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Montreal-style spices up B-Town

myers-5Words and Photos // Ben Sarle

The year was 1981 when he got kicked out of school. “That’s when I started making bagels” said Lloyd Squires, Myer’s Bagels founder and co-owner, as he darted between the bagel hearth and front counter – wearing more than a little flour.

After one bite of Myer’s unique brand of bagel, these 34 years of experience are immediately apparent. Tucked into one of Burlington’s quirkier pockets, Myer’s Bagels sits between Barge Canal Market and Speaking Volumes on Pine Street.

On a recent visit, the enticing aroma of freshly-baked, Montreal-style bagels hung in the air as late breakfast and early lunch customers steadily flowed through this South End staple. Locally roasted coffee, sweet treats, and a wide variety of creative bagel sandwich options are all available; but the star of the show that maintains and grows their loyal customer base are the bagels themselves. And it is much more than the size of these delicious circles that sets them apart.

“Our bagels are different than the other seven bagel places in Chittenden County,” said Adam Jones, who joined Lloyd as co-owner in 2013 to expand their wholesale operation as well as create a café.

There are three major distinctions between their Montreal-style and a New York style bagel. First, the preparation of the dough — Myers hand rolls all their bagels. “That’s why they come out a little thinner,” Jones said. “We make our dough, and 45 minutes later we’re rolling and baking.”

This is in stark contrast to New York style bagel producers whose process starts the night before, and allows the dough to sit, or proof, overnight. “That’s why ours is a denser product,” Jones said.

Second, the Myers boil, but add honey to the boil. People say it adds sweetness, but really what it does is create a different texture on the outside, allowing more toppings to stick, Jones said. “Take our sesame, or everything bagel, place it next to another, and you’ll see the difference,” he said. “Our coating is encapsulating 360 degrees. It’s kind of like the Ben & Jerry’s model, you won’t have a bite without chunks.”

And lastly — baking, using 100 percent wood for the energy sets Myers apart. “Wood bakes evoke a flavor you won’t find in a standard oven,” Jones said. “There’s a little smokiness there.”

What started decades ago in Montreal with only sesame and poppy has blossomed into more than 15 varieties of bagel currently being produced daily. Their most popular and perhaps what Myer’s is best known for, is the Montreal spice bagel. “What’s kind of the irony of things is that Montreal spice does not exist in Montreal,” Jones said.

Years ago, Squires knew that the palate of American consumers was much different than his Canadian clientele. One day he was eating a steak with Montreal Spice Steak Rub, made by McCormick, and realized it would be good on a bagel. After some experimenting, he created his own proprietary blend by mixing other herbs in with the steak rub, to diffuse the saltiness of the original blend, making it much easier on the mouth.

On the horizon, in addition to expanding the reach of their wholesale operation, Myer’s has also recently found themselves to be an unlikely hit with a new group of consumers. “In the last eight months, that’s been a kind of hidden notoriety here,” Squires said. “Unbeknownst to us, a lot of gluten-free apps and social networks have featured us.”

A surprising hit for Jones and Squires in a market they hadn’t intentionally tried to target, “We only sell those here, and at farmer’s markets and the hospital once a week,” Squires said. “But we don’t wholesale those, because we’re not a certified gluten-free facility.”

While Myer’s product is indeed 100 percent gluten-free, and they do make their gluten-free bagels in a completely separate area of the bakery, the FDA criteria for certifying a gluten-free facility are too strict for Myer’s operation at the moment. Which means they don’t bag them or distribute, but they do have a very active gluten-free customer base who come to their location — they produce 200-300 gluten-free bagels weekly, and they sell out quickly.