The Complicated, Triumphant Return of Portland’s Honey Bagel
Sometimes miracles happen. In the pandemic spring of 2021, when all hope seemed lost, Honey Bagel charged into Portland like the wizard Gandalf blinding the dark forces with holy light. Word of mouth spread quickly: some of the best bagels in the land were surfacing at a weekly pop-up at Pizza Jerk. Flavors were familiar, but Honey Bagel was in its own lane—big, bold, hand-formed, and tasting somewhere between a great deli and the Beastie Boys.
I called it Portland's next great bagel. Honestly? Honey Bagel may have been Portland's best bagel, ever. Lines were out of control. And then … poof. They were gone—a shooting star without a business plan or a profit.
But mark your calendars for November 7. After 18 months, Honey Bagels is back as a Monday pop-up at Cafe Olli.
For now, most of the repertoire will return: plain, poppy, salt, cinnamon-raisin, sesame, and a vivid everything bagel, fragrant with fennel seeds. The chocolate bagel is back, too. Don't give me that purist cringe. For what is a babka if not bread and chocolate? Yes, in most hands, it would be a monstrosity, a crime against nature. But Honey Bagel’s is more savory than sweet. It reminded me of chocolate Twizzlers—chewy, cocoa-y, kind of naughty.
So that’s the good news. The not so good? Honey Bagel will be pre-order only via the Fairbanks Bread website. Online orders open 9 a.m. on Saturday for pickup the following Monday. Think trying to score a Kann reservation. There are only so many bagels in play. You've been warned.
Honey Bagel’s solo operator Josh Fairbanks (formerly known as Sales) isn’t trying to be twee. As the Pizza Jerk pop-up blew up, a reality set in: Despite long lines, Honey Bagel never turned a profit, given labor and price. “It didn’t make sense,” says Fairbanks, “other than me loving to make them and people loving to eat them.” Beyond this, he says, pre-orders will save the heartbreak of people who stood in line for an hour only to find him sold out. Prices have also risen, from $2 to $3.
He may not be the best businessman, but Fairbanks, who trained at San Francisco's esteemed Tartine Bakery, is a terrific bread thinker. Ask him about his bagel theories and he immediately quotes Thelonious Monk. He spent years perfecting his own bagel, adding East Coast “boil or die” rigor, a love of pushing temperatures for a darker crust, and the subtle honeyed tones of the Montreal bagel school. Each one feels very handmade, alive, rugged.
His approach is akin to bread-baking, backed by three kinds of regional flours and a natural pre-fermented sponge that rises overnight and kickstarts flavor. But Fairbanks also adds some good old supermarket yeast, which says adds a nostalgic pull and chew. A similar philosophy fuels his Fairbanks Bread loaves, also available for pickup on Mondays.
Did I mention pickup time is between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m.? Not a.m., but p.m. That means bagels for dinner. Weird for most people, but worth considering: my mom served bagels as bread for dinner because everyone loved them. Or, warm or toast them in the morning. Nothing wrong with a toasted Honey Bagel. Or, as Fairbanks suggests: “Eat at least one in the car.”