Why These Pittsburgh-Baked Bagels are Different (and Better)
Justin Lubecki of Ferment Pittsburgh brings bagels and bagel sandwiches to Bloomfield.
photos by corrine paulson/ferment Pittsburgh
Bagel aficionados, foraged-food fans and lucky passers-by have been gathering early on Thursday mornings since mid-May at the corner of Friendship Avenue and Gross St. in Bloomfield to eat Justin Lubecki’s semi-secret bagel sandwiches.
Lubecki, who runs Ferment Pittsburgh, started making bagels after visiting his brother Matt for an eat-around in Philadelphia earlier this year. “There’s a point where you get curious about something, and you have to figure it out. It doesn’t matter what the product is, you work on it and put your own touch on it to make it how you like it. Bagels became that kind of product for me,” he says.
Bagels typically are fermented with commercial yeast, but, in keeping with the spirit of Ferment Pittsburgh, Lubecki decided to make his with a natural starter. “I couldn’t find a single resource to help me with that,” he says.
Lubecki’s bagels are a geographical hybrid. The small size and distinctive floral sweetness from boiling in honey water are reflective of Montreal-style bagels, the chewy interior and salinity are more indicative of a New-York-style bagel, and the tang of the sourdough is all Lubecki.
“People have different identities and flavors for the same products. This is how I make it,” he says.
As far as bagels go, they’re quite good; certainly, the best you’ll currently find available for purchase in Pittsburgh. However, what makes these bagels exciting is the ever-rotating selection of sandwiches that Lubecki is making with them.
photo by hal B. Klein
Luckecki works with be.wild.er farm in Natrona Heights, his brother Nick (Grow Pittsburgh, formerly of Butter Hill Farm) and with what he can forage to craft scrumptious sandwiches such as wild spinach, green garlic and sweet onion on a nettle-seed bagel (Lubecki uses items such as nettle seeds instead of poppy or sesame seeds because that’s what grows here) or honey-roasted carrots, ricotta and herbs.
“I love the idea of having to work within the restrictions of what’s growing on farms and with what we can forage at any given time,” he says.
He’s also making spreads such as cultured cream cheese (I’d consider rebranding this; it’s significantly more tangy and less sweet than a typical cream cheese), cultured butter, jams and jellies. I’m gaga for the “tropical” PA jelly, a blend of silk-tree blossom, fig leaf, rose petal and holy basil that will make you believe that vanilla, pineapple and cherimoya all grow in our Appalachian woodlands. If Lubecki can coax those faraway flavors out of a mix of foraged foods, I’m stoked to see what he’s going to do when paw paws are in season.
Lubecki sells bagels from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. (or until they sell out) on Thursday mornings at 5002 Friendship Ave. and Saturday mornings at his Ferment Pittsburgh stand at the Bloomfield Saturday Market.