Craig Cohen may have only moved to Houston in 2013, but the host of KUHF's popular Houston Matters radio show has already learned a few things about the city. As he tweeted Friday with the hashtag #HOUAdvice, Houston may be rich in many foods, but bagels aren't one of them.
As any local bagel connoisseur knows, the Houston-area only has three acceptable bagel shops: New York Bagels on Hillcroft, Hot Bagel Shop on Shepherd and Bagel Express on Hwy 6 in Sugar Land. Not surprisingly, even the youngest of these three options, Bagel Express, is 20 years old. Even if bagels are, at best, a distant fourth in breakfast options behind doughnuts, kolaches and breakfast tacos in the city's breakfast affections, the long term success of the big three shows that Houstonians will embrace a bakery that produces a high-quality product.
That dearth of options is why I found myself taking Cohen's advice by driving 20 miles from Montrose on Sunday morning to Memorial just east of Dairy Ashford to try Spring Water Cafe. Although it's only six weeks old, the Facebook group Memorial Area Eats has been full of enthusiastic chatter about the promising bagel shop, and a transplanted New Yorker I know provided his own enthusiastic recommendation.
I had to taste for myself whether the big three could become a big four.
Orzo found a location on Memorial Drive — far away from any competitors offering a similar product — as the place to bring his lifelong experience in the deli business to his new hometown.
Owner Bob Orzo explains that he left the New York City borough Queens to escape the city's high taxes. Once he settled on Houston, he found a location on Memorial Drive — far away from any competitors offering a similar product — as the place to bring his lifelong experience in the deli business to his new hometown.
Spring Water's menu is straightforward and follows the conventions of traditional German-style delis. That means it lacks the items like knishes that one would typically find at an explicitly Jewish deli like Kenny & Ziggy's, but it offers a full range of sandwiches and breakfast options.
Prices are extremely reasonable; a bagel with lox and house made cream cheese only costs $7.50. Sandwiches filled with traditional deli options like corned beef, pastrami, tuna salad and salami run $5.50 to $7. Breakfast sandwiches are $3-4.
The cafe's bagels certainly look the part: round, plump and topped generously. They taste the part, too, with a crispy outer crust and soft interior. Better than the big three? Hard to say without a direct taste test, but I'm unaware of any place within at least 10 miles that can touch it.
Orzo is already responding to his success on social media by adding adding employees and ramping up production to meet the demand that's resulted in frequent sell outs. Over the next week or so, he plans to add hot lunch specials like corned beef and cabbage, meatloaf and chicken parmesan. Soon, Spring Water will add a New York-style hot dog cart and Italian ice stand to its patio.
If the response on Instagram to a picture I posted of a Spring Water bagel is any indication, bagel lovers in Houston are an underserved audience — one Orzo is well-positioned to serve. Now he just needs to keep making high quality, New York-style bagels. If he does, Houston will have a fourth bagel shop.