I am always wary of letting geography take a lead over my sensibilities when in an unfamiliar place.
Worn concrete highways and gas stations distract as they cut into the mosaic blanket of forest and farm while panning the signs for Bordentown, New Jersey. The living remnants of the motor age occasionally give way to a view of a factory silhouette against the icy floes and marshy banks of the Delaware River.
At the confluence of two quintessential Central Jersey roads (Routes 130 & 206) rests a set of towns worth more than a set of vintage motels and strip malls. The two are actually separate municipalities that share a namesake– Bordentown City, a vibrant set of 19th & 20th century streets that convey an air of the once important D&R Canal shipping industry, while Bordentown Township serves as the aforementioned borough’s mostly suburban and agrarian community. Located in the far northwest corner of the second largest county in the state, its geographic identity is in its proximity to the Trenton-Hamilton-Bordentown mash (recently renamed Abbott Marshlands). This 1250-acre preserved wetland area physically separates Bordentown from the northern industrial city of Trenton from the eastern sprawling community of Hamilton, making it logical to classify Bordentown as a South Jersey community. But drawing that boundary line is oft-challenged in our densely populated state. I would suppose that due to historic trade ties to the Trenton, represented today by the flow route 206, Bordentown is a good cultural representation of being on the border.
Below: Vintage signage.
Bordentown City is a cool place and you should check it out. On your way, take in the beauty of the wetlands of Crosswicks Creek and imagine the postwar convenience of living in the highway suburbs. On a backwards Route 206 access road (Mission Road) rests a strip mall on a hill overlooking the lowlands that embank the river. Bordentown Bagels, my impetus for stopping in Bordentown Township is located two stores from the right, in between a pizza joint and a jeweler . By the faded text on the simple two-colored sign, Bordentown Bagels clearly outdated the neighbors.
As the door opens, steamy air follows the gentle tug of vacuum and is an instant sign of fresh baking. If you are not familiar with what makes the slightly sour scent of bagels in the oven different from say, bread, I really recommend you stop in a cozy bagel shop at opening time and take it in. The order sequence and counter layout is classic. Deli cold cases flank the eye level stacks of wire baskets filled with an expanded selection of bagels. They are rotated and filled with frequency by the kind eyed, quick moving women behind the counter. Feeling a bit of reverse sticker shock at the $0.70 per bagel price, we order the following:
Everything w/Cream Cheese
Sesame (toasted) w/Cream Cheese
Although there is no space to sit inside, the staff has clearly honed hospitality through experience and there is no shortage of homey greetings and familiar ‘dinerism’ small talk. Itemizing our order for payment is on the honor system upon receiving the bag, which cements the comforting familial atmosphere. The system was simple but well rehearsed and efficient. Few shops impart the instant sense of familiarity of being a long-time regular customer as well as this one.
Below: A hot Chocolate Chip bagel.
The environment that I have described via aesthetics and service is not an indicator of the quality of the product taste and texture. In this case however, they are positively correlated. Soft and slightly bready on the first bite, the less dense bagels held pleasing warmth and had a mild flavor. Lacking a crisp crust and requiring a noticeable second chew, these bagels will probably have trouble holding up to moisture and air and thus timely consumption is key. The seeds on the everything and sesame bagels are well apportioned on a single side and added surface texture like a coarse salt to an otherwise well balanced bread. Topping the bagel was a veneer of standard cream cheese, but it did not prove overbearing as we easily finished up, commenting on our positive impressions of an unassuming place.
It is not difficult to hide that I adore the character this shop has to offer, but I should make it clear that the goods, while above average, are just that. If I divorce myself from preconceived notions of the supposed substandard qualities of Jersey food in the ‘lower eight’ counties, this place stacks up in flavor, surface texture, and service well ahead of most. I would come back.
Akin to much of New Jersey, Bordentown’s conveniences are tucked away in plain sight, somewhere between the built and unbuilt environment. So go find them and take them in, they are worth it.
Above: An Everything bagel with cream cheese.
Would we go back? Yes.
5 Mission Rd #7
Bordentown Twp, NJ 08620