Eltana, Seattle, Washington

I am declaring the long drought over. It’s been 160 years since the Denny Party arrived and founded Seattle in 1851. And the Duwamish were here long before that. And just as 2011 dawned, Stephen Brown and Daniel Levin decided it was (finally) time to bring world class bagels to the Emerald City. They’ve positioned their new bagelry – Eltana – well (both literally and figuratively) for the self-conscious Seattle trendsters, but more on that in a bit. First let’s establish my own personal baseline for bagel quality. (Cue insecure Seattleites to point out what an asshole I am for having an opinion.)

  • Seattle Bagels – A motley collection of bad impressions of New York bagels and chain puffery. Meh. I suspect they’re no better than what you can get in Indianapolis. (I’ve only been to Indianapolis once and I never plan on returning so that comparison will have to remain unproven.)
  • New York Bagels – Overrated. Classic American confusion – large does not equal good.
  • Montreal Bagels – World class, small, almost pretzel-like. Chewy, darker, delicious. Densely flavorful. St. Viateur’s in Montreal is the standard bearer here.
  • Toronto Bagels – World class, puffs of airy deliciousness. You can eat two before you even make it to the car from picking them up. Gryfe’s Bagels in Toronto is the standard bearer for this perfect creation. (I personally have a slight preference for Toronto bagels but I will not deny Montreal their due. They produce some kickass bagels as well. And I like that they’re in a different style. Diversity and all that…)
  • Israeli Arab ‘Baygelah’ – These aren’t really bagels per se. They’re not boiled. But they are hoops (bigger than bagels) and every piece of surface area is covered in sesame seeds. The flavor is starkly fresh. And when mixed with Zatar spice medley it’s positively heavenly.

OK. Now that we’ve done our survey, Messr. Levin used to work (as an intern) at St. Viateur’s and brought his expertise to Eltana. Yay! He calls his bagels wood-fired and sells them out of his lovely establishment in Capitol Hill appealing to all the locals with a wall sized crossword puzzle that changes regularly. He can call the bagels eco-friendly, organic, hemp bagels for all I care. Whatever keeps Eltana in business with Seattle folk is fine with me, because these are the best bagels in Seattle. And, I suspect, they are the best bagels in the United States. I’d like to hear of challengers for this crown, but until I try something better I’m declaring default judgment in favor of Eltana.

The bagels themselves are small, almost pretzel-like. They’re made by hand and there are no blueberry or asiago versions. Just the basics – sesame, salt, poppy, pumpernickel (bad blogging memory), wheat, and plain. (Levin tells me he’s working on Zaatar and Cinnamon Raisin as well.) The flavor is clean clean clean. I was reminded not just of St. Viateur’s bagels but of the Israeli baygelah when eating Eltana’s sesame bagel. And that’s a good thing. There’s a density and chewiness to these bagels that reminds you that you’re eating a food of substance.

A competing bagel maker in Seattle once told me he got his recipe from food consultants in Denver. Denver!!!! I’d set aside my snobbiness at their origin if the bagels were any good… which they were decidedly not. Characterless facsimiles of oversized, novelty New York bagels (cranberry anyone?). The only thing I want from food consultants in Denver is a recipe for chips and salsa that goes well with Coors beer and a Bronco’s loss.

Eltana’s creators’ Jewish/Israeli cultural influences show beyond their staple in their spreads and salads. Thankfully absent are the faux Jewish cultural icons of the Noah’s bagel chain. Instead of “shmear” you get Zhoug Egg Salad (Zhoug being an Israeli/Middle Eastern mix of chopped hot peppers), Crispy Chickpeas and Leeks, Tahini with Cauliflower, and of course the Shakshuka – a savory and satisfying tomato pepper and egg stew. (I was too early to sample it but I’ll be back.) Make no mistake about it… Eltana is really an upscale modern Israeli cafe. The bagels are the least Israeli thing on the menu. And all that delicious food is wrapped in a Seattle friendly, non-threatening package. The owners of Eltana may have a brilliant plan or be crazily winging it. Either way, they are bringing fantastic examples of the food of my people to the Pacific Northwest. Let’s hope the Pacific Northwest realizes how lucky they are to have it.

1538 12th Avenue, Seattle, WA 98122, (206) 724-0660, website

Tags: , , ,

9 Responses to “Eltana, Seattle, Washington”

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Hillel Cooperman, TastingMenu. TastingMenu said: Eltana, Seattle, Washington — http://bit.ly/hYV8Sc #food #seattle #restaurants #bagels [...]

  2. hillel, you’re not an asshole for having an opinion, you’re an asshole for reading back to the Denny party.

    And you’re not an asshole.

    Eltana looks like the truth; will try them tomorrow. Anyway, did you ever go to the Montreal Bagel place up on 45th back in the 90s? I never made it there myself (location was unfortunate; hard to walk to, hard to park sometimes) but I remember they were trying to spread the gospel of Montreal Bagels.

    –insecure Seattlite (and I’m not insecure).

  3. Warren says:

    Couldn’t agree more – the reign of Seattle’s rolls with holes is over! Although the look and feel of Eltana is more upscale than St. Viateur, the smell of blacks and whites baking in the oven brought me back to that shrine. My only criticism is that I couldn’t get lox with my bagel. Now if only we could get an Arahova like souvlaki place to open next door!

  4. Warren, I bought a bunch of poppyseeds today and then went to Trader Joe’s to buy the salmon.

  5. Happa says:

    I was so excited to try these bagels, but was somewhat disappointed. A couple of things I noticed:
    * Tasted way too sweet…I think they are playing up the novelty honey in their bagels too much. I think they could scale back and it would taste more authentic and less like safeway bagel.
    * Salt bagel is oversalted….almost tasted like they used table salt.
    * I think they let the bagels proof too long.

    All of that being said, it is an exciting place and great for Seattle to have.

  6. taliny says:

    Ahh.. these photos are incredible.. Italy one day. Dreaming of the Montreal Bagels– I’ve been, they’re yum. P.S. Have you tried their “smoked meat?” omg

  7. Bridget says:

    Ohhh these bagels look delish!

    Must put Seattle on the bucketlist now.

    Thank you

  8. Sammie says:

    I’m always on the search for a great Seattle bagel- thank you!!

Leave a Reply