SERVING service with food.
photo: Eric Smillie
Where: Štúrova 13, Bratislava
When: Monday-Friday 7:30-22:00, Saturday 8:30-22:00
English menu: Yes
Rating: 7 out of 10
STEPPING inside of Bagel & Coffee Story is sure to cause expatriates a moment of confusion. Confronted with a glass counter and smiling staff in red and white striped shirts, a menu board in English and accompanied by bright pictures of bagel sandwiches, and a selection of 13 kinds of fresh coffee to go, visitors are likely to have a bit of déja vu. That moment will pass as they step into line and into a counter-service experience reminiscent of home but with its own pleasant flavour.
Bagel is the central word here, written or illustrated everywhere you look. But beyond this rather rare commodity in Slovakia is the equally rare look and service style. Yes, the name-tagged staff behind the counter is young and a bit flustered, especially when a line builds up at the counter, but they make up for it in friendliness, something worth treasuring in the Slovak service industry.
The bagels, meanwhile, come in six flavours and surpass expectations. Upon taking a bite, one finds that the crust is not too thick, an important quality if you want a meal without a mess. Following through on the bite, the bagel reveals a consistency that, though a little too bready for this reviewer, is well within the bagel continuum and earned expressions of wonder and compliments from an ad hoc North American testing committee.
The sandwiches are divided into three types and priced between Sk39 and Sk59. For breakfast, bagels sport cream cheese and tomatoes, egg, bacon, or something sweet. Then there are vegetarian choices like the Italian, which comes with tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, and fresh basil - very impressive. For meat eaters there are prosciutto, salmon, and tuna bagels, as well as ones dedicated to New York and Mexico.
Krémový syr, Slovak cream cheese, is quite tasty too.
Then there are eight types of latte and five kinds of espresso, including iced versions, all of which can be ordered to go and with a bagel in several of the requisite combo deals.
The whole setup has the feel of a franchise, and in fact the owners hope to expand to Prague and perhaps further. In terms of the franchise style, they have aimed for the classy touch. Also for sale are packages of exotic cookies like butter coated in brown sugar, or ginger and hazelnut biscotti-style slices. In line with the restaurant's name, these cookies are all branded Elsa's Story and on the package you get just that. I leave its details to your imagination but here is an excerpt that sums up the entire mini brand for these baked goods: "It is about a memory, a hint of nostalgia... tastes long forgotten."
Packaging and feel-good blurbs aside, the butter cookies in brown sugar are quite good - crumbly with a taste of vanilla and coconut, though Slovak co-workers around the office are split. When I told one that the box, which weighs 150 grams, cost Sk137, she told me she could get the same thing for Sk30. If I can find this bakery, I will let you know.
With this kind of style, it would be easy to put this restaurant on trial and compare it to ones, for example, in the United States. Though this might help explain the food and atmosphere, to ultimately judge how well it meets some imagined ideal would be tasteless, especially when the sandwiches here are good.
29. Aug 2004 at 0:00 | Eric Smillie