My local coffee shop, Grind Shop, makes amazing coffee. I’m not entirely sure I’m qualified to say they have the best coffee in JC since on the weekdays my coffee usually comes from one of the big corporate sweatshops, and, on most weekends, from an industrial sized vat of Kirkland brand coffee. I think I view coffee more as a utility or at the very least as purely functional. I want to drink something that resembles iron and will generate genuine paranoia about my cardiovascular health. I want coffee that gives me the Patrick Ewing foul line flop sweat; the kind of coffee that makes you wish you wore a darker shirt.
“That’s a damn fine cup of coffee”
In addition to coffee, Grind Shop also provides small bites to eat like pastries and donuts and bagels and these little egg things that are apparently cool to just leave hanging out at room temp – all on the good side of meh and generally worth the price of admission. I’m not a donut fan, but they also get theirs from Donut Plant, which causes some deserved nip twisting from legioned BeLa patrons. They don’t make them, so I can’t give them all the credit. Instead, they consign them like your grandma’s old credenza, or a stuffed deer head.
Despite the bright and delicious donuts, the bagel stood out in particular to me because it was loaded with these micro-blisters that are typically a great sign when choosing certain baked goods. It also helped that it was fucking delicious. Their scallion cream cheese had about twice as much scallion as generic varieties which was also appreciated. I learned later that Grind Shop was allegedly getting their bagels from famous NYC bakery Balthazaar, which is something they totally didn’t have to do but did anyway because they give a shit. Their bagels have since changed, leaving me to wander the earth bagel-less, searching.
This is a great example of the impact you can have when you give the smallest of fucks. The same cannot be said for Wonder Bagels, the Knicks colored bagel shop on Jersey Ave that has been expanding in Von Neumann-esque fashion across Hudson County.
For this piece I’m going to focus on their Jersey Ave location, though I’ve been to 3 others and had similarly bad to average quality bagels. I’m only going to talk briefly about the quality of their bagels because a) what I’m going to say is predictable/boring and b) its probably the least important part of this .
I like to measure them against my own taste, but you should also check out Serious Eats’ comprehensive look at what makes a good bagel.
- Variety is good, and the standard bagels (like everything and sesame) are satisfyingly traditional
- They put an amount of cream cheese on a bagel that is consumable by one human being, in one sitting. No cheese bricks.
- The price point is good
- The brand has spread outside of downtown and has outposts in Greenville, West Side, Journal Square, and even Bayonne. This should be commended.
- Most of the time the bagels don’t have holes. A bagel needs a hole. There are not many governing laws of bagels, but this one is pretty fucking important. Like prostitutes, bagels need to have a hole to do their job. When a bagel does not have a hole, it is generally considered to be a roll or a loaf, not a fucking bagel. Not having a hole is a sign of lazy fucking bagel making. As the bagel gets shaped, the dough needs to be stretched to ensure that the highly elastic gluten doesn’t snap back into its original form during the boil and bake. If you’re trying to churn out a ton of bagels to meet the demand of a seemingly endless hoard of Brad’s and cameltoe-ing yoga-panters, you might say “fuck the stretching”.
- The dimensions of these bagels are bizarre. They’re tall, but also chode like. If you were to just eat the bagel like a normie, by not dissecting into quarters and instead just shoving a half into your face hole, you’d need the mandibular range of a boa constrictor to take the first bite. My recommendation is to skip the whole mouth part and just boof it for the nutrients.
- The eggs always taste a little bit like farts. Not important in the bagel sense, just worth noting.
- You absolutely have to toast these bagels. Eating one of these untoasted is like trying to chew your own inner thigh.
Despite these substantial critiques, I think there is still a time and a place for Wonder Bagel. Why? To get the full picture we need go on a journey outside of Jersey City to a magical land of opioid addiction, generational racism, and a lot of fucking Pine trees: Ocean County.
The area in the map below contains 3 or 4 shitty little towns in Ocean County that are practically indistinguishable from one another. The combined population of these towns is just shy of 60,000. When you remove bagel shops from LBI/Seaside (the beach) and Tom’s River (substantially larger population), as well as any Dunkin’ Donuts or other large chains that force you to schmear your own bagel, you are left with 13 bagel shops. I’ve been to almost all of them in my life long quest to have a full C-cup, some of them are really good and some are just OK. But the floor is incredibly high here because competition is high. Per capita, there is 1 bagel shop for every 4,600 residents. If Sunrise Bagels has shitty bagels (which they do, despite having some DDD type heart-attack inducing breakfast wraps), then I’ll just go to J.T’s ad infinitum. It’s a buyers market.
The opposite is true for Jersey City, which has a population of roughly 260,000 people and 8 bagels shops. Of those eight, six of them are Wonder Bagels. You may say “Yeah, but I can get a bagel or a breakfast sandwich at my bodega or coffee shop”. While that is true, that does not a bagel shop make. They don’t bake them; they come from a giant sleeve that contains 11 other bagels. Admit it, you don’t actually enjoy them. Except for Grind Shop.
In Jersey City, there is one for every 37,000 people, nearly 8 times higher than Ocean Co. despite ALL. OF. THIS. SHIT. That seems pretty fucking weak for a city that SHOULD have bagels shops. JC isn’t Anchorage or Birmingham; it’s a city in the NYC metro-area. Outside of Montreal, this is the part of the continent you go to for bagels. And if you’re keeping score at home and have realized that 260,000 divided into 8 is not 37,000 that’s because Downtown Bagel Corp. is also fucking Wonder Bagels.
There is room for utility bagel shops much like utility pizza shops or corner delis. It should be a spectrum, not a designation. Wonder Bagels doesn’t have the price point or the quality that comes with the boujee artisanal bakeries, or the generational bagel makers, but it does have the line. Even on weekdays people are lined-up down the block to get these things. In addition to this, they don’t claim to be anything other than a utility bagel shop. We’ve placed them on a pedestal because it’s the only show in town and we equate a long ass line with high quality. I’m definitely guilty of this. The line down the block is our fault. They’re a utility bagel shop that is serviceable when you really need a bagel and don’t have any other options – which we don’t.
Like a many things, this is a problem that can be solved by adding diversity and choice. We’ve got room for Wonder Bagels to exist, just not exist in a vacuum. To this end, Wonder Bagel is expanding and profiting off of our self-inflicted Inception. Good for them, we live in a capitalist society blah blah blah. But this should highlight the huge void in the market that is begging for someone to open up a decent bagel spot. This opportunity will hopefully inspire someone to set up shop and start making something better.
You should totally open a bagel shop. Everyone will love it.
Nice Things rating:
I created Nice Things because I want us to have nice things. So if you enjoyed what you read, share it with your friends. You can follow me on Instagram @NiceThingsJC