If anyone ever asks you where to find the best bagels, you cannot answer the question until you have settled on geography.  When it comes to bagels, our very own planet earth is divided into two major bagel regions:  Montreal and Everywhere Else. 

If you (unfortunately in this scenario) are Everywhere Else, and are asked where to find the best bagels, the answer is simple.  The best bagels on the planet may be found anywhere on the island of Montreal.  Any bagel on this island automatically reigns supreme, over any bagel, at any time, found Everywhere Else.  I have even had bagels from depanneurs, day-olds, which kicked the butt of bagels outside this particular bagel region.  New York bagels are like hamburger buns compared to the ones from Montreal.  In London, they are the size of a Frisbee, and mysteriously lack any and all flavour.  Even in other parts of Canada, don’t bother with a bagel, have bread.  Trust me.

Now, if you are asked where to find the best bagels, and you are in fact referring to the bagel region of Montreal, this question is not so easily answered.  No sir, on this fair bagel island, there is plethora of choice, and lots of passion for one bakery vs. another.  You really can’t go wrong, but usually the debate revolves around Fairmount vs. St Viateur bagels.

I took one for the team and visited both original locations in hopes of definitively making a call on which is the best.  I’m kinda self-less when it comes to stuff like this.  Its hard work, but worth it in the end.

The bagel rivals are only a few blocks apart – east of Ave de Parc north of Laurier.  Both 24/7 operations are extremely unassuming, and likely not had a reno in say, 40 years, give or take.  Both have sesame seeds everywhere you look, mounds of fresh hand shaped bagels and wonderfully smelling wood burning ovens.

Fairmount was started in 1919 when Isadore Shlafman brought his recipe from Eastern Europe to Montreal and opened the city’s very first bagel bakery.  In 1949, he moved his operation from St Laurent to Fairmount Street and renamed his operation.   Today, his grandchildren run the business according to his original recipes and traditions.

St. Viateur is a newcomer, really, having only been in business for 54 years.  The original Lewkowicz family (said to be former

St Viateur - fresh from the oven
St Viateur - fresh from the oven

employees of Shlafman over at Fairmount) have been replaced by Joe Marena, who boasts an impressive 45 years in the bagel business. 

On the morning of my reconnaissance mission I get a dozen sesame from each location.  They are warm, fresh from the oven, and my little rental car is instantly encased with an intoxicating aroma.  I try them straight from the bag, eating as I drive, sesame seeds permeating every crevice of the vehicle.  Honestly, they are heavenly – soft, chewy, slightly sweet, slightly smoky where some parts have gotten a little too close to the fire.  Perfect.  They require nothing.  This euphoric state does not last long for a Montreal bagel.  Once cool they become chewier, and beg for the toaster, cream cheese and smoked salmon.

When you buy a warm dozen from either spot, they place them in a paper bag and stuff a few plastic bags in for later – that is if you don’t eat them all in the car while they are warm.  If like me, you are transporting extra bagels to Everywhere Else, I strongly suggest that when you get home, you promptly slice each bagel in half, place them in the plastic bags and freeze, so that at a moment’s notice you can pop a slice of Montreal heaven in the toaster.

And so, which is the best bagel in Montreal?  It’s a tough call.  So close.  I’d be thrilled to find either one on my breakfast table.  On the one hand, I marginally prefer Fairmount’s more intense sweetness.  On the other, St Viateur offers mail order.  Six dozen delivered right to your door, simply by a click of the mouse.  Just remember to slice and freeze when you get them.

I can’t decide.  The results are inconclusive.  If only Montreal bagels were available Everywhere Else.  I think I better go back and duplicate my test.



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