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Making a proper bagel doesn’t always come naturally for those born and raised in the Beehive State — the skill doesn’t seem to be embedded in our culinary DNA like it is for those hailing from New York or New Jersey.
Fortunately, we’ve learned to leave it to the experts who have moved to the state from the East Coast and are more knowledgeable about this boiled and baked bread.
In fact, the state’s best bagels — according to respondents in a recent unscientific Salt Lake Tribune online poll — are all created by transplants who, to their palates, couldn’t find a decent one when they moved to Utah, so they decided to craft their own.
The Bagel Project in Salt Lake City was the overwhelming favorite, amassing 287 of the 601 votes cast.
Here’s a snapshot of each winning business and why our readers say they make the Best Bagels in Utah.
The Bagel Project
The prize-worthy bagels offered by The Bagel Project are no accident. Founder, owner and New York native Robb Abrams — who confesses to being “obsessed about details” — developed a recipe that takes three days and many employee hours to complete.
First, a French dough starter — something akin to what is used for sourdough bread — is prepared and allowed to ferment for 24 hours.
The next day, it serves as the base for making a dough free of sugar, preservatives, conditioners and eggs. (All the bagels are vegan.)
After the dough has been shaped into its recognizable round form, it rests, or “proofs,” in coolers for 24 to 48 hours before being boiled and baked.
The process creates the perfect crust, crumb and slightly nutty flavor that Abrams couldn’t find in Utah more than a decade ago when his family first moved here.
Abrams “hemmed and hawed” about the lack of bagels for three years, he said, until his wife persuaded him to make his own.
Thus was born his personal bagel project. He bought different types of flour — 400 pounds in all — and experimented for several months until he developed his final recipe.
He sent the bagels to the Salt Lake City office of Goldman Sachs — where his wife and many other Eastern transplants worked — for feedback. He got impressive reviews and, he said, ultimately busted the myth that one needs New York water to make a perfect bagel.
Abrams initially launched The Bagel Project at Salt Lake City’s Winter Market and, for several years, had a booth at the Downtown Farmers Market at Pioneer Park. Customers eventually got him to open a permanent shop so they didn’t have to wait until Saturday to get bagels.
In addition to traditional bagels, The Bagel Project also makes bialys, a soft, chewy pastry that originated Poland. The texture is similar to an English muffin and the center dimple is filled with caramelized onions and poppy seeds.
“As far as I know,” Abrams said, we are the only establishment in the state of Utah that makes them.”
The Bagel Project’s loyal following has come mostly by word of mouth and social media.
“Now we have customers who say they take our bagels on the plane when they go back East, rather than the other way around,” he said. “It’s those stories that keep me in the business.”
The Bagel Project • 779 S. 500 East, Salt Lake City, 801-906-0698 or bagelproject.com. Open every day except Monday, from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The Bagel Den
Matt Johnston debuted The Bagel Den in 2018 after managing a store for a nationally owned bagel franchise.
“I really wanted to open my own shop and do things differently,” said the native of upstate New York.
Johnston makes his bagels using a raw, flash-frozen dough shipped from New York. Once the dough arrives, he said, “we do all the fermenting, proofing, steaming and baking in house.”
Yes, he said, achieving the crusty outside and chewy inside is possible using a high-tech steaming oven rather than boiling.
Johnston moved to Kamas six years ago along with his wife and kids — in part because of the recreational opportunities.
“But whenever we’d go hiking or skiing,” he said, " we’d come through Heber City, and I’d think, ‘This place needs a bagel shop.’”
When The Bagel Den opened, Johnston was surprised by how many customers had never eaten a bagel. Since then, he has won them over, not just with his bagels, sandwiches and other homemade products but also with customer service.
“On the weekends, we have people coming from Logan, Spanish Fork, Ogden and Salt Lake,” he said. “It’s cool.”
The Bagel Den has been able to expand its customer base beyond Heber City during the pandemic by teaming with Wasatch Milk’s weekly delivery service. Customers in Salt Lake City and Park City can order bagels — along with milk, eggs and cheese — and have them delivered to their homes.
The Bagel Den • 570 N. Main, Heber City; 435-654-3193 or thebagelden.com. Open every day from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Cheryl Mignone began making bagels in her Kaysville home during the pandemic simply because she and her family — as recent transplants from New Jersey — couldn’t find a Utah bagel reminiscent of the crusty and chewy bagels of their East Coast heritage.
And so Mignone, a seasoned businesswoman, started making bagels in the family kitchen. “I love a challenge and learning new things,” she said, recalling the early trials. “Everything was covered in a dusting of flour.”
Her husband and teenage sons were her trusted advisers and tasters throughout the testing process that began in May, helping her recall details of their favorite bagel shop: Kinderkamack Hot Bagels in River Edge, N.J. After visiting her muse during the holiday season, Mignone said, “We concluded, I have truly replicated an East Coast bagel in Utah, by taste, texture and look. The only difference I found is that I go heavier on the toppings on my bagels.”
Mignone rolls, boils and bakes each bagel by hand — but now from her food-grade kitchen. “I pride myself on using simple ingredients and old-school methods,” she said. “It takes time, patience and strong arms to make good bagels.” She even signs each bag bearing her products by hand.
In early February, she’ll begin offering pickup in Sandy on Mondays. But order ahead: These bagels go fast.
Mignone has upped her baking days from one to four per week, but customers often must order their bagels at least two weeks in advance. “I’m still not used to the concept that people really appreciate my bagels,” she said with a laugh.
Cheryls Bagels • Order bagels at CherylsBagels.com for pickup in Kaysville.
Heather L. King owns www.slclunches.com and can be found on social media @slclunches.