When a New York Times food critic wrote last March that some of the country’s best bagels were being produced in—gasp!—California, it took a New York minute for the piece to ignite an East Coast-West Coast rivalry not seen since the days of Biggie and Tupac. Californians should stick to their avocado toast, some argued. New York’s best bagel days were behind it, others claimed. Then there was the Canadian contingent, declaring that the bagels from St-Viateur Bagel in Montreal are the best bagels on planet Earth, period, and couldn’t we all just get along?
I don’t claim to know who makes the tastiest bagels in North America, but I do know where to find the finest bagels in Sacramento, hands down. That would be a home kitchen in the city’s South Land Park neighborhood, where Sam Leonard operates his cottage baking enterprise, Better Half Bagel.
Leonard, who grew up outside of Boston and has cooked professionally for 15 years, is a fairly recent transplant to the River City. In order to perfect his bagel, he “did some serious R&D at home” during the pandemic after having had gleaned legit bagel-making experience at San Francisco’s Marla Bakery (it has since relocated to Windsor) and Beauty’s Bagel Shop in Oakland.
What sets Better Half apart? “For me, the characteristic of a good bagel begins and ends with the crust. I want a thin but crackly, crispy crust,” Leonard explains. “I cold-proof the bagels for 48 to 72 hours, which allows for CO2 bubbles to build up and give it a more developed flavor and the crust I’m looking for.”
As far as Leonard is concerned, meeting customers is half the fun of hawking bagels. “I don’t think I’ve seen a more supportive city than Sacramento,” says Leonard appreciatively. “I can’t tell you the amount of people who have brought me gifts or treats” as an expression of thanks.
Of course, Leonard is giving Sacramentans a gift of sorts, too. “There are people who have been looking for bagels for a long time in this region, and they are very happy to have finally found one that they are pleased with, so that is great,” he says. “There are also people who may or may not have had a great bagel before, so it’s nice turning them on to them.”
You can order from Better Half Bagel Thursday mornings (for Sunday pickup) at betterhalfbagel.minimartapp.com or grab a four-pack before they disappear on Saturday mornings at Taylor’s Market in Land Park.