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A Taste of Montréal in St. Catharines

© Mike Keenan


What do you get when you mix a ballet dancer from Northern Ontario, a Jewish business woman from Evanston, Illinois (19 miles from Chicago) and a retired lawyer born in Rio but raised in Buenos Aires? Well, you get three of five people whom I recently met at St. Catharines' Congregation B'nai Israel and Jewish Community Centre, where they make delicious bagels (Montréal style, of course)

The proprietors of The Bagel Oven are Steve and Jess Bretzlaff. Richard Baker (an appropriate surname for this operation) the retired lawyer, works there part time because "I was sick and tired of sitting behind a desk and wanted to use my hands!" His kneading dough and forming the bagels individually by hand fits the bill. Smiles abound in the busy kosher kitchen. Everyone enjoys what they are doing. And what they are doing, according to Jess, a lady of unlimited energy, is filling a food niche in Niagara. Prior to them, nobody was making good, old-fashioned Montréal-style bagels.

Steve was a ballet dancer for ten years, but now performs his pirouettes, grand jetés and glissades inside the kitchen - if he ever finds time, as Jess, who holds a Master's degree in Business, tells me that they are getting quite busy, processing 100 kilos of flour per week while producing 140 units which translates into 100 dozen bagels and 40-50 loaves of bread. The bread is challah, a special Jewish braided bread eaten on Sabbath and Jewish holidays, and the bread was how Steve and Jess at first paid for the kitchen rental.

Steve was born in Red Lake and then schooled in Elliot Lake while Jess was from Evanston. He danced with Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal while she attended McGill University studying anthropology. They met at Montréal's Dublin Pub. They have been married for 16 years, starting off in Las Vegas, Nevada where Steve danced with the Nevada Ballet Theatre.

Bagels originated in Poland, traditionally shaped by hand into the form of a ring from yeasted wheat dough, roughly hand-sized, first boiled for a short time in water and then baked. As Richard hand shapes bagels, he admits that it's a labour intensive process.

Jess says that they are committed to quality, "and we think you can taste the difference! You may notice that our bagels contain 10 to 20 fewer calories and about 1/3 less sodium, in each bagel than the leading grocery store brands. We also feature a line of vegan bagels that contain chia in lieu of egg and are boiled in agave in lieu of honey" She lets me try a vegan bagel, freshly made. Yum! I will take a dozen more assorted bagels home with me today.

Jess enjoys receiving email feedback (thebageloven@gmail.com), and she reads me one that arrives during my visit - it's from a Niagara couple who love their bagels - because when they taste them, they are magically transported back to Montréal! High praise, indeed!

Steve and Jess were attracted to Niagara, and, along with their two children, Lily-May and Charlie, enjoy its ambience and myriad food products. Their fresh and local Montréal-style bagels and challah bread are available on special order from The Bagel Oven at www.thebageloven.weebly.com or 289-696-4518. At their website, you will notice several outlets such as the Oban Inn and others located throughout Niagara. They also provide free home delivery each Friday across Niagara!

A final interesting geographical detail is that the local Rabbi, Gad Romang was born in Argentina, grew up in Israel and during his career, held positions as Senior Rabbi in both Chile and in Buenos Aires, Argentina. If you are looking for either bagels or fellowship with about 150 family members, Congregation B'nai Israel and Jewish Community Centre is located at 190 Church St, St. Catharines. Website: jewishstcatharines.com Phone: 905-685-6767.

If you have suggestions or comments concerning blog topics to help celebrate St. Catharines, contact me at - mjk6648@gmail.com.

Jess Bretzlaff, The Bagel Oven, photo by Mike Keenan  Richard Baker, The Bagel Oven, photo by Mike Keenan  Steve & Jess Bretzlaff, The Bagel Oven, photo by Mike Keenan  Steve Bretzlaff, The Bagel Oven, photo by Mike Keenan  Steve Bretzlaff, The Bagel Oven, photo by Mike Keenan

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