've had is in Boca Raton @ Way Beyond Bagels.

                1. re: BlueTeam

                  I would agree that Daiters bakes very well. I like to go there as a one-stop-shop for bagels-both Gryfes and Bagel world, THE BEST Challah on Fridays, and Flagels.

          2. Looks like you've hit up most of the usual bagel suspects in Toronto. Two you are missing are Kiva (Bathurst and Steeles) and Dimpflmeier (Bloor and Kipling). Agreed that bagels are very much a personal preference; neither Kiva nor Dimpflmeier are my favourite, I much prefer Gryfe's. But perhaps they will suit your tastes?

            1. Bagel House for Montreal style; Bagel World for Twisters.

              I'm not certain about the Toronto/NY styles these days. Juno has a very good palate for things like this, so I'd try his recommendation of Bagels Plus.

              The two central St Urbain locations are not in the same league as Bagel House for Montreal style (I don't know anything about their Thornhill location).

              I used to like Bagel World, but their regular bagels are definitely down MANY notches. The twisters are still okay, though you might not consider them bagels. Their other breads have become outright crap (rye bread with no rye taste, for example).

              I've also liked Kiva's - well worth trying, though I haven't been there in a very long time.

              Surprisingly, I tasted some very decent bagels at the What a Bagel on Spadina, conveyor oven and all, though this was a few years ago. I don't know about other locations.

              Bake Works used to make really good bagels. The franchise failed, but some stores remain. The one in the Beach isn't good, but if any still use the original recipes, they'd be worth trying.

              Gryfe's are bagels for people who don't like bagels - their "official" history actually tells it like it is.

              Bruegger's flopped here, as did Kettleman's.

              14 Replies
              1. re: embee

                I was sorry to see Kettleman's go. The Danforth location was quite convienent and the bagels were pretty good. I was actually surprised it lasted as long as it did. The space was huge and usually pretty empty.

                1. re: millygirl

                  I too was sad to see Kettleman's go. It was a huge location, bigger than the stores I frequent in Ottawa.

                  But as far as Toronto goes, let's face it, they picked the wrong location. Greek Town (or whatever they are calling it these days, Danforth Mosaic I think?) for a bagel store? I am not 100% sure, but I can't think of a single bagel store on the Danforth.

                  1. re: millygirl

                    The place was MUCH too big (it's now a housewares and FURNITURE store) and the rent would have been huge. Although you could actually see them making by-the-book Montreal bagels, they didn't taste much like Montreal bagels. However, I think the biggest problem was the owner (who said something in an interview about the franchise being a gift from his dad). Even when the place was empty and staff was around, it was often impossible to get served. It seemed like he didn't really care.

                  2. re: embee

                    I'm going to go ahead and disagree with that. I love bagels. And I love Gryfe's.

                    Personally, not a huge fan of Bagel House. I'd rather have a real Montreal bagel once every two years (or however often I get there) than have Bagel House's version. Just not a fan.

                    Love the twisters at Bagel World. Kiva's is also very good.

                    1. re: magic

                      As always, the best one is usually the one you grew up with. In my case, they were made by several little shops in my Brooklyn neighbourhood, by hand, by guys born (literally) into the craft (which it was back then). You can't get bagels like this today in Brooklyn or anywhere else.

                      As to disagreement, there's nothing with which to disagree. What you like, you like! I don't remember exactly where where I read this (it might have been when Ruth Gryfe died), but the "official" story is that Gryfe, who had no idea how to make a bagel, came up with something soft and fluffy - which sold by the boatload to people who didn't like chewy bagels.

                      The Gryfe's bagels sold at retail are factory made somewhere north of Steeles. I don't know whether those sold at the Bathurst location are still different, or are now just a "bake-off" product.

                      Bagel House makes a creditable Montreal style bagel. Hell, people fight to the death about the merits of Fairmont vs St Viateur (forget an interloper from out of town). The Montreal bagels from either place reach Toronto stale. If you get your fix in Montreal, no arguments there either.

                      If yo were to say that Timmie's bagels (Canada biggest sellers) are the best - now that I'd have to argue :-)

                      1. re: embee

                        Oh I don't want to claim what is best. Everyone has their own thoughts on what is best, and even then people's minds might change depending on their mood. I'm not claiming that Gryfe's is best. But I do happen to love them. I think the way your Gryfe's comment was worded might have gotten some people's knickers in a twist, including my knickers. I'm sure it wasn't meant as scandalously as it initially came across. I get now what you are saying.... that Gryfe’s were originally made for a certain clientele who preferred one kind of bagels over another -- not that people who now enjoy Gryfe's don't know their arse from their elbow :)

                        1. re: embee

                          I've recently had the pleasure of enjoying a St. Viateur bagel in Quebec. Amazing, had it with a chunk of cheddar and tomato .. absolutely incredible!

                          The only thing remotely close in Toronto is the Bagel House. The only two I know of are St Clair and Yonge and Davisville and Bayview . Enjoy :)

                          1. re: madhatt

                            There is also a 24 hour Bagel House on Ave. Road, north of Lawrence. They actually do have hot bagels coming out of the oven 24-7, but there are not always hot bagels (does that makes sense?)

                      2. re: embee

                        "Gryfe's are bagels for people who don't like bagels" - I love bagles and I love Gryfe's. Could you elaborate on this quote?

                        1. re: magic

                          In retrospect, embee is probably correct that Bagel World's bagel products have slipped several notches rather than the one notch I suggested. I began shying away when when I first noticed the slippage. My friends who still frequent its original Wilson Ave. outlet tell me it ain't the same as it was, but then NOTHING is, I suppose. It seems like a classic example of expanding, but diluting the quality of the product, which is still somewhat respectable. However, with Bagel Plus just a five-minute drive up Bathurst St. from Bagel World, I turned my bagel lust there instead. The parking's better, the service more civil, most of the baked products exemplary. And slightly less expensive than Bagel World to boot.

                          I've never cared for Gryfe's, though it was the bagel king in Toronto long before Bagel World arrived. And with expansion - you can now get its bagels at many secondary outlets across Toronto - it seems to have lost its chewiness. Rather soft, bread-like insides. But then, I've only bought it from secondary outlets, never from Gryfe's fresh out of the oven, when it should be at its peak.

                          I find What-A-Bagel's product to be surprisingly good for mass-produced, at least from its outlets on north Bathurst St. Leagues better than what Tim Horton's hilariously calls a bagel.

                          Addenda to my mention of Bagel Plus's damn good onion and cheese loaf: best to get it sliced for you at the bakery. Because of its soft consistency, it's tough to properly slice it at home by hand. And to avoid confusion, it's liberally seeded throughout, as I've said, with poppy seeds, not onion and cheese. The onion and cheese coats, deliciously, only the top of the loaf. Bagel Plus doesn't seem to make that many of the loaves - at least, I've only seen one or two on the shelves when I've been there on the weekend. Probably because, at $4.95, it's not a big seller in a neighborhood where folks watch their pennies while demanding quality product. But to me, it's worth the price - occasionally. A nice change from the place's usual ryes, challas, pumpernickels - and the first-rate bagels.

                          1. re: juno

                            The "bagel king" when I first came to Toronto was -- Bagel King, on Eglinton west of Bathurst. They made quite impeccable NY style bagels. They disappeared sometime around the time that owner Lou Bregman partnered with the Del Zotto's to buy out Hunt's/Women's Bakery and "keep it Canadian".

                            I'm not certain, so forgive me if I'm wrong, but I believe his son Michael (Michel's Baguette; mmuffins) was behind the Great Canadian Bagel - such a tragedy....

                            I was all excited when a whole line of Bagel World product turned up at the Cherry St T&T, of all places, last year. It didn't last long. Vapid babka and virtually rye-less rye was enough. (T&T doesn't have the line any more - and I don't miss it.)

                            1. re: embee

                              Gotcha. I figured that whatever ended up in bins across supermarkets wasn't made at Gryfe's on Bathurst- "authentic" or not, the ones fresh out of the oven are pretty amazing.

                        2. I'll try Dimpflmeiers -- I love their rye bread, although they wouldn't be my logical guess for great bagels. I'll also try another Bagel House location. I'm sure a lot of it has to do with what you're used to. Bruegger's to me is fairly faithful to the little bagel bakery where I grew up, whereas perhaps bagels in Toronto have always been kind of bland in comparison and that's what people here have come to like.

                          Interestingly enough, there's a little place in Kitchener, of all places, called Wood Fire Bagels that makes pretty good bagels although they're not open great hours and you can really taste Kitchener's hard tap water in the bagels. There's supposed to be a good New York-style bagel place in Waterloo but it's only open to the public for retail sales a few hours a week.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: mwalcoff

                            I've never had a Dimpf's bagel, but somehow bagels don't seem congruent with what they do well.

                            The main issue with Bagel House is getting them fresh. Unlike the two Montreal legends, they don't bake continuously 24/7. I get mine on Bayview.

                          2. i love Gryfe's bagels...Kiva are good too

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: ywivychen

                              I have to wonder how it is possible to like both Gryfe's and Kiva's bagels at the same time. They are totally unalike. And the popularity of Gryfe's in this city is a puzzle to me. The round piece of soft bread with a hole in the middle that is Gryfe's does not qualify it as a bagel. A bagel, by definition, must be dense and chewy. In my view the best such bagel in Toronto (at least, of a non-Montreal type) is Kiva's, which remind me of the delicious bagels I used to love when I lived in New York City many years ago.

                              1. re: alvino

                                Avoiding the "what is a bagel" issue altogether, you can like both Kiva's and Gryfe's in the same way that you can like both caraway rye and challah....

                                1. re: alvino

                                  What's tasty is tasty. How does one like both apples and oranges at the same time?? You like what you like.

                              2. As an ex Brooklyn girl who just returned from a weekend in NYC having eaten a bagel or two there at Ess a Bagel, the closest in Toronto to what I grew up with is Kiva's at Bathurst and Steeles area. Crunchy on the outside and heavy. Thats a NY bagel!

                                But having said that I like a good Gryfes whole wheat bagel with poppy seeds from Daiters (although a new yorker would say this is not a bagel); love the pumpernickel, poppy seed flagel from Bagel World (also not a bagel but love that crust) and enjoy St Urbain Montreal bagels on Bathurst only when hot and fresh otherwise they get stale too fast. While What a Bagel is ok for variety, it is much lighter in texture in both crust and dough.

                                1. I feel your pain. You can't get a decent bagel in Toronto. There appears to be two kinds of people in the world. Those who grew in a Jewish Neighborhood and were raised on first rate New York or Montreal bagels and those who were not and don't know the difference between a good bagel and round bread with a hole in it - and yes I'm talking about those awful Gryfe bagel.

                                  5 Replies
                                  1. re: evansl

                                    As a Jew who grew up in a Jewish neighborhood. I know a good bagel. (I also think that non-jews can know a good bagel too!). I have never understood the Gryfes obsession. Edible yes. Good when fresh, sure. The best, no way.

                                    1. re: evansl

                                      I am going to have to disagree here. I think that Toronto is actually lucky enough to have enough different bagel styles to match any bagel background: Montreal, New York, or what I consider original "Toronto Bagels": Bagel World and Gryfes. I teach at a school with staff of many backgrounds and after bringing in all different brands of bagels, the ones they always ask for again are the Gryfes. There is nothing much that beats a Gryfes bagel fresh out of the oven. Or a fresh twister with lox & cream cheese. Or a toasted sesame seed bagel house toasted with butter. Mmmmmm

                                      1. re: Toronto Fastfoodie

                                        I think I agree with your entire post, Toronto Fasfoodie (although I prefer my BW twister buttered). I wouldn't like to choose one style over another. I also find that Kiva's and BW are very close.

                                        1. re: Yongeman

                                          Very true about the buttered twister; nothing is better than a hot buttered twister, especially to get takeout when you have a long drive ahead. One twister can get me clear across the Niagara Falls border.

                                          1. re: Toronto Fastfoodie

                                            Ha ha. I wish I could make it last that long!

                                    2. Bland? You must be talking about the Bruegger's bagels! I had one this summer and hated it. So, yeah, it depends what you grew up with, and for me that is dense and chewy Montreal bagels. Nothing in Toronto will do, and I just wait to get my fix when I'm there.

                                      1. They have just started selling Bruegger's in Union Station. It's in the concourse level close to the McDonald's and next to MMMuffins.

                                        1. Has anyone tried Open Window bakery? There rye bread is second to none. there bagels are pretty fair when fresh. I think thats the key to any good bagel. Are there any jewish bakers making these bagels? That seems too be the problem with this product. The old European trainned bakers of old were true craftsmen.

                                          1. just found that costco, of all places now carries Fairmount bagels !
                                            yes, the montreal fairmount.
                                            just bought them yesterday at the richmond hill costco, I heard they are at ellesmere and warden costco too. not sure of others.
                                            3 sleeves of 6 in each bag - 18 for $9.99
                                            I got sesame but I think there may have been also another flavour...
                                            I think 18 for $10 was less than I paid in montreal but i don't know how that could be from a business sense,
                                            I think they must have been pre frozen, and certainly that's what i did when i got them home. those bagels don't last long for freshness. but at least they are here

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: babinni

                                              Definitely frozen and would be better if sold still frozen. Not handmade? Not wood-oven baked?

                                              1. re: embee

                                                Good points, embee, but probably still good for toasting, which is how I prefer any Mtl bagel which is more than a couple of hours old.