When Wisconsin became a state in 1848 it placed advertisements in European newspapers to attract people to move here. "Come! In Wisconsin all men are free and equal before the law...Religious freedom is absolute, and there is not the slightest connection between church and state." Within the year more than 20,000 Germans moved to Milwaukee, 350 of whom were Jews. In 1907 a Jewish Workman’s Circle branch opened. By 1920 Milwaukee had the 9th largest Jewish population in the country and there was a Jewish Baker's Union. By 1930 it had two Yiddish newspapers. In other words, it once had a tangible Jewish footprint with a culinary infrastructure. It does not so much now.
I know from my research with the Milwaukee Jewish Museum, that Milwaukee had an abundance of bagel shops in the 1970s and 1990s. It no longer does. We visited three places to try bagels. Ruby's Bagels, a 100% Latina owned bagel company run out of a food truck, Allie Boy's, a foodie bagel luncheonette, and a generic branch of the Brueggers bagel chain.
(Link here to the description of my judging categories.)
Ruby's Bagels: Once I decided to go on a Midwest Bagel Quest I had to figure out my criteria for selecting the bagel shops to visit. One of my categories is consulting what foodie magazines/blogs say where the best bagels in the country are located. So I read Bon Appétit's 'The Very Best Bagels in the U.S. (Yes, Outside New York') article to see if any were located in the center of the country. Three made the 'very best' list: One in Columbus, one in Indianapolis, and one in Milwaukee. Ruby's Bagels, a Milwaukee food truck bagel business owned by Daniela Ruby Varela, is arguably the coolest bagel shop on the list.
Would I walk half a mile out of my way to eat a Ruby's Bagels bagel: This is a tough one to answer. Ruby's bagels are delicious. Full stop. The flavors are perfect and the rosemary salt bagel is particularly tasty. My issue is with the exterior texture - it was not crisp - it was quite soft. This was easily remedied when we went Adam's house and toasted the bagel. I was traveling with cream cheese, cucumber and dill just in case it was needed and the bagel was top notch once toasted. But part of the point of this category is if this bagel is good to eat at the point when I buy it
...and it was too soft for my taste until toasted.
Would I buy a dozen bagels for a bagel spread: YES. This bagel is a perfect vessel for all the bagel spread options. Any self respecting bagel spread host has the oven on low and a cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil ready to heat the bagels, so it could be toasted within five minutes.
Milwaukee history Ruby's Bagels is located in the Waker's Point neighborhood, just a seven minute drive from local historian Adam Carr's house. So I showed up with my bag of Ruby's bagels, cream cheese, cucumber and some dill and learned a bit more about Milwaukee. Adam has been called a “Milwaukeeist,” known for his mental map of the city. He has taken thousands of people on walking tours of the city, so it was a treat to sit at his kitchen table and hear some stories. He told us the story of Walker's Point, one of the first three settlements that after a great deal of drama became the City of Milwaukee.
Brueggers Bagels: In my defense, I know full well a great bagel will not be found at a Brueggers chain store. But they are the best bagels to be found in Shorewood. And Shorewood, according to everyone I talked with, is where the largest chunk of Jewish people live. So why did no good bagel store go with them when they left downtown Milwaukee and moved to this inner ring suburb? (I am a bit obsessed with this question and went on about this in fine detail in the 1/31/24 blogpost below.) So we went to taste some Brueggers Bagels on the off chance that the Jews of Shorewood knew something about Brueggers that I did not.
Would I walk half a mile out of my way to eat a Brueggers Bagel bagel: NO
Would I buy a dozen bagels for a bagel spread: NO
Staci and Ben opened Allie Boy's in 2020. They met working at fancy restaurants in California and came to Milwaukee to open a Bagelry and Luncheonette. They are definitely foodies and interested in making a Milwaukee-style bagel. It was interesting to hear them explain how Milwaukee is a good habitat for making bagels with the natural yeast in the air near Lake Michigan and what they like about Milwaukee city water. We got there at1:30 and they were sold out of many bagels...it is a popular place.
Would I walk half a mile out of my way to eat an Allie Boy's Bagel bagel: NO. You could hear in the audio that we were expecting to declare these bagels delicious. The feel of the bagel exterior is exactly what I want in a bagel. But after the first bite we both agreed that it just wasn't flavorful enough. I am not sure why this was the case since they talked a lot about their baking techniques and they clearly know what they are doing and put alot of thought and effort into it - but without any toppings it wasn't flavorful.
Would I buy a dozen bagels for a bagel spread: YES. The texture of the bagel is great. Just pile on the cream cheese, herbs, and whatever else you like on your bagel, and it will be a good spread.
AITA (Am I The Asshole): By the time my son was four years old I was no longer able to beat him at checkers. This had something to do with his strategic mind, but it had a lot to do with the fact that I was thinking about the move in front of me and not the fact that I was a turn away from a double jump situation. Which is to say that while I knew in an abstract way that I was going to render my NY-bagel judgment on very nice people working hard to make very nice bagels...now that the moment is here, I'm somehow surprised. Listen to the audio as we discuss the tension between judging and the human connections we are making with people taking the time out of their day to discuss bagels with us.