The things we call bagels are in fact little more than glorified rolls with holes. Even in New York City, where bagels are believed to be best, some are filled with preservatives and corn syrup.
In Miami, legitimate bagel options are rare. Bagel Bar East, Bagel Cove, and Toasted are the most reliable. Head a bit farther north, and Sage Bagel (along with its array of smoked fish) is the best of the best.
But all of those options didn't seem right for 25-year-old Matteson Koche, who for a few months has run a bagel delivery service via the Instagram account El Bagel.
"I'd wake up in midtown and Little Haiti where I was living, and I couldn't get a proper messy egg-and-cheese," he says. The idea is to open a "place you can take a nice Jewish girl for brunch on Sunday but not be chilling up on 150th Street on Biscayne Boulevard in the middle of nowhere with your grandma and 30 other grandmas."
Koche's bagels — available for delivery in threes or by the half-dozen ($20 with cream cheese) some weekends (check Instagram) — boast a dark, burnished exterior encasing chewy, fluffy insides. They begin with a sourdough starter of wild yeast before adding flour, salt, barley, and sugar, which Koche acknowledges is a contentious ingredient but insists it improves the taste. They're proofed overnight, boiled, and then baked, yielding that dark crust (they should never be beige). The lone caveat is that preservative-free bagels have only a brief shelf life.
Koche kind of backed into the world of food. Born in Weston, he attended the University of Central Florida and then earned a master's degree in urban planning from Florida State University. Yet he was miserable after working only a year at a Miami engineering firm. He decamped to Latin America for a few months, mostly to go surfing in Ecuador and Peru. Eventually, he made his way to Argentina, where in Buenos Aires he met a baker named Sheikob, née Jacob Eichenbaum-Pikser, whose bagels were taking the city by storm.
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"He gave me a little insight into the whole world of bagels, and that changed everything," Koche says. He began experimenting with Sheikob's recipes, tweaking them to fit South Florida's climate. He stopped by places like Los Angeles' Yeastie Boys, Del's Bagels, and Wexler's Deli while visiting his brother, thus spawning the dream of opening a bagel shop.
In recent weeks, Koche has been preparing a small cart that, starting in the next month, will spend weekends behind Boxelder slinging bagels with shmear, tentatively priced at $5 each or about $35 for a dozen with a pound of cream cheese.
At the same time, he and some friends are perfecting a recipe for smoked salmon to get the oily fish spread going.
"Most places source their lox from Acme Smoked Fish, so the fact that there’s some places that charge $20 for a lox bagel and others charge $10 is just fucked up," Koche says. "What gives you the right to charge $18 for a lox bagel when you're bringing in a cheap bagel from a wholesaler?"