Monday, November 7, 2011

Bruegger's Bagels: Very Average Bagels Leave Me Shopping Locally.

The Good: Breakfast sandwiches are good, Bagels are fine.
The Bad: Expensive sandwiches, Bagels are not extraordinary.
The Bottom Line: An entirely unnecessary restaurant chain, Bruegger’s Bagels offers little to a person who can buy and toast their own bagel.

One of the criteria I use when evaluating a restaurant is by how complex the food they serve is. It's true. I think It's fair to ask the question: does the restaurant provide an invaluable service better than what I could do at home? I try to justify going out to eat by the balance of the expense, effort and distance relative to me walking into my kitchen and cooking something myself. That criteria, the added effort to go and have someone else do something that is essentially a simple task, is what ultimately made me go with a “not recommend” for Bruegger’s Bagels.

Don't get me wrong, Bruegger’s Bagels is a decent place to catch breakfast. But between their mix of toasting a bagel and making breakfast sandwiches, there are few times I go there where I feel like I have actually gotten a great deal. In other words, I have a great toaster, I have a grocery store that makes comparable boiled bagels, I Don't actually need someone else to make bagels or breakfast sandwiches for me.


Bruegger’s Bagels is a relatively small chain of bagel and breakfast sandwich makers. I have found them to be largely concentrated in the Northeast United States and I have no problem finding them in Upstate New York. Bruegger’s seems content to compete in the market Starbucks owns in the Pacific Northwest and that Dunkin’ Donuts has been penetrating in the northeast.

Bruegger’s Bagels tends to have more relaxed restaurant settings, as opposed to a fast food mentality to the layout. Inside the restaurants I have been to are earth tones and wood paneling. On the outside, Bruegger’s Bagels has a hardly distinctive blue and red color scheme. The booths are comfortable and the atmosphere is as warm as can be from a corporate chain. I tend to go more for local cafes when I go out for breakfast foods as a result.


While the atmosphere may be more friendly and clean than the average fast food restaurant, the use of the staff is very much a fast food organization. Bruegger’s Bagels has a cafeteria-style ordering system where one enters, places their order and their food is assembled while one waits. From there, one may go to the booths or tables or leave.

I have never had a bad customer service moment at Bruegger’s Bagels. Instead, the staff – which has been largely in the late-teens, early-twenties – has always been kind, quick and attentive. I suspect this has to do with their amusement over people paying so much to have someone else toast their bagel for them.


To the credit of Bruegger’s Bagels, if I didn't live in areas that were plentiful with bagel bakeries as a child and now, I would probably be impressed by the chain. After all, most people have probably never seen 22 types of bagels, which Bruegger’s can boast at many of their locations. And they make a good bagel. Bruegger’s bagels are larger than most store-bought bagels, like Lender's. They are pretty much the archetypal boiled bagel with a hard exterior and a soft, chewy center. When Bruegger’s first opens in the morning, it is a pretty impressive series of scents that come out. The chain has standard bagels like plain, onion, raisin, pumpernickel, everything and salt (among others). In some markets where the ingredients are available and/or there is greater competition, they offer additional flavors, like chocolate chip, fortified and scallion. There is a consistent high level of quality in the bagels from Bruegger’s.

I tend to go for the salt bagels and Bruegger’s makes a decent bagel, though they cost over a dollar each. The salt bagels feature an entire half coated in salt (my kidneys hate me for this) and the chefs at Bruegger’s manage to make them so they are not much drier than normal bagels. Toasted and with the onion and chive cream cheese, this can be a real treat for me. The cream cheese melts into ever little nook on the bagel and was the bagel warms it up, it maintains its fluffy, creamy quality which is exceptional in a cream cheese.

In recent years, Bruegger’s Bagels has gotten into the breakfast sandwich and coffee markets. For the purposes of reviewing, I tried the Western Egg Sandwich and the Egg White & Cheese with Sausage bagel sandwiches. The Western Egg Sandwich is basically a bagel of your choice (for this I went with Everything) with an egg white scrambled patty (which tasted fresh but remarkably bland) with three strips of bacon, cheddar cheese, peppers, tomatoes and onions. It was then covered (under the bagel) with a chipotle sauce and that gave it a southwestern flavor. It was fair, but on mine the sauce was more drippy than I would like and the vegetables certainly overwhelmed the cheese and the egg. At least I felt I was eating something nutritious.

The Egg White & Cheese with Sausage sandwich was similarly unimpressive. On that, the bagel alone overwhelmed the egg whites. On the plus side, the sausage patty was actually flavorful and the cheddar cheese was fully melted.

As for the coffee, I've only had the regular coffee at Bruegger’s Bagels, but it was nothing exciting at all to my tastebuds. The regular coffee was in no way superlative, though on one of my more crispy bagels, it did help soften the very hard shell!


Bruegger’s Bagels are very average bagels and their sandwiches are also very average. As it is, my local grocery stores boil their own bagels and offer more flavors on most days than the nearest Bruegger’s. Combined with the added expense of the bagels and getting there, I tend to find that I can live with toasting my own bagels and eating in my bathrobe. Bruegger’s frowns upon me doing either at their restaurant. Good in a pinch, but otherwise, an entirely superfluous restaurant.


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© 2011, 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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