There are three topics you should never bring up in polite company: religion, politics and bagels. You never know which of your friends will launch into a tirade about the evils of blueberry bagels or a paean to the bagels of her youth in Brooklyn or Montreal. I'm no zealot — a blueberry bagel can be mighty tasty — but I do have an opinion or three on size, shape and texture.
Bagel Oasis, on Northeast 65th Street, does its best to please both types of bagel consumer, and they do it well. The bagels are available in a number of flavors (including blueberry), and you can get bacon or ham on your bagel, but they're genuine water bagels with a crisp crust and a quarter-sized hole in the middle. No enormous steamed bagels here.
When you chew a Bagel Oasis bagel, it chews back, and bagel geeks will recognize that as a compliment.
The Oasis recently closed its Fremont location to concentrate on this Ravenna one, which has been open for 16 years and underwent a remodel last spring. It's a clean, bright space with a communal table running down the center and large booths along the sides. A kids area near one end of the big table is stocked with toys.
Stand in front of the baskets of bagels at the counter (ask which kind came out of the oven recently) and place your order. It will be brought to your table.
Like any self-respecting bagel shop, the Oasis opens early (6 a.m. on weekdays, 7 a.m. on weekends). If you do stop in for breakfast, keep it simple. There is an array of tasty-sounding omelets that come with your choice of bagel, but when I tried the Farmer's Market omelet ($5.99), the properly cooked eggs and potatoes were buried under an unseemly slick of melted cheddar, and the peppers and onions were a little underdone. Hold the cheese, and you'll have a less overwhelming breakfast. But consider playing to Bagel Oasis' strengths and having a toasted bagel and coffee.
At lunch, choose from a variety of bagel sandwiches. You'd think that hole in the bagel would be a problem, but most ingredients are broad enough not to succumb. The 520 Quartet ($5.99) features pastrami, Swiss cheese, coleslaw and mustard; the inevitably titled Meatless in Seattle ($5.99) offers scallion or sundried-tomato spread, avocado, tomato, cucumber and provolone.
These are down-home sandwiches that don't get much more gourmet than chipotle mayonnaise, but I happen to think that proximity to pesto makes a bagel nervous.
Fremont Rocket sandwich: There's nothing revolutionary about thin slices of chicken breast, red onions, cheddar, lettuce, tomato and chipotle mayo on a toasted sesame bagel, but everything came together nicely.
Rainy Day sandwich: A plain bagel perfectly suited this full-flavored vegetarian combination of roasted red peppers, portobello mushrooms, grilled onions and provolone. I have a feeling a whole-wheat bagel might be even better.
Vegetable soup: This soup was chock-full of vegetables (broccoli, carrots, zucchini, tomatoes and more), but many were on the undercooked side, making this a rather crunchy affair. Still, not bad as a refresher between bites of bagel sandwich. Note that the "chicken jambalaya" is nearly the same soup plus chicken, with nary a grain of rice in sight.
Bialy: When the bagels are so right, how can the bialy be so wrong? This bagel cousin suffers from diced onions (out of a freezer bag) sitting on a thin layer of dough that's tough and translucent.
Itemized bill, meal for two
Fremont Rocket sandwich $6.49
Rainy Day sandwich $6.49
Vegetable soup $2.99
Matthew Amster-Burton: email@example.com