Food News

Honey Bagel Is Portland’s Next Great Boiled Ring

Yes, food critic Karen Brooks is dying on the hill of a pepper-cheese bagel.

By Karen Brooks March 2, 2021 Published in the Spring 2021 issue of Portland Monthly

Honey Bagel's cacio e pepe and chopped chocolate bagels may be heresy to some. We're here for it.

Image: Michael Novak

It started with a cryptic message on Instagram last fall: “So, we’re Honey Bagel!” The new account promised to pop up soon at Northeast’s Pizza Jerk with “crunchy, fluffy bagels boiled in honey water.” Words for a purist’s ears. But it also flaunted pictures of a work in progress: chopped chocolate bagels, a war crime where I come from. The results were bound to be special or horrid, so who could resist? I preordered a haul at the first chance in October.

The first thing you notice about a Honey Bagel is its size. Typically, a bagel as big as a spare tire is a warning: a Hindenburg will soon explode inside your stomach. I sliced open the sesame seed option, expecting to liposuction the innards—standard operating procedure before eating a bloated bagel, at least for me. But in what seemed like a magic trick, the interior was light, a bit airy and creamy like good French bread, while the outer ring, baked to the edge of darkness, shouted great crust, great chew. Next, I went straight for the crazy: a cacio e pepe bagel, which aims to translate Rome’s famed pecorino cheese and black pepper pasta into Bagel Language. But it was something else—a cracked black pepper attack that challenged the tingly heat delirium of Sichuan peppercorns. Meanwhile, thanks to the hot hearth, the grated pecorino formed a force field of cheese crust on the bottom. It’s overpowering alone, but makes a revolutionary sandwich canvas, paired perhaps with eggs and sausage or Honey Bagel’s scallion schmear, verdant with both raw and roasted green onions. 

The concept comes from Pizza Jerk mastermind Tommy Habetz and 27-year-old Portland newcomer Josh Sales, schooled at San Francisco’s esteemed Tartine Bakery. Sales pitched the concept to Habetz: bagels approached like bread, with a prefermented sponge that rises overnight and kick-starts flavor. While bonding over live Grateful Dead recordings at full blast, they formulated Portland’s next great bagel, hand-formed with East Coast seriousness, West Coast playfulness, and a big flavor profile.

Regular pop-ups at Pizza Jerk NE, 5028 NE 42nd Ave, will rev up every Friday and Saturday starting March 5—and beyond that, perhaps, a new business. For now, expect eight options, among them a vivid everything bagel, fragrant with fennel seeds. Blessedly, that chopped chocolate bagel has hints of savory as well as sweet. It reminded me of chocolate Twizzlers—chewy, cocoa-y, kind of naughty. Eat it like pan dulce, a sweet bun best dispatched with good coffee. 

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