My previous post on bagels from Rensselaer County and Northern Columbia County (Bagels: East of the River) has generated a lot of discussion among friends and acquaintances about what makes a good bagel and where the “go-to” places are in the Capital Region. So it was only a matter of time before I felt the need to follow up on the other side of the river.
This batch focused on bagel shops in Albany County and Saratoga County. I decided to try Wired Coffee and Bagel in Malta, West End Bagels in Clifton Park, Uncommon Grounds in Albany, and Golden Krust in Latham. Like last time, we ordered an untoasted everything bagel with veggie cream cheese at each location to compare the quality of toppings and flavored spreads.
Wired Coffee and Bagel
The first stop was Wired Coffee and Bagel in the land of suburban roundabouts, aka Malta. The shop had a younger crowd and a modern decor inside, with a good amount of indoor seating.
My first reaction to this bagel was that the oats in the topping mix were unique and interesting. But after a few bites, I realized that they didn’t add much to the taste. The topping was nearly half oat, and the rest of the traditional everything toppings were applied lightly. The resulting flavor was a bit too mild for my liking.
The cream cheese, on the other hand, was terrific. There was a heavy presence of dill, and lots of hearty vegetable chunks. At times I thought the dill was too overpowering (especially against the weaker flavor profile of the toppings), but it was different than other veggie cream cheeses I’ve had in the past, in a good way.
The bagel itself was fine, but nothing really stood out. It was on the dense side and didn’t have a strong distinction between the outer crust and the inside. A good bagel base, but not amazing.
West End Bagels
Despite being tucked away in a strip mall in Clifton Park, West End Bagels was packed by the time of my mid-morning visit. If I had a category for ordering experience, this place would be at the absolute bottom of the list and all future lists. You have to stand in one long line to order, and then another long line to pay, and then stand around in the cramped front area until your bagel is ready. It was hot and crowded and felt disorganized.
This bagel was so squished! I don’t feel like it looked that way when it was getting put together, and nothing happened to it in transit, so maybe some aggressive packaging was the culprit. The resulting cream cheese to bagel ratio wasn’t great.
I thought the toppings on this bagel were well balanced (although in looking at the picture again, the front left corner is too heavy with poppy seeds) and flavorful. The unique twist in this combination was a sprinkling of caraway seeds, which I absolutely adored. The cream cheese was average in taste and consistency, although it did have a fair amount of real vegetable chunks.
The bagel itself was far too soft. I strongly suspect that it just needed some more cooking time to crisp up, and that the staff pulled it out of the oven too soon to try to move some customers out of the door as lines continued to grow. The overly light and doughy texture was a distraction from the other elements of the bagel.
The Albany location of Uncommon Grounds was the only place I ate bagels during my first few years of living here, largely because I was a broke college student without a car. Even after my SUNY days I rented an apartment a block away, so I spent many mornings walking down for a quick breakfast. Am I slightly biased because of the sheer number of Uncommon Grounds bagels that I’ve eaten over the years? Possibly.
This bagel finally had some color to it and somewhat of a noticeable crust to the outer layer. And if there’s one thing that even Uncommon Grounds’ critics can agree on, it’s that the place doesn’t skimp on toppings. There was a heavy coating of classic everything garnishes, with an emphasis on the garlic and onion components. This bagel had the most robust flavor, but I tend to think it can be too overwhelming. The onion bits get almost burnt, which stands out in an interesting way for the first few bites, but by the end of the bagel it can be a little too much.
The bagel was the biggest out of the ones that we sampled in this round, and the dough was more light and bread-like than the others. The cream cheese was pretty generic in terms of veggie taste and consistency, and it lacked the more noticeable vegetable chunks that I always hope for.
I have to say that the name ‘Golden Krust’ doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence or seem particularly appealing. I don’t know anyone who frequents this place, but decided to add it to the roster when I saw it on the map along my route home from Saratoga County.
It turns out that my instincts about the name were pretty spot-on. The toppings were too lightly applied, and the bagel itself was bland and spongy. Although it did have a faint golden color, there was no crust to speak of, and it tasted vaguely stale. The cream cheese tasted more like a plain flavor, but with large chunks of tasteless vegetables mixed in. This included carrot as well as something purple, which we decided was most likely red cabbage.
Best Toppings – West End Bagels. There was a nice mix of classic everything toppings, but with the unexpected and tasty addition of caraway seeds. Uncommon Grounds was a close second place due to its dense and flavorful coating, but we thought it was a little too overpowering.
Best Cream Cheese – Wired Coffee and Bagel. Although the dill bordered on being too prominent, we all appreciated the uniqueness and bright vegetable flavors in this cream cheese.
Best Bagel – Uncommon Grounds. None of the bagels really stood out in terms of the crisp outer shell and chewier dough that I prefer, but Uncommon Grounds was the closest. We had our reservations about this choice, mostly because the proportions of the bagel aren’t perfect and it can be too doughy at times.
Best Overall – After much debate, we also gave the overall win to Uncommon Grounds, but with less enthusiasm than for our East of the River champ. None of the bagels really had the right dough consistency, but Uncommon Grounds scored well in most categories and didn’t have any major pitfalls. It had the most crispness and the strongest everything flavor.