Welcome to Actually, a safe space for us to share our deeply held but unpopular opinions about food and drinks.
Yesterday, food Twitter imploded after a man posted a picture of two boxes of bread-sliced bagels he got from Panera, writing, “Today I introduced my coworkers to the St Louis secret of ordering bagels bread sliced. It was a hit!” Madness overtook the country as foodies from New York to L.A. expressed their outrage at what they perceived to be the flagrant desecration of a universally loved baked good.
This led to countless publications and food writers slamming St. Louis and its “secret” way of eating bagels. It also produced an assortment of very funny memes about how stupid St. Louisans ostensibly are. Of course, it doesn’t help that the Midwestern city often finds itself under scrutiny for divisive items like toasted ravioli and St. Louis-style pizza; yet, despite these controversies, St. Louis is considered by many to be one of the best food cities in the country right now. And as both a St. Louis native and a staff writer for one of St. Louis’ main food magazines, I feel that I’m in a unique position to make the argument that apparently nobody cares to hear. So, here I go.
First, bread-slicing bagels is not a widely utilized way of eating bagels in St. Louis; rather, it’s specific to one restaurant: Panera, a 2,000-plus location café that was founded in the late 80s as The St. Louis Bread Company. At that chain, it’s pretty common to get your bagels bread-sliced, but as someone who has eaten a ton of good local bagels everywhere from The Bagel Factory (our best bagel shop) to the now-defunct Basically Bagels, I don’t think that people really care about bread-slicing bagels outside of Panera (or, as it’s called by St. Louisans, “Bread Co”).
I’ll probably get some flack for this, but I’ll say it because it’s integral to my argument: Panera’s bagels are straight garbage and barely qualify as bagels. Their waxy surface and bready interior make them more of a circular table roll than a bagel. Part of the reason for this is, presumably, the lack of barley malt syrup, the ingredient that gives great bagels their marvelous, shiny crust and delicate, fluffy crumb. (Surely, the industrialization of the baking process at Panera is another culprit here.) Still, that doesn’t stop my family, like thousands of others, from ordering dozens of them every holiday or family event. And as I enjoy my Panera bagel—sliced normally, toasted, and topped with a myriad of dope ingredients—I invariably find myself yearning for the golden days of Basically Bagels.
Panera’s schmears, to my memory, are fairly solid, and it’s also not unheard of here to put spreads from other places on those bagels, assuming you take them home. If your priority is the schmear and not the bagel, which is understandable considering my previous point, bread-slicing the bagel gives you a much greater surface area on which to enjoy your choice of toppings.
In the case of Panera and the bread-sliced bagel, which has split the internet in ways I haven’t seen since that idiotic “what color is the dress” debate, please trust that we know what we’re doing.
Going further, toasting the bread-sliced bagels will yield bagel chips, a.k.a. a way to leave the mediocrity of the Panera bagel behind and focus on the creative things you can do with one. Thus, bread-slicing is actually a transformative option when it comes to these bagels.
Furthermore, if you’re familiar with Panera’s style of bagel, you know that bagels like the Cinnamon Crunch and the Asiago—two of their most beloved flavors—are incredibly intense when it comes to flavor concentration, and are also very uneven when it comes to top-to-bottom distribution of flavor. As far as those bagels go, bread-slicing is actually genius, because it allows you to enjoy the star ingredient in every bite. There’s nothing more disappointing than reaching into a basket or the toaster and finding that the joke’s on you because you’ve gotten the bottom half of a Panera bagel; I’ve gained this horrible knowledge from years in the trenches, arguing with my brother about who deserves the top half of this or that bagel. For many Panera patrons, the flavor-crystal-coated bagel top is one of the most coveted bites in all of food.
So, I urge you to think twice before jumping on the St. Louis hate train. In the case of Panera and the bread-sliced bagel, which has split the internet in ways I haven’t seen since that idiotic “what color is the dress” debate, please trust that we know what we’re doing. I would never go to New York and order a bread-sliced bagel, because I understand that that’s illegal (it’s also unnecessary, because those bagels rule). But as far as Panera goes, I’ll ride for bread-slicing until the end.