The bagel is a fraught discussion here in San Francisco, where the gauntlet is often thrown declaring that there are no good options in the city. People wait for hours when NYC versions are on offer. Pop-ups inspire lines every weekend with the end result always being: sold out. It's clear that San Franciscans are starving for a bagel savior, and back in July, the New York Times declared Evan Bloom and Leo Beckerman of Wise Sons to be just that. It's a lot to live up to. Here's how they intend to do it.
Back when Wise Sons opened in the Mission in 2012, Bloom and Beckerman swore they'd never make bagels. "They're a whole other thing; they're an art," Bloom said. But eventually the need for a bagel on the menu overcame their trepidation, and the pair was not satisfied with their existing options.
"Marla makes a great bagel, 20th Century Cafe has a great product. They're just unique to those places, and they're not wholesale product we can buy by the hundreds," Bloom explained. "I'm not sure why nobody has done this yet. Maybe because it doesn't work. It's a lot of work to do, producing and consistency and training."
Bloom ascribed their decision to try anyway to being "restless." But it hasn't been easy — this is in fact the second time Wise Sons has gotten close to opening a bagelry. Back in January 2015, its initial space in the Mission burnt down one day before opening to the public. It was back to square one, finding a new space and building it out once more. And now, after much trial and tribulation, the public will get to taste Wise Sons' entry into the SF bagel race this coming Friday, February 26 at the Fillmore shop.
"There's a lot of margin for error, and we're gonna get a lot of flak," Bloom said with certainty. "Everybody's got their opinion, and if we thought pastrami and Jewish deli was divisive, bagels will be ten times that." Yet they're still going to try, and this is how.
The Bagel-Making Process
Wise Sons has a morning and an evening baking team; the evening team is responsible for making and forming the bagel dough. It's a simple mixture of flour, malt powder, salt, water and yeast that is mixed for 20 to 30 minutes in a 140-quart mixer so glutens form, allowing the classic chew of a bagel.
From there the dough rests for 15 minutes and then it goes through the bagel divider in logs that are divided into 100- to 110-gram portions. Those portions then go through an extruder — much like a pasta extruder — that forces the dough around a dowel, and they come out in a round bagel shape, seen in the video below.
A video posted by Wise Sons Jewish Delicatessen (@wisesons) on
From there the bagels immediately go into the refrigerator. They retard for 36 hours where they slowly ferment, allowing the yeasts and sugars to develop flavor that distinguishes this bread product from your regular loaf.
The bagels come out of the fridge around 2 a.m. and go into a pot of boiling water with salt and malt syrup for a couple minutes before being flipped for a few minutes more. While they’re wet and hot they go into the toppings.
"You’ll notice our bagels have lots of seeds and toppings on them; we think the bottom and the top should taste just as good," Bloom said. The hot wet bagels get tossed in the seasonings — plain, salt, sesame, poppy, everything (caraway, poppy, garlic, sea salt, sesame, onion) — go onto a tray and bake for eight to ten minutes.
"Ultimately bagels are not necessarily complex; they just take time. People might argue about water temperature and pH, but we're a little simpler than that," Bloom said. "Just very simple ingredients and making sure our bakers are following the same steps every time. That's the key."
The Traditional Smoked Salmon Sandwich
The pinnacle of bagel sandwiches is inarguably the smoked salmon variety, traditionally layered with cream cheese, thinly-sliced red onions, capers and if you're feeling crazy, a tomato slice. Wise Sons version does not stray from the classic. First, the bagel of your choice — poppy here — is sliced and toasted, and housemade whipped cream cheese and spread across both sides.
In the past, Wise Sons made its own smoked salmon, but found that they could buy a better version. "It's a superior consistency," Bloom explained, while declining to name the supplier. The carefully guarded product is imported every few weeks via United Air Cargo and eventually layered on top of the thoroughly-spread cream cheese.
Next up are thinly-sliced red onions and a sprinkling of capers. The sandwich is served open-faced (Bloom's preference) or folded.
The Pastrami Sausage Breakfast Sandwich
Pork is verboten at Wise Sons, making the shop's breakfast meat offerings a tad more inventive. One such option is the pastrami breakfast sausage (there's also pastrami "bacon"), made with housemade ground pastrami, ground chicken, brown sugar, fennel, chili flakes and garlic powder. It gets a quick fry on the grill, topped with melted Tillamook cheddar cheese.
The egg portion is a custard-like frittata made in a steam oven "so it's airy and light," Bloom said. Each portion gets heated up to order.
The bundle then gets placed atop a garlic aioli-dressed toasted bagel of your choice.
The West Coast Veggie Sandwich
This being San Francisco, Wise Sons felt the need to stick it to the East Coast just a little and are offering two versions of vegetable sandwiches: the West Cost and the East Coast. "It's the whole, 'I'm from New York and I know bagels.' Those are the people that are gonna come in here and order a tomato in the middle of winter, and it's gonna taste like shit," Bloom said. "So we have the East Coast veggie sandwich that comes with hothouse [greenhouse-grown] tomatoes — we're calling it out — cucumbers, red onions, radish, cream cheese. Your standard loaded veggie sandwich."
The West Coast version, on the other hand, is (of course) seasonally- and produce- driven, starting with hummus made in house and spread across both toasted halves.
Next up is the squash steak (currently kuri squash but rotating seasonally — think zucchini in the summer), which is roasted with shawarma spice blend for a Middle Eastern flavor.
Then it's topped with housemade pickled red onions and a market green mix of sprouts, arugula and picked herbs.
It's an intimidating bite, but compresses nicely once compacted and cut.
Wise Sons Bagels & Bakery opens this Friday, February 26 at 7 a.m. Stay tuned for the full menu and a look inside.