$29 and Under: Bagel Heaven offers the real thing, fine brunch to boot

Word of a new bagel place reached me through the grapevine. Nice idea, I thought. Our local bagels h

Uncle Ricky’s Bagel Heaven

WHERE: 1809 5th Avenue (near Broadway), Troy. Phone 326-5019.

WHEN: Monday to Friday 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday 8:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

HOW MUCH: $18.08

MORE INFO: Parking on street. Credit cards: Master Card, Visa, American Express. Wheelchair accessible.

Word of a new bagel place reached me through the grapevine. Nice idea, I thought. Our local bagels have really improved; Price Chopper and Breuggers do excellent New York City-style bagels, but Bagel Heaven promises the real thing, shipped in from “NYC and Boston,” as it says on the menu. Add to that voluptuous reminiscences of heavenly sandwich platters with lox and pastrami fed to me by my friends.

On a cold Sunday morning much like this one, husband Eric, with a fat newspaper tucked under one arm, and I headed to Heaven to try the bagels. We were pleased.

Rick Wilson, who has extensive experience in the food business, opened Bagel Heaven last December, and it’s an attractive, casual place. When we visited, the communication between staff was sometimes a problem, but they were friendly and helpful, so we didn’t mind.

Pick up a menu from the pile by the door, and stand in line along the brass rail. You can read the chalkboard menus and check the specials while you wait. Place your order and if you’re eating in, sit down and someone will deliver it to your table.

Comfy surroundings

We ordered and headed into the dining room next door, which is comfortably appointed with a big, low, leather sofa, granite-topped tables with high padded chairs, and an electric fireplace. The tables look too heavy to move around, and we took the last one, hogging space for four. Eric didn’t approve of the television, which made a small racket in the corner it occupied. Neither did another patron, who got up and turned it off.

The place was hopping. “It was quiet all morning, but then everyone came in at once,” the cashier told us. To keep up, a server bearing soup orders distributed them to folks around the dining room, including me. Bagel Heaven makes a great chicken noodle soup ($2.75 a cup) that I could eat for many winter lunches before I’d tire of it. All the soups are homemade, Wilson told me, and I liked the wide, soft noodles, the chunks of excellent dark meat, and the fresh-tasting tender carrot chunks.

Eric had breakfast, a plain bagel with lox cream cheese and a large coffee (breakfast special, $4.45). Since Eric comes from a state that is flat, he had no opinion of the bagel other than that it was very good. He finished it off promptly, a signal that he liked it a lot. He chose the breakfast blend from a row of containers of coffees, which was strong enough for his liking, and hot. You have to get your own coffee, something Eric didn’t know until he asked.

Pastrami on rye

I eagerly anticipated my Hebrew National pastrami on rye ($6.75). The sandwich, while very good, reminded me that you can’t go home again. The thick-sliced, chewy, and fatty pastrami that bred many a heart bypass is probably a thing of the past. There’s something to be said for a sandwich that you don’t have to wrestle with to eat, and the flavor of the deli-sliced, thin pastrami reminded me of Hebrew National’s all-beef franks, a summer staple in our house. The inch of meat was tender, with enough black pepper at the edges, and the skinny slices even had some visible fat. It didn’t put up a fight. New-age, healthier pastrami, I guess.

The soft rye bread had prominent panini grill lines but lacked caraway seeds and the characteristic tang. It was a good sandwich, though, and I had to restrict myself to eating just one big half. Mustard made the homemade potato salad look appetizing, and chopped celery, onion, and green pepper made it colorful. You get a good-sized serving. Thanks go out to the cashier, who told us “The potato salad is better than the cole slaw,” while I was deciding. It was a good choice. The quarter-slice of long dill pickle was exactly right.

I went back to the counter to get a bagel to take home and a scoop of Adirondack Creamery ice cream for myself, which was out of this world. Eric looked up from his paper and his eyes lit up. “For me?” he said, appropriating it. “Where’s the spoon?”

A small scoop of Strawberry Moon will set you back $2.50, but this is some serious stuff. You don’t need a lot, anyway, since it’s full-fat, which means it goes around and around in your mouth, lingering long after you’ve appreciated the fresh fruit and strong vanilla flavors.

Specialty report

About the bagels: I approve of the authentic interior, which is moister and has a softer crumb than the local bagels, and the flavor of the dough is better, more bagel-y. The everything bagel I brought home and slathered with cold butter was light on the toppings and I was surprised to find cornmeal on the bottom, but I enjoyed it.

Wilson brings in bagels that are boiled, the first cooking step in bagel-making, and finishes them in the oven at Bagel Heaven. I saw him pull a big pan of them from the oven, and they looked terrific.

Size matters. A bagel from Seaford Bagel on Long Island would set you back almost a day’s worth of points on Weight Watchers, but oh, they are so good. Upstate bagels are not too big, they’re just right for a sandwich. And so are Uncle Ricky’s, who uses them at breakfast and lunch in that capacity.

The tab for Sunday brunch at Uncle Ricky’s Bagel Heaven came to $18.08 not including the few bucks we threw in the tip jar. It was a pleasant way to start a leisurely Sunday. I’d go back again to try the fish fry and bring home a few bagels, too.

Categories: Food, Life and Arts

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