Belle’s Bagels

Last year, around this time, I had bagels on my mind. Remember this post? But then again, I have bagels on my mind every minute, of every hour, of every day. I mean, there’s this, that, and this, and that. Okay, for some reason, I’m feeling the need to prove how strong my love for bagels really is. Anyone who has ever been across a table from me, looking into my eyes when I put an everything bagel in my mouth knows–my eyes actually start sparkling and sometimes, little butterflies appear out of nowhere and land on my shoulders. 

Also, anyone who has spent more than 14 minutes with me has likely heard me go on a tear, on top of my teeny soap box, about how there are no great bagels in LA–let alone a place that even has okay bagels on the east side of this city. Well, a ray of light named Belle’s Bagels, has burst through my dark bagel-less clouds. And we can pretend for just a second that the company named was chosen in honor of my bitchy lady cat, Belle. 

JD Rocchio and Nick Schreiber take proud credit of this operation, one that is on the verge of so much more to come. Friends since they were in middle school, JD calls himself the administrative half of the duo, signing his emails with “CBO”, which I can only excitedly assume stands for “Chief Bagel Officer.” Nick is the maker and baker and was the first to agree with my gripes about a lack of access to great bagels in LA, with a level of passion that surpassed my own. 

Starting out last year, these guys were at the helm of an Underground Bagel Brunch that popped up in an article in the LAist and almost exactly a year later, they are closer to being behind the counter of their own retail space. Currently, they are sharing both oven and selling space with La Perla Bakery in Highland Park and are baking four days a week in the temporary storefront, fulfilling pre-orders made on their website. Oh, and originally I hoped to show some photos of the rolling and baking process but due to a catering order that Sunday causing an earlier start for Nick, I would have had to be at the bakery at 2 am and that was just ungodly, even for this early bird.

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I rarely ever go to the Westside of Los Angeles. It isn’t on principle or because I’m a self-righteous Eastsider (well, maybe a little)–it’s due to the fact that during the week, it’s impossible to get over there with my schedule and then on the weekend, it simply never occurs to me to drive more than 2 miles past my couch. Well, a Saturday or two ago, it occurred to me and I paused my obsessive re-watching of Breaking Bad (Giancarlo Esposito is a god damn genius) to start checking off my other-side-of-town restaurant wish list. First up, of many, was Taqueria Los Anaya. 

It goes without saying that Los Angeles is full of notable and authentic Mexican restaurants but I need to tell you that Taqueria Los Anaya wrote its name in sharpie on my list for a completely unexpected dish. I had read about their wonderful homemade tortillas and carne asada and that is what my intention mainly consisted of but I was completely side-swiped by the the Roasted Tortilla Soup. I will give the tacos attention also later but this soup deserves to be above the jump. That way, you are forced to stare at it and its seductive steam then will have no choice but to click and read more. I’ll also get one of two gripes out of the way before you click through–when you order chips and salsa, pico de gallo does NOT count! I’m done. Click through.

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This red building using its unassuming yellow marquee to entice each passerby with mention of their chopped barbecue beef sandwich (or as the sign simply puts it “chop beef”), became a cathedral of sorts to quite the religious experience for me. This particular overcast Tuesday began for me in New Mexico but found me 285 miles east, in Amarillo, for lunch.

Tyler Frazer’s place was not one that I simply stumbled upon. Before heading out to the largest city in the Texas panhandle, I did my research. Since I was only going to be in town for one hour and one meal, it had to be the best. All research, including customer reviews and an article in Amarillo Magazine calling it the best BBQ joint in Amarillo, had me set to visit Paramount Boulevard. Now, this lunch stop also signified my first entry back into a lifestyle that includes eating meat, which I’m happily rolling with, for the time being.

Tyler may serve up a pretty standard selection of barbecue items for this area but there is absolutely nothing standard about the way he’s serving them up.

After a lovely welcome and a knowing mention from Tyler about my first venture back into the world of eating meat, I ordered a combination plate of ribs and brisket with beans, slaw, and potato salad. I also considered trying their best selling item, the chopped beef sandwich–finely chopped brisket with bbq sauce on a roll.

However, I had already at this point on my road trip, developed a distinct pattern of eating too much at my lunch pitstop and then proceeding to have an utter meltdown where I was convinced that I couldn’t carry on, like a child who desperately needs a nap.

The ribs were smile-inducingly flavorful and wore a perfect halo of mesquite flavor. I later discovered, in Memphis, that ribs made with a dry rub can be so overly spiced that one bite will cause all the moisture to be instantly pillaged from your mouth via salt army attack. In turn, sometimes the smoke flavor can be so aggressive that you are unable to locate the spices and flavor of the meat, itself, underneath the smoke haze.

What are the opposites of pillage and haze? These were that. I am usually a bbq sauce over-saucing fanatic when it comes to ribs and I barely needed it, they were just that good. I used a touch of the Red Panther sauce on my ribs and it had a perfect sweet start with a kicking-back-at-me finish.  (Side note–George Straight’s ‘Amarillo by Morning’ just started playing on the radio, I think it’s a sign.)

Tyler doesn’t believe in leftovers. He makes the amount of fresh food he believes he will sell that day and that’s it. Just as much as it I’m sure they instills fear in folks hungry for his food, his simple brown paper “SOLD OUT” signs (like this one here) are also a symbol of his dedication to freshness and when used, a reinforcement of how dedicated and in love his customers are with the food he serves.

If you follow him on Twitter and Facebook, you see that the sign is not a rare occurrence (he always shares the bad news for you, good news for him through social media). Tyler did tell me that if there were in fact leftovers, he has a backup plan. The brisket is used in the beans and the ribs he takes down to a Children’s Home nearby.

As far as sides go, I fell in quick and shameless love with the beans–the brisket inside of them was ridiculously unforgettable. I mean, look at them. As I mentioned earlier, I ended up gorging myself here on a Tuesday, so I missed Mac & Cheese Thursday. I’ve learned to accept and not regret this failure, on my part.

After I had my fill, Tyler gave me a little behind-the-scenes peek into his process. Once I got behind the counter and passed through the kitchen, to reach the smoker, there were no microwaves or freezers in sight. I guess you don’t need them if you don’t use them.

I’ve read that most of the barbecue around Amarillo is smoked with hickory but not the case here, it’s all mesquite. Not mesquite found somewhere easily reached in town but from 100 miles away because of course, it’s been deemed the best. My understanding from Tyler is that a fire built with mesquite is trickier to get right but it seems more effort for a better product is the trend.

When the restaurant opened back in 2010, Tyler would come in before the sun rose to load the smokers himself and then stay past closing. Now, growth of his business and in turn, his team, has allowed him to have a guy who comes in to prep for the day ahead and load up.

I got a chance to peek at some ribs that had just begun their journey towards a dinner plate. It was my first time around a smoker of this magnitude, I totally get why barbeque dudes wield the power of their smokers. It’s quite the macho feeling. I felt a little bit macho but more so scared of the heat and the fire that made my eyeballs feel like they were getting a sunburn.

I can’t conclude my overly gushing (but completely true) post about this place without talking about how wonderful Tyler and his team were. From witnessing Tyler check in with each guest in the dining room while I chowed down (including one fellow who I was told comes in multiple times a day, some days) to Tyler’s mother delivering the mail and even a little hello my way, it made me thrilled that I didn’t live in Amarillo because I would be a million pounds.

Seriously, go eat here.

Tyler’s Barbeque // 2014 Paramount Blvd. Amarillo, Texas 79109 // twitter & facebook