Apparently I've been asleep at the wheel, because I guess housemade bagels in Chicago are a big deal? Like, I get that they are not nearly as prominent as other baked goods (see: doughnuts), but I wasn't quite aware of how severe the void was. Over the past few years as new places have sprouted up with bagels — Little Goat, Reno among them — the fanfare has reached a fever pitch, yet there remains a nebulus missing link considering customers still clamor for more legit, New Yorky bagels. Which is why the prospect of a bagel shop from the Piece Pizzeria & Brewery peeps was of note. Brobagel recently opened alongside the pizzeria, featuring a focused menu of housemade bagels, spreads, breakfast sandwiches, coffee, and a few sweets. But how do these bagels stack up amid the ceaseless attempts at bagel glory in Chicago? Let's find out, shall we.
First of all, let's address the name. It's not as fist bump-y as it suggests. Rather, it's more to do with the familial aspect of the venture, a collaboration between Piece's Bill Jacobs and his brothers. Together, they helm the pizzeria and brewery, so they're well attuned to working in tandem, as some brothers are wont to do. In a pre-Piece life, they worked in the bagel business as well, so this isn't their first rodeo. Going back to their doughy roots, the Jacobs brothers have concocted a small standing-room-only bagel shop with a concise menu of fresh bagels.
The slightly narrow, counter-adorned space at Brobagel is reminiscent of the kinds of bustling in-and-out bagel shops that dot NYC. Whereas most bagels in Chicago are merely served in conjunction with others items, Brobagel marks one of the first legit ventures focused on bagels. This means a hulking wall of various flavored bagel bins is lined up behind the counter, where staffers eagerly slice and schmear (and toast, if so desired) bagels. There's a cooler case filled with tubs of cream cheeses as well, in case you'd like to stock up at home. To drink, pour-yourself Metropolis Coffee is on deck. Most customers take their bagels to go, though their is counter space for standing and chewing.
Admittedly, I am more of a bagel novice than some diehards. I didn't grow up eating bagels that often, and I don't worship at the church of bagels like some New Yorkers. In all honesty, I crave bagels very rarely, and I used to actually have an aversion to the heinous amount of cream cheese dolloped on top of these things. But with older age comes more appreciation for the carb craft. And I appreciate what's happening at Brobagel. I may not have a refined bagel palate, but the pleasantly chewy, not overtly dense bagels are hearty and satisfying in a deep, guttural way. The everything bagel is tops, resplendant with heady garlic notes, while the sesame is toasty and nutty even without a trip through the toaster (which I always avoid anyway). In both instances, I appreciate how each side of the bagel is speckled with seasonings and toppings. One offbeat variety I enjoyed was the rye bagel, an aromatic behemoth that tasted like a hyper-dense riff on pumpernickel bread. Then there's the spreads. From sriracha cream cheese to lox spread, the gang is all here. Scallion cream cheese is a subtly onion-y standout, adding just a dash of astringent tang to anything it touches. Veggie cream cheese is another moderate supplement, at least compared to aggressively flavored options like garlic and caramelized onion. Besides bagels, Brobagel also has breakfast sandwiches and a few sweets, but zero in on the bagels first and foremost. I'm not expert, but these are potentially the biggest boon to Chicago's bagel scene in years.
- Matt Kirouac