This week, we ventured to Bagel Pantry located at 545 Middlesex Ave in Metuchen. Much to my surprise, Bagel Pantry was NOT located in a strip mall! It was, however, sharing a two-story building with a couple other businesses. We determined that it is located in downtown Metuchen, a bussling and nice-looking place! The lovely Jersey native, Lauren, joined us on this bagel outing. I hoped Bagel Pantry would be awesome – I wanted a fantastic bagel to hold me over for the week of my birthday. Lauren was on a tight schedule, as she came and met us on her lunch break. Since Lauren is a “real person” (my phrase for anyone who has a job) she had a lunch bagel, since she had already eaten breakfast today. Mary and I usually go for breakfast at noon, no shame.
I was impressed by the variety of cream cheese flavors offered – see picture below. They also had a good selection of bagels. The bagel baskets were large which told me that they make lots of bagels, presumably for lots of customers! I was craving a garlic bagel but really wanted to try the cranberry cream cheese, so I just went for the weird combination – toasted garlic bagel and cranberry cream cheese. Mary went with a poppy seed bagel and strawberry cream cheese, which also looked promising. Lauren’s lunch bagel was an untoasted sesame with egg salad.
This place was pricier than other places – Lauren’s lunch bagel was $4, a bagel with specialty cream cheese was $3.75, and a latte was $2.75 (side note - $5 minimum credit card charge). The people behind the counter were very friendly and the service was prompt.
Right as we sat down to eat our bagels, I noticed suspicious chunks in my cranberry cream cheese. Much to my dismay, they were walnuts. I am allergic to walnuts! I was a little upset the cream cheese was not labeled as such, but I guess I should have inquired. In an unexpected turn of events, Mary selflessly offered to switch bagels with me and thus ended up with my crazy garlic-cranberry cream cheese bagel (what a pal).
The ever important first bite… Can you tell how excited I am for bagels?
This picture is so great it looks staged - but we were really just contemplating at the same time!
I dug into the poppy seed bagel with strawberry cream cheese and had a weird sensation in my mouth, the same that happens after I eat something I am allergic to (darn immune system). After some contemplation and inspection of the bagel, I decided there were no nuts in it. We came to the conclusion that since the walnut contaminated bagel was made first, perhaps my bagel was cut in half with the same knife, and residual cranberry-walnut cream cheese slipped into my bagel. The allergy encounter was fleeting, and I am fine, no worse for the wear.
Despite the near-death experience (I’m going for a dramatic effect here), I really enjoyed my bagel! There was a nice balance between a crispy (but not tough) exterior and a fluffy interior. And it was toasted perfectly with an even and delicious shmear! The strawberry cream cheese was delicious. My only complaint would be that I didn’t enjoy the few strawberry chunks in the cream cheese; I preferred the flavor without them. The cream cheese was thinner than usual cream cheese, so it had a hard time staying on the bagel. We thought this might be due to the mixed in frozen strawberries making it more watery.
My positive review was juxtaposed with Lauren’s not-so enthusiastic review. Perhaps reading my blog has made her a harsh critic. She found the bagel to be “a little dry” and the egg salad to be a “little bland.” She stated confidently, “I know my perfect bagel, and this is not it.” Lauren did, however, have a positive review of the free sample on the counter – a salad of chick peas, feta cheese, roasted peppers, and spinach. I enjoyed it as well. Lauren works nearby, so perhaps I can convince her to return and have a bagel (toasted, because I find this makes all the difference) with cream cheese to give it a second chance. I believe it is worth it.
What a cutie…
Now onto Mary’s garlic-cranberry experience. Mary had never eaten a garlic bagel every before! She fondly described it as a “new realm of bagel eating.” Her shmear was a little uneven but she readjusted and found it satisfactory. The cream cheese was not her favorite so far, but it was good. The latte was also good, but it was served too hot and Mary burned her tongue whilst taking a lactase supplement.
Example of an uneven shmear, note the unsatisfactory glare
The ambience of Bagel Pantry was very welcoming. They supported local Little League and had a newspaper stand, which Mary liked. Many customers came through while we ate, which was not the case at other places. It is promising that they have people still coming in during the day! As we walked out, an employee brought over a sheet of freshly baked bagels and added them to the bagel baskets. Bagels being made in the middle of the day is a great sign! Mary and I decided on the car ride home that bagels were lighter than normal bagels. I didn’t leave feeling weighed down by heavy dough.
Although I quite enjoyed my bagel, it is a little crazy to me that a bagel costs $1, but if you add a couple tablespoons of cream cheese, the price goes up $2.75. I guess that is the way it goes. There also seems to be some variability in quality of bagels, as we had a mixed bag of bagel reviews. Nevertheless, Bagel Pantry has climbed to the top of my local bagel list. I would return here, but it is not The One Bagel.
Bagel Quality: Ariel – 8, Mary – 9, Lauren – 6.5, Avg = 7.8
Cream Cheese Quality: 8.25
Price: Dozen - $12, bagel with specialty CC - $3.75
Overall Rating: 8.6