Where: Back East Bagels
When: Monday-Sunday 6:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
Dish: Turkey Tempe
Price: $8.63 (including tax)
The Setting: Back East Bagels, located in the plaza at 1628 East Southern Ave. in Tempe, is a cozy bagel shop. It smelled of freshly baked bagels and had an upbeat atmosphere on our last visit. One wall is covered with a giant mirror, the menu is displayed over the counter on chalkboards, and a curtain of license plates separates the dining area from the kitchen. The furniture is interesting, too—various dining room sets of different heights and woods gave a unique and homey vibe to this otherwise standard bagel joint. Most were tables for four, and a counter lined the front windows, providing a nice option for smaller parties.
The Food: Despite the name, there are plenty of options on the menu at Back East Bagels — and not all involve a bagel. (The restaurant serves salads and sandwiches on bread, as well.) Among choices such as a standard bagel with egg and cheese ($4.49) and a pizza bagel ($7.99), we opted for the Turkey Tempe sandwich made with turkey, chive cream cheese, spring mix lettuce, tomato, and cucumber slices on an everything bagel. It came with chips (barbeque or regular) or cottage cheese with a pickle spear for $7.99. The restaurant also offers six types of drip coffee and a full espresso menu, including standard espresso drinks, chai, and hot chocolate.
The Good: Being from back East ourselves, we found Back East Bagels' everything bagel to be pretty darn good. It was much larger on one side than the other, as many homemade bagels are, and the dough was appropriately chewy. The "everything" seed mix included caraway seeds, which was the dominant flavor as a result. But the salt in the mix was beautiful to look at; each flake had a different shape and the salt-to-bagel ratio was neither overpowering nor bland. The seed mix stuck to the bagel well so when our sandwich was finished, there wasn't much of the mix left on the parchment paper.
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The sandwich wasn't monstrous—some may say it was on the meager side with only three or four slices of turkey. However, it filled us up without the insides falling out the back after the first bite. The chive cream cheese was very mild, and it wasn't until nearly halfway through that we got the first flavor of chive. For us, this was a plus, as chives can sometimes overwhelm all the other flavors in a dish. However, if someone was looking for an intense chive flavor, they'd be disappointed by this schmear. The spring mix was a healthy addition, though we wish someone had combed through it more carefully before putting it on the sandwich because we got some slimy bits of lettuce in with the fresh pieces. The sliced tomato was thin and inconsequential, but the cucumber was crunchy and fresh and added a nice change up of textures to the dish.
The Bad: While the "everything" seed mix was delicious, we wish there had been seeds on both the top and bottom of the bagel. Instead, the bottom had a slight cornmeal crust that was fine, but not particularly appetizing. We don't see many bagels with the top and bottom seeded, but with a claim like "back East bagels," we were hoping for the double-seed that we've only seen back East.
There was also nothing exciting about the side dishes that came with the Turkey Tempe. The chips were Lay's and the pickle was a standard restaurant pickle—briny and smushed on the inside. Neither was bad, but they really didn't do anything to compliment the great homemade sandwich. Given that, we thought the price was a bit steep for a turkey sandwich at almost $9 (including tax).
All in All: Back East Bagels did not disappoint. Though a little on the pricy side, the bagel was fresh and delicious and the proportions of the sandwich were smart. We'll definitely be back to stock up on homemade bagels and get a little work done at this comfortable cafe.