Photos: Inside The Hip Underground Bagel Brunch You Haven't Heard Of
Belle's Bagels isn't your average bagel-maker. The brains behind this local outfit are trying to bring to L.A. a different take on the doughy wheels we love. And on the right track, they launched their first "Belle's Underground Brunch" event at the baker's Eagle Rock home over the weekend.
It's 11 a.m. on a Sunday at Nick Schreiber's house. The bearded Emerson College graduate who hasn't slept in two days on account of how much baking he's been doing has welcomed guests to his home (some he knows, some he doesn't—but he doesn't mind either way) to nosh on his bagel creations. His front lawn is set up with long tables and chairs and strewn lights, as well as his backyard. Metal serving trays with painted signs that say "Bagels" point guests in the direction of the food. When you get to his backyard, there's a bar set up with a Belle's Bagels sign with the words, "Come eat me bro" written underneath it in chalk. His girlfriend and co-owner J.D. Rocchio are taking orders (with suggested donations) and handing out PBRs and mimosas under some trees.
"I want to be your neighborhood bagel provider," Schreiber tells LAist. "I want people to trust me and know what I’m doing and make it as transparent as possible: by inviting people into my home, seeing where I live, eating some food, hanging out."
As of now, Belle's Bagels are catering at events, with the ultimate goal of opening a brick and mortar (possibly with the help of a Kickstarter). Schreiber started Belle's Bagels two-and-a-half years ago with the hopes of bringing L.A. "a good bagel," he says. He firmly believes you won't be getting a New York-style bagel in L.A. mostly because we're not in New York (and no, he doesn't think the water has much to do with it), which led him to make his own style.
He told his mother his idea to start making bagels, but also told her how much he loathed baking. She reassured him: “Your great grandmother, Belle, was a great Romanian baker so maybe you just have it in you."
Maybe it is in his blood. Schreiber's come a long way since those first days of researching everything he could about bagels. As a former eight-year vegan, he wanted to make sure his bagels are vegan-friendly (save for one cheese bagel variety). Even the glaze on the bagels aren't from an egg wash, but rather malt syrup doing the work. The sugar is vegan and he makes sure there aren't any bone char used. There aren't any dough conditioners in his bagels and he buys flour sourced from responsibly-grown and family-run small farms.
His signature Belle's Breakfast Sandwich has an egg, arugula, fine herbes salsa verde (a herb mix including chives, tarragon, chervil and parsley in an oily chimichurri sauce), sheep's milk feta, and bacon cured in-house.
"I really got into curing," he says. "The bacon’s all cured by me. I like to call it a Jewish-spiced bacon. It’s really nontraditional in that sense. It’s spiced with star anise and mace, but built off a base of coriander and black pepper which ties into Jewish pastrami. I’m Jewish culturally, not religiously. I love taking the food I grew up with and flipping it around."
He also created a Ras El Hanout Bagel topped with lebne (a yogurt cheese alternative to cream cheese), pomegranate molasses, pistachio nuts, and olive oil. Schreiber created the Ras El Hanout Bagel out of necessity because Rocchio told him the most popular bagel out there is the cinnamon raisin bagel and he would need to make that for their business. The only problem was that Schreiber hated cinnamon raisin bagels, so he whipped up one that would use currants instead of raisins because they were less sweet. He also used a Moroccan spice blend called Ras El Hanout that includes cinnamon but also other ingredients such as coriander, cardamom, turmeric, cayenne, and fennel—for a sweet and spicy bagel.
Schreiber hopes to hold his Belle's Underground Brunch once a month and move it to a bigger venue when the time comes. Belle's Bagels operates under a Cottage Food Permit which allows a small subset of food (including bread and bagels) to be prepared in a home kitchen and sold to the public. In the meantime, they get a lot of their business through word of mouth:
"The normal situation is that I just get a random text message from a random number [saying] like, 'Hey, I need bagels. Can you do it?'
"'Yeah, I got it. I’m your bagel pusher man.'"