11/27/2012 01:10:00 PM

On the Very Serious Subject of Wood-Fired Bagels at Reno

The everything bagel with white cheddar cream cheese at Reno.
Word spread quickly that the team behind Telegraph, Webster’s and Bluebird were opening a new Italian eatery in Logan Square. More important than the hearty pastas and pizzas topped with pork belly were the bagels. The restaurant declared they would serve breakfast, lunch and dinner including wood-fired bagels.

This is a big deal, for those not familiar with the current bagel landscape of Chicago, it’s bleak. Plagued with gluey wannabes and round bread. Would these new bagel fill the hole in our hearts and empty space in our stomach? When Reno opened today, we made a beeline to the corner of Milwaukee and Kedzie to conduct the ultimate taste test.

After ordering our bagel and coffee we took a seat at one of the many wood-plank tables. Surrounded by exposed bricks and large windows looking out to the square, we were a little nervous. This bagel had a lot of expectations surrounding it - years of Jewish brunches and pilgrimages to New York City. Did it live up to our high standards? No. Is that a bad thing? No.

Executive chef Johnny Anderes, whose cooking background is French and Mediterranean, 
pastry chef Katie Wyer were not seeking to make a bagel that competed with traditional style. Instead, they made a bagel that was uniquely Reno, and fit with the rustic Italian offering on the lunch and dinner menus.

Let’s break this bagel down. First and foremost they are cooked in a pizza oven. Six varieties are offered per day including one specialty such as curry. There are no plain bagels due to the harsh cooking method, but who needs plain when you can choose from olive & herb or everything with caraway, sesame, poppy, mustard seed, coco nibs and sumac.

The Montreal-style bagels are cooked 15 at a time in the 450-degree oven. A process of contently shuffling the bagels around the uneven heating surface for 8-10 minutes ensures proper baking. This labor-intensive process limits the restaurant to 205 bagels per day which are also used in breakfast sandwiches served with Stumptown coffee.

The texture of the bagel is one of the best in the city, light and slightly chewy without getting gummy such as its steamed impostor or dry such as it’s baked inferior. It has a crusty and slightly smoky exterior, a trait that will likely intensify for the better as that oven is broken in. The flavor of the bagel is very potent, highly seasoned without overpowering the doughy pastry.

In terms of toppings, we recommend going the schmears route rather than the cream cheese or butter. The options such as white cheddar cream cheeses or avocado stand up for the bold bagel flavors. On any given bagel you are going to get about a 2 to 1 bagel to schmear ratio. These bagels are significantly flatter than their forefathers without bridging the gap into bialy territory.

Long story short, when we want our old-school bagel fix, we will continue to trek out to the suburbs. But if it’s bold flavors in a cozy environment we crave, we will happily return to Reno.

P.S. like many of its Logan Square peers, this place is cash only. Be prepared, or that $2.50 bagel will double in price thanks to an ATM fee.

2607 N. Milwaukee Ave.; 773-697-4234

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