Bette Kral grew up in New Jersey. In 2000, she moved to Deer Isle. But first she learned how to boil and bake bagels, because as best she could tell, good ones would be hard to come by up this way. One day, in her new home, she made more bagels than she and her husband could reasonably expect to eat, so she decided to set up a self-serve stand at the end of her driveway for the extras. Ever since, she’s been selling her Water’s Edge brand of bagels that way. Over time, more bakers in Maine started specializing in bagels, and for the past few years, the biz has been noticeably rolling. With the new abundance of options, bagel aficionados probably don’t even need to learn how to make their own anymore. Here’s where to find some of Maine’s best bagels.
Union Bagel Co.
Paul Farrell started Union Bagel in 2012 as a wholesale endeavor, baking in the basement of the Portland Public Market. A year later, he moved into his own brick-and-mortar retail space while continuing to wholesale. Demand for the hearty, organic-flour bagels outstripped what he could cook up in one kitchen, so last year he added an off-peninsula location, in East Deering.
Kimberly Chaurette and Alec Rutter opened Rover in 2017 focusing on circular foods, bagels and pizzas mostly, plus cookies and cinnamon rolls. Last year, they had to put the kibosh on pizza to keep up with bagel biz, but they still fire bagels in the same oven, producing pizza-y pockets of char. Rover’s apt tagline: “Looks burnt, tastes great!”
A few years ago, before Forage opened a Portland outpost, a Saveur headline asked, “Is one of America’s best bagels in . . . Lewiston, Maine?” A crackly wood-fired exterior and a “chewy and dense” but “not doughy and leaden” interior wowed the disbelieving writer into an ineluctable answer: yes.
In 2006, Maple’s started as a gelato shop with a small baking operation. In 2017, it dropped gelato and went all-in on baked goods — particularly bagels. The house-made cream cheeses go well with, say, a sesame or poppy, but a still-warm asiago is too sublime to adulterate. The cheese has sharp, salty notes, and melted bits form a bottom crust to complement the dough’s satisfying stretch.
Bette Kral rotates through more than a dozen varieties, from sweet cinnamon raisin to spicy jalapeño to savory rosemary garlic, all dense and chewy, how she remembers them from Jersey. After two decades, she still bakes from home. And although the stand at her driveway’s end is seasonal (check the Water’s Edge Facebook page for status), markets around the Blue Hill Peninsula sell her bagels year-round.
Two years ago, Chad Conley, co-owner of Biddeford’s Palace Diner, started the closest thing this side of the Piscataqua to a proper Jewish deli, serving pastrami on rye, gribenes, matzo-ball soup, and bagels with lox, whitefish, and chopped liver. Conley isn’t Jewish, although his wife, Rachel Schlein, is. The shop bears her great-grandmother’s name.
Krista Desjarlais does Montreal-style bagels. They’re thinner, with bigger holes, and subtly sweeter from being boiled in honey-infused water. Her maple-sugar bagel gets an extra bump of sweetness, while other options skew back toward savory. When Bon Appétit ranked Purple House among the 50 best new restaurants of 2017, the mag suggested ordering the za’atar-spiced bagel with horseradish-dill cream cheese and gravlax.
Scratch opened in 2004. In early 2017 (before competitors like Rose Foods and Rover joined the fray), the Portland Press Herald adjudged its bagels greater Portland’s best, based on a blind tasting. Scratch often sells out in the mornings, but another batch is usually up in five or ten minutes. For the whole-wheat bagel, the bakery uses flour from Skowhegan’s Maine Grains.