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San Diego — the anti-bagel city

Nomad Donuts disproves the stereotype

A Montreal-style sesame bagel, wood-fired at the new Nomad Donuts location.
A Montreal-style sesame bagel, wood-fired at the new Nomad Donuts location.

In this world, there are cities steeped in bagel tradition, and then there's San Diego. Yet somehow, August brought not one, but two locally-born bagel shops to the metro area. And I dig them both.

Once a new age book shop, this North Park storefront is now home to Nomad Donuts.

Technically, Nomad Donuts is neither new, nor strictly a bagel shop. The North Park donut and coffee spot recently moved from a tiny location on 30th Street, to a larger space on University. It's the former site of new age book and gifts shop Lady of the Lake, as you could still see in faded lettering when Nomad opened for business midmonth.

Place

Nomad Donuts

3102 University Avenue, San Diego

Nomad is best known for its artisanal donuts, combining unlikely flavor combinations as taro-ube (purple yam), chocolate chip-green tea, and black-currant-chili. Its chef, Kristianna Zabala, worked as pastry chef at upscale restaurant Mr. A's prior to Nomad, and has all the skill to ensure her creative concepts translate to cravable breakfast pastries.

Since only a handful of people could fit at a time, Nomad's original location would routinely bring lines out the door (word is, Nomad plans to re-open that location following a renovation).

While the University Avenue shop will likely attract longer lines, most of the customers should fit inside. While not humungous, there's even room to enjoy old fashioned, cake, and vegan donut options at a few high-top tables.

But the biggest change brought about by the move is this addition of the donut's burlier pastry cousin, the bagel. It seems a natural fit, right? If you're already making sugary pastries with holes in their center, why not make bready pastries with holes in their center while you're at it?

Of course, bagels are a different animal. Rather than fried, their dough is parboiled then baked. In this case wood-fired, which makes them perfectly on trend.

However, while most bagel shops in the U.S. boast the famous New York-style bagels, Nomad's draws from the Montreal tradition. While both crossed the Atlantic with Jewish immigrants from Poland, Montreal bagels tend to be denser than New York's, with a hint of honey sweetness. I'm a huge fan of the Canadian style, especially coated with sesame seeds. And in terms of quality, Nomad's did not disappoint.

Initially, the counter staff seemed surprised when I asked for a bagel untoasted, unsliced, without a cream cheese schmear. Of course, dressing up a toasted bagel can add to the experience. It can also mask the quality of the bagel. I wanted to know that this fresh sesame bagel had a satisfying chew from crust to crust, and that it could stand on sesame flavor alone. No surprise, the $2 Nomad bagel hit all the marks.

What did surprise me is that the ingenious Zabala's stuck to traditional bagel flavors, at least during the shop's soft open. In contrast to Nomad's host of unusual donuts, sesame is joined by bagel standards: plain, poppyseed, and everything. The spreads get a little creative, featuring the likes of bacon chive cream cheese and nutella banana for an additional $1.50-2.50.

However, to find unique to San Diego bagel concepts, I would need to visit the city's other new bagel shop, and the subject of my next review: Spill the Beans….

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A Montreal-style sesame bagel, wood-fired at the new Nomad Donuts location.
A Montreal-style sesame bagel, wood-fired at the new Nomad Donuts location.

In this world, there are cities steeped in bagel tradition, and then there's San Diego. Yet somehow, August brought not one, but two locally-born bagel shops to the metro area. And I dig them both.

Once a new age book shop, this North Park storefront is now home to Nomad Donuts.

Technically, Nomad Donuts is neither new, nor strictly a bagel shop. The North Park donut and coffee spot recently moved from a tiny location on 30th Street, to a larger space on University. It's the former site of new age book and gifts shop Lady of the Lake, as you could still see in faded lettering when Nomad opened for business midmonth.

Place

Nomad Donuts

3102 University Avenue, San Diego

Nomad is best known for its artisanal donuts, combining unlikely flavor combinations as taro-ube (purple yam), chocolate chip-green tea, and black-currant-chili. Its chef, Kristianna Zabala, worked as pastry chef at upscale restaurant Mr. A's prior to Nomad, and has all the skill to ensure her creative concepts translate to cravable breakfast pastries.

Since only a handful of people could fit at a time, Nomad's original location would routinely bring lines out the door (word is, Nomad plans to re-open that location following a renovation).

While the University Avenue shop will likely attract longer lines, most of the customers should fit inside. While not humungous, there's even room to enjoy old fashioned, cake, and vegan donut options at a few high-top tables.

But the biggest change brought about by the move is this addition of the donut's burlier pastry cousin, the bagel. It seems a natural fit, right? If you're already making sugary pastries with holes in their center, why not make bready pastries with holes in their center while you're at it?

Of course, bagels are a different animal. Rather than fried, their dough is parboiled then baked. In this case wood-fired, which makes them perfectly on trend.

However, while most bagel shops in the U.S. boast the famous New York-style bagels, Nomad's draws from the Montreal tradition. While both crossed the Atlantic with Jewish immigrants from Poland, Montreal bagels tend to be denser than New York's, with a hint of honey sweetness. I'm a huge fan of the Canadian style, especially coated with sesame seeds. And in terms of quality, Nomad's did not disappoint.

Initially, the counter staff seemed surprised when I asked for a bagel untoasted, unsliced, without a cream cheese schmear. Of course, dressing up a toasted bagel can add to the experience. It can also mask the quality of the bagel. I wanted to know that this fresh sesame bagel had a satisfying chew from crust to crust, and that it could stand on sesame flavor alone. No surprise, the $2 Nomad bagel hit all the marks.

What did surprise me is that the ingenious Zabala's stuck to traditional bagel flavors, at least during the shop's soft open. In contrast to Nomad's host of unusual donuts, sesame is joined by bagel standards: plain, poppyseed, and everything. The spreads get a little creative, featuring the likes of bacon chive cream cheese and nutella banana for an additional $1.50-2.50.

However, to find unique to San Diego bagel concepts, I would need to visit the city's other new bagel shop, and the subject of my next review: Spill the Beans….

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