16 Katherine Place Melbourne, Victoria 3000
|Opening hours||Mon-Fri 7am-3pm|
|Prices||Cheap (mains under $20)|
|Phone||03 9621 2128|
Zev Forman's 5 and Dime bagels have been doing the rounds of local farmers' markets and making guest appearances at select cafes for a couple of years now, but now the American expat has a dedicated cafe turning out handcrafted "proper" boiled bagels daily.
The cafe is a compact space – a few seats, a coffee counter where Forman serves Promised Land filter coffee and a small counter where every bagel is made up to order. The space looks through a glass wall to Forman's special bagel oven, an extraordinary piece of Steampunk hardware that he imported from Canada.
It's this oven, and Forman's traditional baking methods, that are the secret to his quick-to-sell-out bagels, which include plain, onion, rye, poppyseed, sesame, cinnamon and raisin, dill and salt.
And they are nothing like any bagel – pre-packed or fresh – you'll find elsewhere around town.
The secret, Forman says, it to get them crunchy on the outside, and soft inside.
"I've never found a bagel here like the ones I grew up with," the New Jersey native says. "Most places in Australia steam them so you don't get the crunch – they steam them because then you don't have to touch them; it's easier."
Proper bagel-making takes time – Forman takes two days to make each batch.
"We use minimal yeast and a nice long fermentation to build flavour," he says. "We let it ferment overnight, then we roll the bagels by hand and they go back in the fridge again overnight. Then we boil then and bake them on boards the traditional way, so they're not flat on the bottom."
They are, he concedes, high-maintenance. "Oh yeah! But I think people want product today that is traditional and tastes better."
Forman is a chef – he worked at Taxi before bagelling full-time – and he prepares all the cafe's toppings himself. These range from a bespoke cream cheese from Goldfields Cheese which he then flavours in-house, (with things like green olives, bacon maple and bacon with chipotle jam) to house-hot-smoked salmon and a whitefish salad that he smokes in-house.
"That was challenging because in America, 'whitefish' isn't a general term, it's an actual fish," he says. "But I'm really proud of the one I make here, because it uses mostly native ingredients, like saltbush and finger limes and Bass Grouper."
While some of his traditional New Jersey-style ingredients initially confused Melburnians, Forman says the most popular breakfast bagel so far has been the bacon maple cream cheese ($4).
"We took it off the menu and people have been really upset," he says. "So it's coming back in the new year."
Other cream cheese flavours that regularly appear on the menu include honey walnut ($3.50), green olive ($3.50) and even vegan cream cheese ($4). If you're really broke, you can't go past a $2.50 bagel with peanut butter or plain cream cheese, and the most you could probably spend is $11 for a smoked salmon bagel with cream cheese and a choice of extras such as pickled shallots, capers and radishes. If you're in early enough (be prepared to queue, especially at lunchtime), you can also get fresh bagels to take home and do with as you please, for $2 each or $11 for six. Astonishingly cheap, given the love and the time spent on each one.
"That was a big issue. We wanted to keep them cheap," says Forman. "They might be too cheap! But it's a bagel – it's like peasant food. It felt too pretentious to charge too much."
The safe is currently closed while Forman heads back to New York to meet with bagel makers there, but when he reopens on January 19, his menu will expand.
"I'm going to start doing cheese Danishes, and more sweet stuff, all rolled by hand."
Start queuing now.