Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Bohemia Bagel Express (Closed)

** This Bohemia Bagel outlet closed down on October 10, 2008

Stewardess: Bagel?
Passenger: Is it from New York or DC?
Stewardess: Oh, I'm sorry, it's from DC.
Passenger: Thank you for understanding why that's important.

-Delta plane from DC to NY, Overheard in New York
That exchange just about says it all.

With New Yorkers, there is a certain snobbery when it comes to New York bagels. They'll tell you there's something special in the city's water. It makes the bagel interior fluffier, the outer crust crunchier. They say they can't be duplicated anywhere else, that nothing else comes close.

Of course, they're right. It's just that almost no one else really cares.

Message: I care.

But I'm not a fanatic. I grew up near New York City, and I do appreciate my hometown bagels above others. But I am not so much of a snob that I can't enjoy a non-New York bagel.

Prague really has only a few bagel outposts. Bohemia Bagel is a small, but slowly expanding chain here that sells reasonable iterations of bagels in Prague. I most often hit the small shack that houses the Bohemia Bagel Express at Tylovo námestí, about halfway between Wenceslas Square and Náměstí Miru.

They do make bagel sandwiches. If you know me, you know that my quest for a good sandwich is never-ending. I will start off by saying that I don't think bagels are the best base material for sandwiches.

So, even I am rather surprised to announce that the Bohemia Bagel chicken salad "sandwich" has achieved current favorite sandwich status. You can pick one up yourself for 79 CZK.

First, I almost always get my bagel sandwiches made with garlic bagels. Toasted. I tried it untoasted once to avoid the extra waiting time. A mistake. Too chewy.

But it is the chicken salad itself that's really special. It is one of the best versions I've ever had, besides homemade.

It's got your basic chicken chunks with plenty of mayo. I like extra mayo. But it also includes finely chopped basil leaves, sun-dried tomatoes, and red onions. The tomato tints the mayo slightly pink.

The bagel sandwich also includes lettuce, fresh tomato and red onion slices. For an extra 10 CZK, they'll melt cheese on it, but I've always said no to that. The chicken salad is delicious by itself.

For a change of pace, I tried the pastrami sandwich, also on a garlic bagel, for 89 CZK. It includes American bacon, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, mustard, mayonnaise, and melted Swiss cheese. Heavy.

The pastrami, served warm, is not something that a New Yorker would recognize as real pastrami. It's not bad, but more like a supermarket cold cut than the smoked, salted, and peppered beef I get when I go back home.
When I ordered this "sandwich," I got all the included extras because it just says "Pastrami sandwich" on the menu on the wall. Another mistake.

First, the lettuce wilted badly from the heat. But, more significantly, I remembered a lesson from my youth. I was watching the scene from Woody Allen's "Annie Hall," where she goes with him to a New York deli and orders pastrami on white bread with mayonnaise, tomatoes and lettuce.

This is a quick, casual joke aimed squarely at New Yorkers. I first saw that movie with my father, and he burst out laughing at that scene. Still a novice, I asked what what was so funny.

"Some things are just not done," he explained.

Lesson: Mustard and rye bread go with pastrami. Lettuce, tomatoes, and mayo and white bread do not. Ever. Onions maybe. Bacon is not correct, but doesn't feel wrong for some reason.

You can easily tell the server at the Bohemia Bagel Express window to include or exclude anything you want. Everyone working there seem to speak English. They'll speak it even if you try to speak Czech.

One morning, I needed to get something in my stomach quickly and I happened to be in the area. I got a toasted cinnamon raisin bagel for 49 CZK. It is made with real American-style cream cheese, which they call "Philadelphia" here.

The tangy-creamy spread is the real deal and not so easy to find in Prague. It can also be ordered with veggie cream cheese, but this is not a recommended combination for a cinnamon raisin bagel.

The bagel has a little sweetness, mostly from the raisins. Toasting is a must. This is a great breakfast on the run and will keep your motor going and your stomach from growling for hours. A cup of regular filter coffee to go with it is only an extra 10 CZK.

It usually takes five minutes or so to get an order complete. So, for an approximate waiting time, multiply five minutes by the number of people standing in front of you, if there is a line.

I got good at figuring waiting times after working as a host at a restaurant on Charing Cross Road in London. One trick of the trade: Always overestimate. Anyway, I usually won't stop if there's more than one person standing there.

During warmer months, there are just a few tables in front of the shack on the street corner. If those are full, you could also join the mix of office workers and other strange characters on a bench at Tylovo namesti. Otherwise, take it to go.

They do have a bacon, egg, and cheese bagel sandwich for 59 CZK, with the same 10 CZK extra deal for coffee. I had this once at the Újezd location in Mala Strana. Didn't like it. The egg was a perfectly formed disc that came from a warming tray. The bacon was pre-cooked and hard as a rock, very difficult to chew. The whole thing wasn't very warm.

I used to pass by the original Mala Strana restaurant fairly often, but it closed in 2007. There are still a few other locations around the city.I did once try the pulled pork sandwich with barbecue sauce (125 CZK). I remember I was not happy because the meat wasn't warm enough. The fries, which appeared to be hand-cut and made in-house, were limp. But that was long ago.

The Bohemia Bagel at Újezd does not exist any more. Here's an update post on that story.But the other locations have similar menus and a number of other American style breakfasts, including pancakes, omelettes, and biscuits with gravy. The pancakes at Újezd were not great when I tried them, a bit leathery. V had a vegetarian chili for 115 CZK that she said was pretty good.

The service at the Mala Strana location used to be painfully slow on a busy weekend afternoon.
I will confess that I very much liked their apple pie, which I believe was 50 CZK a slice. It has a nice, sweet lemon-cinnamon flavor. The crust used to be better, a little flakier, but it is still quite good and holds together well. Several times, I've ordered whole ones for around 500 CZK to serve at parties, and it disappeared fast.

The brownies for 30 CZK are also something I'll pick up now and again. Very fudgey and rich.

Some people like Bohemia Bagel shops. I know at least one other New Yorker who regularly picks up a dozen bagels to go. Some people don't. Some are just flat-out chicken salad freaks.

Tastes in these matters are formed by a wide variery of ethnic, geographical, and socioeconomic factors. My view is that everyone is entitled to their opinion.

Even New Yorkers.

Thank you for understanding why that's important.

Bohemia Bagel Express
Tylovo námestí
Prague 2

Tel: (+420) 603 196 636
Open: Mon - Fri 7:00 - 22:00
Sat + Sun 8:00 - 22:00

Bohemia Bagel (Original location)
Újezd 16
Prague 1
Tel: (+420) 257 310 694
Open: Mon - Fri 7:00 12:00
Sat + Sun 8:00 - 12:00


Anonymous said...

A college roommate from NY taught me a nice trick when making tuna or chicken salad bagel sandwiches at home.

After cutting it in half, hollow out one or both sides so you can fill the bagel with the salad. That way when you eat it, it doesn't ooze out the other side and youmcan always use the innards for fresh bread crumbs later.

Open faced tuna salad bagel broiled with melted cheese on top...damn am getting hungry just remembering.

Anonymous said...

I work nearby and I often buy my lunch at BB, a favorite of mine is the Italian sandwich, it comes with real mozzarella, dried tomatoes, fresh basil and pesto. It's extremely good but I usually eat it at work because it tends to ooze.

Brewsta said...

Good tips. I often use the same "hollow out" technique with ciabattas.

Martin Mráz said...

New York bagels are good, of course, and Bohemia Bagels are a not-bad imitation of them, I agree. But have you ever had a Montreal bagel? They're something else again, and truly amazing when fresh from the oven...

Brewsta said...

I once spent a few hours driving around Montreal, but didn't have the good fortune to try a bagel there.

Like the Monteal version, a fresh New York bagel is great even when untoasted. Still crunchy and light. A Bohemia bagel is decent, but I will always toast.

Anonymous said...

In Tokyo you wait in line. Locals have no clue of any other kind of bagels and are very satisfied.

Nobody mentiones Chicago, as always. Even our hot dogs are different and better then in N.Y.

Brewsta said...

But if I give kudos to Chicago, then the Philly people will be upset about being left out.

Anonymous said...

As a New Zealander, I never really knew what the fuss about bagels was about. But after doing a stint in Canada, learnt to love a bagel with cream cheese. The Philidelphia branded cream cheese is known to us outside of USA and works wonders. You mention it in your article as being hard to find... any chance of letting on where to hunt it down. Especially if it has the one that is smoked salmon flavoured (I don't know if it's sacrilege to have flavoured cream cheese in your culture, but it heavily contributed to my then routine breakfast of it smeared over a toasted bagel).

Brewsta said...

It is possible to get Philadelphia brand cream cheese in Prague, but it is expensive. The two places I know that have carried it are:

Culinaria --

Robertsons --

Czech Lucina cheese is similar, but I think it doesn't spread so well.

You might also appreciate this discussion on the topic: