Bagel Pantry, Metuchen & South Plainfield

Bagel Pantry is squarely centered in Middlesex County with locations in the boroughs of South Plainfield and Metuchen. The two shops just five miles apart are tied by a confluence of rail lines, cross roads, and highways, typical of this part of the state. My long running search to find a better bagel in the New Brunswick area, had brought me to both stores several years ago  It turned out to be an exciting time to revisit the two shops, as they both freshly underwent renovation and re-branding. Boxcar trains still roll slowly through South Plainfield on their way to the ports on the coast. The roads in and out of South Plainfield are dotted with small factories and distribution warehouses, most of white or beige painted steel, but some are brick and reminiscent of an earlier time. Residential neighborhoods surround the town’s core on either side of the tracks, several drags of weathered buildings filled with local businesses. IMG_8293 South Plainfield Bagel Pantry moved in to its new location early in 2015 from an aging storefront on the north side of the business district. The much improved space in a larger strip mall in the center of town makes it a better community anchor, with ample parking that facilitated casual  meeting. I was there on a blue-skied Sunday morning to find a line of families with children and middle-aged men on a line about 10 deep. The counter set up was ergonomically unfortunate, with a horseshoe shape surrounding the customers both waiting to order and also waiting for their order without clearly defined lines. With ten employees behind the counter, the rest of the ordering experience was redeeming. Younger employees took the orders from the left counter and the finished product appeared from the rest of the staff to the right, yielding in efficient service. After receiving a courteous response to my questions about the new store, I had my choice of sleek armchairs or deeply stained, wood grain tables, the kind more familiar in an trendy coffeehouse than in a strip mall. Most of the tables were available and patron turnover was high, lending me to believe the sit-in and do work consumer isn’t the audience. Pseudo-industrial design elements like brick facade walls and a mock tin roof are commonplace in the same way that anthropomorphic bagel motifs were just prior. The progression of the deli menu is a good example of this; movable letter sign gave way to the neon white board and it seems the rustic chalkboard has supplanted the digital display.IMG_8290 Located along a north-south thoroughfare on the fringe of an east-west town, the Metuchen location bridges the gap between the dense main street corridor and the vacant lots of an area undergoing redevelopment to the south. Applying the principles of contemporary development, the bagel shop is in a multi-story building with walkable street side frontage and rear parking. While parking is probably limited, walking in Metuchen is exemplified by tree lined streets, accessible storefronts, and reasonably paced traffic. Entering the shop, it is noticeably smaller than its strip mall sister, but ergonomically simpler with a clearly defined line and perceivable procession. I took a seat at a window bar counter and to my surprise, I overheard very courteous service to a family clearly uninitiated to bagels. The tables were of a different sort, with an time-faded finish. Some materials were shared in the renovations, but the molding and color treatment felt more casual than trendy. By 10:30 on that same Sunday, Metuchen Bagel Pantry also had a line of 10 and about the same in employees taking orders and handling the grill. Ordering was efficient, delivery was swift, and joining others sitting and reading, I had no qualms about lingering while I ate. IMG_8315 Despite the proximity, bagels are baked on-site at both locations and they both offer largely the same grill and deli items. I appreciate seeing what I am getting myself into and both locations keep their bagels piled in a glass case in plain view of the entrance. I had a bagel with cream cheese and a small coffee at each shop; black Russian (pumpernickel with sesame seeds in this case) in South Plainfield and an everything in Metuchen, ringing up about $4 at each register. They had all the visible trappings of great bagels, with striations and subtle variation as evidence of hand rolling. The slightly browned, bubbly crust locked moisture in the typically dry pumpernickel dough. Melted cream cheese pushed its way out of the edges of the still-warm everything bagel, but I am not complaining. They are good bagels. Both locations serve a comfortable local experience that reflect well upon their communities.  They are worth seeking out if you are in and around upper Middlesex County or the Rutgers University area. But I would limit my recommendation to circumstance; they are above average and they are completely worth a small diversion, but not a road trip. IMG_8286 IMG_8307

Bagel Pantry

134 South Plainfield Ave

South Plainfield, NJ 07080


Bagel Pantry

545 Middlesex Ave

Metuchen, NJ 08840


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