The authentic bagel shop smell hits you as soon as you walk in the door at West End Bagels. Pleased, I took a deep breath, and then gave a sigh of satisfaction. I miss the bagel shops of Long Island, with condensation running down the plate glass windows in the wintertime from the vats of boiling water filled with bobbing bagels. They weren’t always pretty shops, but they were good.
West End Bagels is very pretty, but needs work. The good news is that they’re just starting out, and learning a lot along the way.
I like its tasteful decor and earnest local owners, Chris Naughton and Donna Arini. The wood floor is a nice touch for a strip mall store, and the look is clean and bright.
Shortly after 11 on a Saturday morning the store was still doing a steady business after a rush. As a result, the floor needed sweeping and the wood tables needed a wipe. In addition to a gentleman behind the counter there were three young women, who occasionally looked uncertain about what they should be doing.
A helpful sign directs you to where to go to place your order. If you can’t read the wall-sized chalkboard menu, take a paper menu from the counter, but you’ll miss the specials and new items, like the whitefish salad.
West End Bagels
WHERE: 5 Southside Drive, Clifton Park, 952-4762, www.westendbagels.com
WHEN: 5:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday, 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
HOW MUCH: $14
MORE INFO: Credit cards: Visa, Master Card, American Express, Discover. Wheelchair accessible
West End is open seven days, from early breakfast through late lunch. The menu lists 10 varieties of bagels and ten kinds of cream cheese. A bagel with cream cheese is $2.45; naked, they’re a buck. Breakfast sandwiches on bagels can include bacon, sausage or cheese in addition to the egg. Deli sandwiches are made with Boar’s Head cold cuts. There are several varieties of soup and fresh bakery items like muffins and cookies.
We were greeted at the counter and our order was taken promptly. In addition to my sandwich, I ordered a small cup of minestrone ($3.75). We were directed to a cooler in the front of the store for drinks. I took out my wallet, but it wasn’t time to pay, I was told. We took a table in the front where Mom could watch the foot traffic in the busy shopping center near the Hannaford supermarket.
Soon enough, one of the employees brought us two tightly-wrapped brown paper bags. Mom unpacked and I walked over to the counter to pay. An employee went off to find someone to work the register, so I sat back down and kept an eye out for someone to appear.
Mom ordered an egg sandwich with bacon on a plain bagel ($3.75), and I ordered a ham sandwich with cheddar on a salt bagel ($6.70) and we shared an Ice seltzer. Mom’s sandwich was piping hot. Mine was, too, although I wasn’t expecting it.
Apparently they thought mine was going to be a breakfast sandwich like my mom’s, and it should have tipped me off when they asked if I wanted my bagel toasted. I always want my bagel toasted, so I said OK. What I got was a bagel with a few slices of fried ham, and a square of melted cheddar on the top. It wasn’t what I wanted, and it needed an egg. Mom’s sandwich had three slender slices of bacon over a cooked egg.
The minestrone soup was overcooked, the noodles had soaked up all the liquid and I wondered if I got vegetarian chili until I found an intact noodle. It tasted good, though, and West End buys it from a company that makes all-natural soups.
Talking about bagels
Now let’s talk about the bagels. Since I moved to the Capital Region in 1981, we have come a long way in that department. Bagels in plastic bags at the market or at establishments with doughnuts in their name do not count.
The first decent bagels evolved at Bruegger’s, then Price Chopper started making authentic bagels as well. After that came Panera’s huge bagels.
I have to give a shout-out to the small bakers and few businesses that also produce good bagels like Uncommon Grounds in Albany and Saratoga Springs. And kudos to anyone who schleps them here from downstate.
Now West End presents theirs. All are respectable, but different. Bruegger’s are on the small side, chewy with a satisfactory dense interior; Price Chopper’s have a thick and tasty crust and lots of dough inside; Panera’s are over the top in terms of size and calories, the SUV of bagels; and West End produces a midsize bagel with a great crust and a light center.
There’s a sprinkling of cornmeal on the bottom. It’s a good sandwich bagel. The crust will hold everything in, the inside yielding to the filling. Mom and I like the crust on West End’s bagels.
A good, fresh hot salt bagel should taste like a pretzel, and I delight in eating one plain. West End delivers the flavor.
When we finished our meal someone was at the register, so I went to the counter to pay. The hand-written order slip for our sandwiches didn’t include the soda, so I mentioned it. The order came to $14 and something, but I’ll call it $14 because I forgot to ask for a receipt. I put a few bucks in the tip jar.
I perched our bag of trash on top of the filled can. Before we left, I ordered a peanut butter cookie and a quarter pound of whitefish salad to go. It was a good cookie, baked in the store, with small peanut butter cups stuck into the top.
Mom gave the whitefish salad a thumbs-up.
West End Bagels is a fledgling business, learning the ropes, like how to train their staff and keep on top of the dining room. But it’s a charming place, and I’d like to see them do well.
With some work it could be a very good independent bagel shop, something the Capital Region could use.
More from The Daily Gazette: