Up until this past year, fresh-baked bagels were not a large part of the Philadelphia food scene. Aside from Spread, there were virtually no other places that focused on these circular pieces of bread heaven. Thankfully, we now have some great options with Knead and Philly Style Bagels sharing their love for bagels with our city. Best of all, Philly Style Bagels ties in the local craft beer scene with the use of Yards IPA in their process.
Just about a year ago, Collin Shapiro and Jonathon Zilber held their first pop-up bagel shop on a Sunday at Pizzeria Beddia; but their story initially starts with some fish in their friend’s kitchen. “It all started with some cured salmon and a lack of bagels,” as Collin remembers it. Jon’s rendition of it makes it seem like a work of fate, “I think it was kind of shortsightedness in general. We’re going to cure the salmon and we’re going to eat it, but we didn’t really think about what we were going to eat it on. We didn’t have any bread [and] the stores were closed because it coincided with a storm. We just decided to make something real quick.” He continues, “Neither of us had ever made bagels at that point, but we’re just like ‘Let’s do it.’ We Googled a recipe and just went for it. We used a lot of ingredients, just whatever they said to do, we did. If you look online, there is no real consensus of how to make bagels. We made them according to this one recipe and they came out OK. They weren’t great, but they set off a light in our heads. We thought if they were this good and they weren’t even good, how good could they be if we refined our technique and figured out what our process is.”
“We got our recipe from AllRecipies.com,” Collin laughs looking back. That recipe was enough to get them hooked—they started meeting every Wednesday just to make bagels and figure out how to make them better each time.
“Eventually, we figured out that a day wasn’t enough time to do the recipe that we wanted. We were mixing our dough, shaping it, and boiling and baking within an hour or two. Then we figured out that we wanted to make the dough a day in advance so that it could ferment overnight because we would get better flavor that way. It turned from a two hour process into a two day process,” Jon recalls.
Always making more bagels then they could eat, the extras would be distributed among friends. One friend, who worked with the Hidden City Festival, liked them so much, he hired them to make bagels and salmon for a Sunday morning speaker series he held.
“We would go over to his house around ten to bake through the night. By the time you wait for the dough to rise and boil for three minutes, bake for twenty minutes… we only had one pizza stone at the time and we could only fit seven bagels on it and we had to do sixty bagels. Each round would take twenty-five minutes so we’d be there for a good six hours. The last time we made bagels for him, we were like, ‘OK, we’re done with this.’ We realized we could make six-times the amount in the same amount of time if we just had the right set-up,” says Jon.
A random meeting with Joe Beddia only reinforced the idea that this was a work of fate. Joe’s landlord has a property across the street from where Jon had just moved, and while walking his dog one day, he ran into Joe at his landlord’s place. “I knew him from working at Shot Tower when he would come pick-up coffee for Little Fish, back when he was working there. I hadn’t seen him in like a year. I started going in there to bring him stuff that I was working on and be like, ‘Just try this.’ I guess I was just buttering him up. At one point, I was there with my girlfriend to pick up a pizza. We were just hanging around waiting and Joe started talking about how ‘wouldn’t it be great if someone started making coffee here.’”
Always wanting to make coffee a part of their bagel concept, they sold Joe on the idea of letting them set-up shop in his pizzeria on Sunday mornings. “We had envisioned making pour-overs for people, but didn’t realize the demands of bagel production, so we quickly had to start going to get the coffee batch-brewed from ReAnimator or Shot Tower, so we would be free to make the bagels. They were more time-consuming than we though originally. That was our way in that he wanted coffee up there, but once he had our bagels, he was like, ‘OK, the bagels are really what’s important here.’”
The pop-ups began happening a few times a month as they continued to revise their recipe that now included four bottles of Yards IPA in their boil. “We looked into what people normally put in bagel boil water. We found out in Montreal that they use honey and in New York sometimes they’ll use a barley syrup, almost the same syrup you would use in a beer extract, so we figured why not just use beer,” Jon explains, on how it became a key part of the process and fitting for both of their roots as employees of The Foodery.
Using the pop-ups to raise the money to open a place of their own, Philly Style Bagels should have a home in Fishtown soon, right near the corner of Columbia and Frankford. Great news for anyone who has tried these wondrous bagels, as a couple times a month is not nearly often enough.