Rose Foods in Portland, Maine, welcomes a new generation of bagel-lovers
People say the best bagels are in New York City because of the local water. Chad Conley, owner of Rose Foods in Portland, Maine, begs to differ. Inspired by classic Jewish delis in Manhattan like Barney Greengrass and Russ & Daughters, he serves killer bagel sandwiches over 300 miles away from the city. It’s safe to say he’s not hauling in tanks of water from New York.
“NYC water's got nothing to do with it,” Conley told me in an email. “Start with good raw ingredients, pay close attention to technique, know exactly what it is you hope to achieve in your end result, and work every day to achieve it.” Conley says his main goal with his bagels was to actually improve upon the bagels he ate at his favorite old-school delis. To “lighten up what most people think of as a bagel,” he said that Rose Foods bagels proof longer in a colder environment, which creates a chewy, tender bagel with a more developed flavor. Conley also uses a sourdough starter in his bagels, which he says not only makes the dough tastier, but also makes the gluten easier to digest. “I want people to notice and appreciate how it looks, how it feels, how it tastes," he told me.
Conley also owns the 15-seat Palace Diner, which is in an old railcar in nearby Biddeford, Maine. He feels that old-school establishments like the lunch counter American diner and Jewish-American deli are due for a comeback. These types of establishments were “both bigger and more important for previous generations, and under economies and cultures that are hard to imagine for younger people today,” he told me. Though their luster may have worn off, it’s clear from the crowds at places like Rose Foods and Palace Diner that the tide is turning.
When I was at Rose Foods earlier this month, I was surprised to see that most customers were on the younger side, likely college kids looking for a hangover-curing meal. But instead of grabbing greasy subs or fast food fries, they were munching on nova lox, whitefish salad, and pastrami on rye. The walls around them were lined with popular cookbooks, quirky food zines, and store merch—the restaurant’s design team was even highlighted in a Bon Appetit story. For Conley, it’s this attention to detail—from his bagel recipe to the tote bags—that’s helping a new generation appreciate old-school classics.