Growing up in New Orleans, the only breads I ever ate were French bread and Bunny Bread (white, of course!). Was there really a need for anything else? However, as the bread world and I matured, new and exciting varieties of breads such as whole wheat, multi grain and even pita breads, were being introduced into the mainstream market. I developed a new love and respect for these breads, but I still had yet to meet one of my favorite doughy treats.
It was not until I started working in New York City did I begin to understand the allure and, oftentimes, the addictive power of a good bagel. On my way to work, it was my morning ritual to get off the subway, walk to my favorite corner breakfast shop and order an “everything” bagel with a schmear (a light spread of cream cheese) and a regular coffee (coffee with a little sugar and a little cream). What was it about these round pastries that would become such an integral part of my life that I would find myself bringing dozens of them home to family and friends whenever I would come home for a visit?
For a better understanding, I would have to go back to the history of bagels to see where it all started. There is some dispute as to how the bagel came about. One version says it was invented in Krakow, Poland back in the 16th century as an alternative to the lean Lenten bread, Bublik. Others say it was created to commemorate the victory of Poland’s King Jan Sobeieski III over the Ottoman Turks. There is even controversy over how the name bagel came into existence. The most plausible origin of the word “bagel” comes from the Yiddish word “beygl” which comes from the German word “beugal”, meaning ring, bracelet or, sometimes translated, as a round loaf of bread.
One thing is for certain, immigrant Jews brought bagels here to America at the turn of the 20th century selling them, stacked up on sticks, on the streets of the lower east side of Manhattan. Today bagel shops are all over the country, but why haven’t they made their way down here?
Before Katrina there was one large bagel operation with several shops, but they left the area after their bakery was destroyed by the flood. So what is a bagel lover like me to do? Just when I was about to give up on ever having a fresh bagel anywhere in the area I happened to catch a glimpse of a sign which I thought said Creole Bagelry. Was I reading that correct? Yes, I was! The Creole Bagelry, home of the authentic New York style bagel, right there on Gause Boulevard in Slidell.
Bernadette and Dominick Lala are the owners of the Creole Bagelry. Their lifelong dream of owning a café came sooner than expected for this young couple when they were faced with relocating to New York when their employer, Delta Airlines, moved their base up there shortly after 9/11. Bernadette, the former flight attendant and Dominick, a private pilot, knew that was not what they envisioned for their future, so they decided to speed up their dream and open up their café earlier than planned. They wanted to be different from the other breakfast and lunch places in town and decided to open a bagelry offering fresh, baked on site bagels. After all, how difficult could that be?
Bernadette and Dominick soon found out that you just don’t mix some flour, salt, water and yeast together, form a ring then throw it in the oven! There is a reason bagels taste better up north and, as all good cooks/bakers know, there is always a secret to making something special.
The couple decided to purchase their equipment from a baker 30 years in the business, but one of the stipulations was that he help them receive the training they would need to make a great bagel down south. He agreed, and Bernadette and Dominick left for training at a New York deli where they spent two months, seven days a week working twelve-hour days learning the “right” way to make bagels.
Yes, there is a “right” way and a “wrong” way. If you have ever eaten a bagel out of a bag from the grocery, frozen or “fresh”, then you are eating a steamed then baked bagel. This process results in a dull outer crust and, oftentimes, jaw aching chewy centers. Now if you have ever had the pleasure of having a fresh (within 6-8 hours of being baked) “real” bagel that has been properly prepared by being boiled first, then baked, you will know what bagel love is all about. The boiling process is what gives the “real” bagel its crackly, shiny, caramel-colored crust and its slightly chewy center.
But, don’t think that is the only secret to great bagels! Bernadette and Dominick have worked long and hard to perfect their bagels by bringing in an entire water filtration system, importing special dough conditioners from New York and even using malt (baker’s syrup) to sweeten their bagels, which bagel purists say is the only way to sweeten a bagel.
This dedication to detail has paid off for this couple. They are now in their sixth year and they do a whole lot more than bagels. The Creole Bagelry offers a full breakfast and lunch menu in addition to their sixteen varieties of fresh, daily made bagels and assorted flavored cream cheeses. If you feel like something other than a bagel, they make delicious salads like, my favorite, the bleu bayou or you can try one of their homemade soups. They also offer specialty sandwiches, which you can get on a bagel, or other any other type of bread. My favorite, of course, would have to be the Salmon soul, which is sliced smoked salmon with a “schmear”, thinly sliced red onions and capers all piled atop your choice of bagel.
If you are like me and love an everything bagel or a cinnamon raisin bagel you will have to get there early, these popular ones always seem to run out quickly! I laugh to myself now when I say that I am making a bagel run to Slidell and I come “back” to Covington with a few dozen bagels to share with friends and family. They might not be from New York, but I have to admit they are by far the best you are going to find anywhere in the New Orleans area.
1337 Gause Blvd.
Slidell, LA 70458
Breakfast and lunch served