98 High Street, Holywood. Tel: 078 8544 5754
What have the Ashkenazi Jews ever done for us? Apart from Albert Einstein, Gustav Mahler, Franz Kafka and a hundred thousand more dramatists, business leaders, musicians, scientists, artists and philosophers, they gave us the bagel.
The bagel has become a staple in our house, particularly in the morning. It has largely replaced the cornflakes and the porridge (we are modest people) and appears in various forms. I'm fond of the cinnamon and raisin jobs, although the rest of the household will not tolerate any fanciness beyond some sesame seeds. The texture is interestingly unlike the breads we make here. It's chewy, it has a shiny crust and despite its humble position, it does have a glint of glamour deep within.
Having been first spotted in an Ashkenazi district of Krakow 400 years ago in a survey, the bagel went on to dominate Northern America popping up as you would expect in the communities fleeing the pogroms of Russia and eastern Europe. Just like the Ulster Scots set up their pot still moonshine whisky distilleries in the Smokey Mountains of Virginia all the way down to east Tennessee and Kentucky eventually giving the world Elijah Craig, Jim Beam, Jack Daniels and many more, the Ashkenazis set up their bakeries and the bagel soon become an icon of New York before soon spreading across to the west coast.
Nowadays it's as American as, say, ice hockey. Which is a very happy coincidence as a former ice hockey player has recently opened a bagel restaurant in Holywood. Cargo Coffee was created by Matt Towe. Although he is from Sheffield he has all the attributes of your typical north American hockey player, including muscle and brawn. Unusually, he also has a deep sense of hospitality and an eye for detail.
A former Belfast Giant, Matt opened his first Cargo Coffee with former Meat Locker chef Andrew Provan in Bangor. The second one in Holywood is so, well, Holywood. For a start it's housed in Ferguson's flower shop on the main street and the wonderful scent of blossoms fuses very unexpectedly and yet very comfortably with the coffee.
The modern rustic stools and tables add to the warehouse vibe. It feels almost like a pop-up which is in throes of deciding whether or not to put its nomadic ways to an end and settle down. And while it may feel mildly temporary and transient, the place is warm, cosy, bright and inviting.
There is a blackboard behind the counter where the cutely named bagel options include the Harland (bacon, egg, cheddar and Ballymaloe relish), the Reuben (pastrami, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and Russian dressing), the Nutty Geezer (peanut butter, apple, cinnamon and peanut praline) and a good few more. You don't have to have bagels, by the way, as there are substantial salads, soups and some healthy option breakfasts.
But we're here for the bagel and there are two intriguing draws: the pizza bagels from which you can choose a three-cheese, a pepperoni and jalapeno and a Caesar. But the bagel burger beckons with its steak patty, cheddar, roast tomato, lettuce, relish and Russian dressing. It was off the menu for some weeks but Matt has promised to resurrect it.
It is a substantial affair. Visually gorgeous with its glossy golden ring balanced atop the gubbins within. As with all top burgers, you are best taking this away somewhere private to eat as it demands full, articulated jaw, open-mouthed attack to enjoy fully. This means nobody should see you doing this for your own sake.
Fortunately, I have thought this through before hand and insisted both of us at the table have the same thing. It neutralises the effect as well as helps bond a friendship. What happens in Cargo Coffee stays in Cargo Coffee.
It is very good. Andrew Provan knows everything there is to know about beef and this is possibly the best quality burger available in a field of excellence where the likes of Tribal, Bunsen and indeed Meat Locker all put out fabulous versions.
The bagels, delivered fresh every morning from Yellow Door, are the support act, but looking around and seeing the other offerings, you can see Cargo's iteration is becoming a classic.
Bagel burger x 2 £14
Flat white £2.50
Double espresso . £2
Total . £18.50