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Keeping it Kosher

Five local rabbis pick Portland's best bagel.

Five out of five rabbis agree: Portland is still suffering from the closure of Kettleman Bagel Company. Despite the efforts of many who have stepped up to fill the bagel-shaped void, nothing has been able to replace the popular local shop, which was gobbled up by Einstein Brothers in November 2011.

Last year, a panel of gentile WW staffers picked Spielman Coffee Roasters and Kenny & Zuke's Delicatessen as the best successors in a blind taste-off. Still, some people kvetched. So we decided to stage a second blind battle—this one judged by the ultimate arbiters of Jewish excellence. Rabbis Ariel Stone, Arthur Zuckerman, Elizabeth Dunsker, Joey Wolf and David Kominsky stopped by our office to pick a favorite. We considered it pre-gaming for the Jewish Federation's Food for Thought Festival this week, a benefit for Oregon Food Bank that tackles hunger in Portland. Things got serious when Zuckerman rolled up his left shirt cuff to reveal a burn from turning boiling bagels as a young man in New York.


We bought fresh bagels and presented them without spreads on numbered plates. After ritual "netilat yadayim" hand-washing, crumbs began to fly. This taste-off featured the defending champs, Kenny & Zuke's and Spielman, along with three newcomers. Each shop was represented by a plain bagel and its most popular flavor.

Mazel tov to newcomer Bowery Bagels, the rabbis' consensus pick for best plain bagel, and to Spielman and Kenny & Zuke's, which also had ardent fans among the rabbis' ranks.

  1. Rabbis' pick: Bowery Bagels plain bagel.
  1. Gentiles' pick: Spielman Coffee Roasters seedy bagel.

Bowery Bagels
310 NW Broadway, 227-6674,

This newcomer, opened by KitchenCru's Michael Madigan last year, makes compact, kosher rounds with a sizeable hole and shiny exterior crust. The bagel dough is fermented, rolled, boiled and then baked, New York style. Portland Pedal Power delivers Bowery bagels, and you can also find them at New Seasons Market, Stumptown Coffee Roasters and Zupan's Markets.

Big seller: Everything bagel.

Tasting notes:

“The only real water bagel here. This is quality.”
“I would buy this in a heartbeat.”
“This everything is too much, though. Salty, peppery, too caraway-y”

Spielman Coffee Roasters
2128 SE Division St., 467-0600.

Our own nonkosher tasting of leftovers found that West Coast gentiles still prefer Spielman's tangy sourdough, but the character of the bread was divisive among the rabbis. Spielman's seedy bagel—it's covered in enough pumpkin, watermelon, flax, hemp, sunflower and poppy seeds to make a loaf of Dave's Killer Bread—stood out in the wild-card category.

Big seller: Seedy bagel.

Tasting notes:

“This is sourdough! Sourdough wasn’t meant to be bagels.”
“This seedy one just tastes good. It’s nontraditional, but I like it anyway.”

Kenny & Zuke’s Delicatessen
1038 SW Stark St., 222-3354,

Kenny & Zuke's tied with Spielman in last year's taste-off. (Note: WW contributor Michael C. Zusman helped develop the recipe.) Oft lauded as the boiled heir to Kettleman, the deli opened five years ago as a homage to authentic Jewish cuisine. The bagels are plump and glossy, and the rabbis especially noted satisfyingly strong garlic notes in the most popular everything flavor.

Big seller: Everything bagel.

Tasting notes:

“A nice basic canvas that would toast well.”
“There’s a whole graininess to it.”
“I’m not sure about the texture here, it almost tastes stale.”

Sunrise Bagels
808 Harney St., Vancouver, 360-567-0567,

Vancouver's Sunrise Bagels received a unanimous "feh!" and was thrown out of the rabbi tasting. The bagels are pale and bloated, their middle hole sometimes nonexistent. One rabbi described the plain flavor's soft, light skin as "albino." All agreed the cinnamon-raisin bagel was slightly better, but no one grabbed the leftovers to take home.

Big seller: Cinnamon-raisin bagel.

Tasting notes:

“This is not a bagel. It’s undercooked.”
“I don’t eat cinnamon raisin. That’s not legal.”
“I can’t get it out of my mouth fast enough.”

Rescue Bagels

Southwest 6th Avenue and Columbia Street, Southwest 10th Avenue and Alder Street, 971-266-4012,

Rescue, founded in 2011, was the only food-cart baker at our tasting. It claims to make New York-style boiled bagels, but the rabbis disagreed. Rescue bagels are bready and small in circumference, but tall and fluffy. They look overly leavened but smoosh flat like Franz bread under pressure. The popular everything bagel garnered praise for its golden brown skin.

Big seller: Everything bagel.

Tasting notes:

“These are rolls with a hole in the middle.”
“It makes a really good soft pretzel.”
“This is too bready for me; it squishes.”

GO: Food for Thought Festival, April 18-21, Thursday 5:30-9 pm, Friday 10 am-6 pm, Saturday 9 am-10 pm, Sunday 9:30 am-9 pm, various locations., 892-7413.