Can Houston Do Justice to New York-Style Bagels?
Since opening in January, Golden Houston has attracted lines that are blocks-long.
Growing up in Houston, I ate a lot of amazing food; at a very young age, I formed opinions on the viscosity of chile con queso and the tenderness of BBQ brisket. As the city grew into being the fourth largest in the country, the complexity of the food scene broadened exponentially to include world-class Vietnamese, farm-to-table, sushi, Israeli — you name it, Houston had it. Except for a really good bagel. On my most recent trip back from New York, where I live now, I heard I had to try the hot new bagel place in the Heights. I visited skeptically, but I am a skeptic no more.
Golden Houston is the brainchild of co-founders Avi Katz and Gregg Goldstein, who were confounded by the lack of quality bagels in a city with such a diverse food scene. "Houston has an amazingly rich food scene, including a fantastic representation from almost every ethnic group you can think of," Goldstein says. "Despite its size, there are only two independent bagel shops in Houston, with one or two additional bagel shops in the far-flung suburbs." Located on a main drag of The Heights, one of the original neighborhoods near downtown Houston, the shop opened quietly in early January but before long, crowds started forming. And waiting—for up to an hour to get one of the freshly made bagels from inside the gut-renovated building.
The Heights has the distinction of being one of the more walkable neighborhood in Houston, and the area's walking and bike trail runs right in front of the store, which was one of the hooks of the location. "When my business partner and I saw the space that became Golden, we instantly knew it needed to be a bagel shop," explains Goldstein, a native Houstonian who lives a few blocks away from the store with his wife and two young children. "I wanted a place in the Heights where my family and I would love to eat and hang out. We envisioned Golden as a neighborhood meeting spot and hoped people would walk and ride their bikes there often."
What he didn't expect was the reaction from not only the locals who could walk or bike to the restaurant, but from people schlepping in from all over the city. He admits they were surprised at the number of people who came the first weekend, saying, "We were humbled and honored that people were willing to wait up to an hour in line to taste our bagels on the first weekend." On my recent visit, there was a continuous line snaking through the modern space, but it moved quickly and we were able to nab a table on the covered outdoor patio pretty easily. Golden is now serving between 600 to 700 customers a weekend, especially with the addition of the new lunch menu. "The response has been overwhelming. We couldn't have asked for more," says Goldstein.
As for the bagels themselves, they are indeed a true New York bagel—at least to this New Yorker. Goldstein admits they were aiming for a New York-style bagel, spending two months with their master baker perfecting the initial recipe (and doing plenty of eating in the name of market research.)
"We strive for a bagel with a crunchy golden crust and lighter, but chewy interior," says Goldstein. "It takes a lot of technique to get it right." They didn't stop at making the bagels from scratch—they cure their own lox and Nova salmon in-house to ensure deeply fresh fish for every sandwich and platter. Co-founder Katz is also the founder of Katz Coffee, which means the coffee is taken just as seriously as the bagels. "To hear a customer take a sip of a flat white and tell me it's the best they have ever had is incredible."
I went at 11 a.m. on a Saturday, meaning that I could order from the main menu and the new lunch menu with equal gusto. The Nova and the lox are both excellent—we were fighting for the last bites of the classic salmon sandwich with herby scallion cream cheese on a densely seeded poppy-seed bagel. I also stole more than a few bites of my husband's "Build Your Own Reuben" with corned beef, plenty of Russian dressing and sauerkraut. (The secret lies in the bagel being cut down to a bread-like thickness.) The six-year-old gourmand in our party approved enthusiastically of the bagel dogs, a twist on the pig-in-a-blanket with bagel dough and plenty of grainy mustard on the side.
What's next for the "modern bagel/coffee shop?" Well, the team is so busy serving the lines out the door they haven't really had time to think about it. After all, they've only been open since January. With the restaurant opening at 6 a.m., they've developed an already-loyal following among fellow business openers in the Heights coming in before the start of the work day. Wholesale might expand in the future, Goldstein says that for "right now, we just want to focus on every customer having a great experience at Golden." If only they could start shipping the bagels to N.Y.C.
Golden Bagels, 3119 White Oaks Drive, Houston, TX 77007