We Tried To Solve Montreal's Great Bagel Debate & It Ended In Disaster
Spoiler alert: your personal opinion may be challenged.
Trying to determine the best bagel in Montreal is no easy task, especially when the two giants in the field are so darn close to each other — and not just physically. Saint-Viateur and Fairmount Bagel both hold massive weight and enjoy sizeable followings within the city and outside of it, but no one has successfully decided which bagel reigns supreme.
I set out to do my own comparison in order to reveal which spot was better — all while attempting my first taste test video. But despite some new information (and a crash course in filming content), the verdict just reminded me of home.
St-Viateur Or Fairmount? I Tried To Settle The Great Montreal Bagel Debatewww.youtube.com
In my home state of North Carolina, there's a deep-seated rivalry between two college basketball teams. You may have heard of Duke University or the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, but if you're an NC resident, you've aligned yourself with one or the other, joining the ranks of what amounts to a social blood feud.
The relationship between Fairmount and her rival is reminiscent of this sports feud, but to discover how, we'll have to visit each bagel shop first.
Gathering the bagels
I made the trek to the first Plateau bagel mecca, Saint-Viateur, on a grey and rainy afternoon with an optimistic outlook and an empty stomach. The sweet, camera-shy teens running the joint were friendly and engaging, and the bagel-makers themselves put on quite a show, pulling and slicing ropes of thick dough and boiling, baking and topping bagels with frightening efficiency.
The first hot bagel out of the bag, a tradition upheld by many Montreal bagel connoisseurs, tasted delicious: chewy, crispy on the outside, full of sesame flavour and steamy in the cold air.
Next, I visited Fairmount, lining up in the drizzle next to dozens of eager Drogheria Fine customers seeking $5 gnocchi, another cheap and warm treat for such a dreary afternoon.
The cramped yet cozy interior of Fairmount bagel proved challenging to film in despite being a calm respite from the gross weather. At this point, my slight bias poked through and I couldn't help but order a dozen all-dressed bagels on top of the few sesame bagels I picked for the official taste test. It's my firm belief that the all-dressed seasoning mix at Fairmount is far superior to that at Saint-Viateur, and no assignment could take that conviction from my clenched fists.
But seasoning speaks very little to bagel quality itself.
The comparison, or showdown
Once I had toted my baked goods home to slather in cream cheese and taste, I sat down to try my hand at an on-camera taste test. I had my loyal assistant slather both bagels in cream cheese out of my view, so I could try the two without knowing which came from which bakery.
I chose to compare the bagels based on three criteria: crisp outside, fluffy inside and the "yum" factor (a more fun way of capturing the taste and the vibe in one concise category). Each criteria was rated on a scale out of 5 points, with the intention being to average the answers and determine a quantifiable winner. At least, that was the plan.
The first bagel was smaller, with a nice golden-brown colouration. I rated it 4.5 out of 5 points on crispness and a full 5 points for the fluffy, not-so-chewy interior.
As for the yum factor, this first bagel delivered, but only just. I gave it a solid 4.
The second bagel was larger, paler and had less distinction between the crust and the interior. This bagel was very crust-forward, with just a little fluff. For the outside, I granted it 5 points, but the lack of a dominant interior relegated the fluff factor to 3 points.
Finally, this bagel did make me say "yum," both in my head and out loud, so it still earned a 5 for overall taste.
Calculating the results
Math nerds in the audience may be realizing that these final calculations are leading towards a somewhat disastrous result: no, the title wasn't just clickbait.
The first bagel was from Saint-Viateur, and the second from Fairmount. Both bagels received… a 4.5 average.
The same score.
Leaving the decision, finally, up to you.
In the aftermath of such a disappointment, it would be easy to lose the nuances of what each score breakdown revealed. The Fairmount bagel received the lowest split score of 3, giving a simple reason to choose St-Viateur as the winner. But I'd rather live in the mystery a little longer.
After all, isn't it the competition that keeps us going?
North Carolina's college basketball teams are the stickers on your car bumpers, the colours you decorate your home with, the first thing you discuss with a friendly stranger and the last thing you ask of a newly arrived out-of-towner before they're truly inducted into NC society.
I'd rather encourage these great divides, fostering the connections that emerge from such an opinionated disconnect.
If one team were to win once and for all, if one bagel were to stand over the other in the thralls of conclusive victory, would we gain any more than we would lose?