Popular eateries can be conflicting. Perhaps it boils down to the fanfare surrounding a place, the high expectations that stem from it or simply the lingering thought that it’s among the “best” a city can offer. Compare the expectations with the reality and unfortunately, you’ll often be met with disappointment. Such was the case with Raleigh’s Benchwarmer’s Bagels, an eatery in Raleigh’s Transfer Co. Food Hall.
Recently named to Bon Appetit’s 50 Best New Restaurants in America, Benchwarmers is a project from Boulted Bread’s Josh Bellamy and Sam Kirkpatrick. The entire process of crafting these bagels is certainly complex. A wood-fired oven, heirloom grains, extended fermentation and fresh-milled, pre-fermented flour are all incorporated in pursuit of a more refined product with a superior flavor. This almost certainly factors into the attention it’s receiving: lines form early to get a sack of these artisan bagels, and from the back of the line, which itself overshadows the other eateries in Transfer Co., you almost feel bad for those neighboring businesses. The line moved quickly, and after eager anticipation, I was ultimately disappointed by the fillings that are stuffed within this lauded bagel.
I began with the basics and had a bacon, egg and mayo on a za’atar and sea salt bagel, as well as a plain bagel with maitre d’hotel cream cheese alongside. While the bagel looked delicious, after biting into it you face a dilemma between conflicting components of quality. The bagel itself was good but not great. Though you’ll notice a bagel board being used to consistently dump fresh-baked bagels onto a display, mine tasted a bit chewy, bordering on stale and requiring my teeth to pull hard in order to rip off a piece.
The flavors were definitely good — the za’atar gave it a bright and herby flavor, yet the proportions of the bacon, egg and mayo were simply not right. I had greater hopes for the plain bagel with maitre d’hotel cream cheese that I ordered alongside it, but they were unfortunately not met. Though the bagel itself was made well and had an excellent texture, the maitre d’hotel cream cheese was ridden with far too much citrus. A bite and you could barely taste the rest of the ingredients despite seeing a plethora of herbs and chives in the cream cheese itself. It makes your face wince from overload, and, alas, makes you wish you had just ordered the plain cream cheese instead. You’ll leave thinking to yourself, “It was OK I guess.” As much as it pains me to say it, I don’t think I’ll be making my way back.
It’s always a disappointment when something doesn’t live up to the hype, but it only makes you appreciate the better iterations even more. While the bagels themselves are certainly worthy of respect, the creations that use them could be better. This, however, brings up the question of where one can find truly great bagels in the Triangle. I’d urge you to keep an eye out for Everything Bagels, opening in the Durham Food Hall early next year. Their track record proves to be a success and based on the reviews from patrons I’d assume that they’ll be better than Benchwarmers in quality.