Like most of Portland’s great food finds, you have to work all the angles to get a Bernstein’s Bagel. First off, the mostly take-out St. Johns shop (opened in 2017) has limited daily hours, which fold at 1:30 p.m. If you want ‘em hot (and, of course, you do), arrive at 7:30 a.m. weekdays or 8:30 a.m. on weekends. Even so: expect to wait in line. A funky, gravel-floored back “patio” (think: DIY foodie pig pen) sports limited tables, but be warned: heat lamps are not in the cards here. In fact, the heating system is basically the kitchen oven and steam from a boiling kettle.
But the vibe is chill and friendly … lest you ask for a “raisin bagel” and the Bernstein counter-service snarl unfurls. You are in purist territory: traditional ingredients, traditional methods (slow-rise dough; boiling or else; hand-rolled, a rarity these days; and topped with classic seeds or salt). And god love them for it. These are the bagels we’ve been waiting for.
Bernstein’s has largely been a word-or-mouth phenomenon (day one: the whole batch sold out in two hours). That will change soon. As Eat Beat has learned, owners and musician friends Noah Bernstein and Peter Hurteau have inked a five-year lease on the former Mint craft cocktail bar, a well-windowed corner space in a historic building at 816 N Russell St. Currently, they’re rehabbing the room, with plans (a.k.a. “hopes”) to swing open Saturday, December 22 with some two dozen seats, expanded kitchen room, and, yes, real heat. Thoughts and prayers.
For now, both places will share the same hours and menu: eight bagels (nine, if you count the terrific, weekend-only pumpernickel), a core of schmears plus seasonal options, and bagel sandwiches. And coffee is still pump-your-own local roaster Nossa Familia. With a bigger kitchen, the hope is to have hot bagels more often throughout service. And, with time, Bernstein’s on Russell might add breakfast cocktails, pizza bagels made with olive oil and rosemary (yes, it’s a thing), and happy hour on Blazer game nights—like many Portland chefs, Bernstein and Hurteau are hard-core fans.
The biggest challenge will be to scale up and to work on consistency. Currently, Bernstein’s sells 300–500 bagels a day. They’re usually very good, especially the crunchy-topped, seed-encrusted poppy-seed, the well-balanced “everything,” and the aforementioned pumpernickel. But, given variable temperature at the St Johns shop, doughy pockets are not unknown.
If all goes according to plan, you will know when the new outpost is open. Bernstein’s, keeping to its garage-rock ethos, does no PR or advertising. Even a sign may simply be too much. “Drive down the streets these days and there’s a million places, a million signs, but you don’t know what anything is," says Hurteau. “Something will say hot bagels here. Maybe just looking in the window.”