Let me just get this part out of the way: The bagel could be better.
But leave that aside for a minute. Here's how this happened.
Yesterday, I asked the fantastic people who are members of the Upper Valley (VT/NH) Foodee group on Facebook for their suggestions of good places to get lunch for under $7.50. I'd done a post about the salad bar at Big Fatty's, and figured there had to be plenty of other options for places where a decent meal wouldn't leave your wallet sucking wind.
I was right. You'll want to check out the comments thread here. One of the suggestions that popped up this morning was for a bagel with lox, cream cheese, capers and red onions at Jake's Coffee Co. on Mechanic Street in Lebanon.
I grew up eating bagels, lox and cream cheese on Sunday mornings (the capers and red onions had to wait for adulthood). But that's not why the comment leapt out. No, it grabbed me by the neck and wouldn't let go because literally five minutes before, I'd arrived in the office to find my colleagues Aileen, the mystically powerful coin-flipper, and Tom, the always-up-for-a-challenge food-line racer, lamenting the disappearance of good prepared bagel sandwiches from Upper Valley menus. Here was our chance!
If you've never been to this particular Jake's, they cram a lot into a small space. A full menu of sandwiches and wraps. Fresh local produce on a side table. A big array of eye-widening baked sweet stuff. The usual things -- drinks and chips -- and unusual -- tins of tea -- sharing shelf space. And there on the board: Bagel & Lox, $6.95.
You might be wondering about that "Tanstaffal" written on the white board. It's misspelled (they corrected it a few minutes later), from a Robert Heinlein novel: There ain't no such thing as a free lunch.
So I bought two, with Everything bagels. Carried them triumphantly back to the office. And...?
I'll confess a bias. The only really good, easily accessible bagels around here are made by Chris Calvin, whose Best Bagels is the successor to his still-lamented long ago WRJ bakery, The Baker's Studio. You can get them at the Norwich Farmer's Market and at the Co-op. In the end, bagels, lox and cream cheese is really a do-it-yourself kind of thing.
Jake's uses bagels made for them by the Price Chopper down the way. They're not nearly as bad as the dough pillows a lot of Americans confuse for bagels these days -- especially toasted, though Aileen thinks they could use a bit more Everything. The lox (that's smoked salmon) was a little salty, but together with the cream cheese, capers and onions, gave the whole thing a really satisfying flavor explosion.
The upshot? If you're hankering for a bagel with lox and cream cheese that you don't make for yourself, this is a good bet. I might not go out of my way, but I sure wouldn't say no if someone suggested it. The Upper Valley still hasn't nailed this particular cranny of ethnic cuisine. But I'm an optimist. We'll get there.
Oh, one other thing. By the time I got back to the office, I was so hungry and so ready to check out my lunch that, unlike my colleague Mark earlier today, I completely forgot to take a photo of the actual sandwich. Sorry about that. You'll just have to imagine it. Or go get one for yourself.