Last Saturday morning, during a ferocious downpour, I ran – OK, it was more like a brisk walk, but still – through the Fulton Farmers Market, where I was stopped short by the sight of a new stand.
New to me, anyway. The market, too; the Rise Bagel Co. was in the middle of its second appearance. Sisters/co-owners Kate and Jen Lloyd (they call themselves “bread heads”) were busy hawking a half-dozen varieties of bagels, and, seriously, wow.
The Lloyds' handiwork is what bagel fanatics so rarely encounter in the Twin Cities. They have the look down cold: beautifully golden rounds indented with navel-like centers. Even more impressive is the texture, a muscular heft and chew (a characteristic that a bagel-loving pal of mine solemnly refers to as “yank”) that the bagel chains can't seem to touch.
All the standards are present and accounted for, starting with a straight-up plain bagel. Some are topped with a coarse salt, others with sesame seeds, Asiago cheese or poppy seeds. Naturally, there's an "everything" version, and a cinnamon-sugar variation is a first step into a planned cinnamon-raisin entry. I'm still kicking myself for not buying the popular rosemary-olive oil bagel, but that gives me a reason to return.
The basic building block is an organic, high-gluten flour, and the recipe was developed over a year in the cramped kitchen of Jen's Loring Park condominium. Now that they're producing in retail-size quantities, the sisters have moved their boiling and baking operations into larger, more efficient quarters in a south Minneapolis commercial kitchen.
At the market, the format is simplicity itself, just bagels, a knife and cream cheese or peanut butter. The tangy, luscious cream cheese hails from Organic Valley, and it's applied with a generous hand.
There's a handful of cream cheese blends, including a lively, dill- and garlic-flecked veggie mix that's heavy on the cucumber. Still, the most popular combination is total bagel Puritanism: Plain bagel, with plain cream cheese.
"We were surprised by that, but then again, maybe not," said Kate. "After all, we’re in the Midwest.”
The sisters cater to peanut butter lovers with a trio of flavors -- Minnesota-sourced honey, cinnamon-raisin and semi-sweet chocolate -- from Buddy's, a partnership born, in part, from serendipity; Buddy's owner Andrew Kincheloe shares commercial kitchen space with the Lloyds, and the three entrepreneurs made a connection as immediate as, well, bagels and peanut butter.
Prices are a fairly competitive $1.50 per bagel, with an additional $1.50 for cream cheese or peanut butter. I highly recommend buying a bag ($8.50/half dozen, $16.50/dozen) and clearing room in your freezer.
Here’s why: The Sisters Lloyd maintain a somewhat irregular schedule. They're wisely taking a cautious approach to their startup, sticking with a single market (Fulton) and introducing themselves with just two appearances in the past six weeks.
Don't go running to Fulton this weekend with bagels on the brain, because the next Rise Bagel Co. outing is set for July 12. That’s a long time to wait for bagels this good, although there's good news around the corner: Starting in July, the plan is to adapt a three-Saturdays-a-month schedule, and maintain that pace through October.
Their Lloyds' recipe developed over the course of bagel-binging research junkets to New York City, Montreal and San Francisco, culminating in a two-day tutorial at Beauty's Bagel Shop in Oakland. "We found them online, and we discovered that they were on the same journey that we're on," said Kate. "We worked the 3 a.m. to 3 p.m. shift, and out of that experience we found out what it would entail to make bagels non-stop."
Is there a permanent bagel shop on the horizon? “Naturally, people are asking us that question,” said Kate. “We’re having a lot of fun, but we both have full-time jobs [Kate works in marketing and public relations for Room & Board, Jen is product development and sourcing for Nordic Ware]. We’re taking it day by day, and seeing what the response is. Maybe we’ll consider it. Who knows?”
Should they go that route, it's hopefully not too much to ask that it land within walking distance of my house or my office. As for the Rise name, it grew out of a brainstorming session over beer at Muddy Waters, and it is imbued with multiple meanings, one of which is the manner in which bagels float to the top during the boiling process.
“And you’ve got to rise out of bed to eat a bagel,” said Kate. Bagel-makers rise even earlier. “Yeah, that’s another story,” she said with a laugh. “We’re not getting a lot of sleep, but that’s OK.”