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Once upon a time, Trenton housed a very well-regarded Bagel Shop on South Broad Street, run by the entrepreneurial TC Nelson (now the proprietor of Trenton Social). Since the closing of that shop in 2003, downtown Trenton has been bagel-less. Sure, you can get bagels at one of any number of Dunkin’ Donuts franchises–but those bagel-like products are hardly paragons of this glutinous immigrant cuisine (yes, bagels are Eastern European in lineage). Those fast food “bagels” don’t count for us; so we’ve been craving real bagels for years.
But downtown businesses in Trenton are opening left and right, and we’re thrilled that the old bagel shopfront has re-opened. It is now as Trenton Bagel & Deli. The place is owned by a jovial man named Sam, who has 30 years in the bagel business and owns another shop in Clinton, NJ. He intends for his son (who we didn’t meet) to take on the Trenton shop while he tends to the Clinton establishment. He runs an extraordinarily friendly shop, and the bagels are good too.
The perfect bagels, in our opinion, should be hand-rolled and have a texture that is chewy without being too dense. The crust should have a decent sheen (a result of being boiled) and nice browning (a result of the baking that follows). The dough should be flavorful and not too sweet (the sweetness is traditionally from barley malt), with a slightly nutty taste (from a nice long fermentation). It is a great sin to see a bagel that has been steam-baked (rather than boiled and then baked), so we like to see a big kettle and a proper oven when we look at a bagel shop. Of course, the bagel is an ideal vehicle for cream cheese, butter, egg and cheese, lox, and Trenton’s own pork roll.
How does Trenton Bagel & Deli stack up? They’re pretty darn good. We ordered an “everything” bagel with butter–it was very well cooked, with a pleasant flavor, an excellent texture and nice crust. It was a very enjoyable bagel, far better than you’d get anywhere else in Trenton (or at local supermarkets). The “spinach” bagel missed the mark in a few slight ways (the flavor was somewhat less developed, the crust lacked browning, and the texture was dense)–so while it didn’t reach the heights of a bagel from a premier NYC shop, it was still a decent, and better than its Dunkin’ Donuts cousin.
We sampled a few of Trenton Bagel & Deli’s add-ons. Apparently the owners haven’t gotten the Trenton memo yet, because their menu refers to “Taylor Ham” (which is, of course, the word used in Northern Jersey for what Trentonians properly call “Pork Roll”). It was well-cooked, but somehow we couldn’t get the cloying taste of North Jersey out of our mouths–we’re sure a re-printing of the menu would fix that. The eggs were nicely made as well. We haven’t yet tried their cream cheeses (they offer plain, walnut raisin, olive, garden veggies, sundries tomato, jalapeño cheddar, lox, and scallion). You can also order salads, specialty sandwiches on a variety of breads (including sub rolls and wraps), and burgers and fries. They sell their salads, cheeses and meats deli-style (by the pound), and they also offer catering (subs, bagels, cold-cuts, and salads).
The prices are terrific. Bagels are currently $.95, or $10 for a baker’s dozen. A basic egg and cheese sandwich is $2.75. The coffee is currently free with the purchase of a sandwich, and it is very good.