By Robin Garr
Within less than a mile of each other on Poplar Level Road, two splendid new bakeries beckon the hungry pilgrim. Neither is a traditional Louisville bakery with its echoes of 19th century German immigrants, and that’s all right.
One – Maya Bagel Express – is turning out the best Louisville-made bagels I’ve tasted yet. The other – Smør Nordic Bakeri – offers a warm sense of Scandinavian hygge to surround its Nordic treats. We found our way to both on the same day last week, and I came home with a happy carbohydrate buzz that lasted for hours.
If you go – and I recommend that you do – both places are open only for breakfast and lunch; Maya opens every day while Smør serves every day but Sunday and Monday.
Maya Bagel Express
Located in a small shopping center adjacent to Norton Audubon Hospital, Maya Bagel Express is local and independent. It looks a lot like a corporate operation, though, in its slick and colorful logos and attractive lighted menu on the wall. I wouldn’t be surprised if owner and founder Murad Islamov, who came here from New Hampshire to bring us serious bagels, has expansion in mind.
Fine with me. If he opened a branch a little closer to my home, I’d be in there daily. Louisville has struggled to emulate real, quality, New York City-style bagels, and in my opinion Maya is first to fully crack the code. Fresh-baked, they show off the dark, shiny-glazed and blistered, crackly crust and gently chewy, faintly tangy interior that marks the real thing.
The menu is essentially all bagels, all of the time, plus coffee, but there’s plenty of choice in the bagel department: Eight breakfast bagel sandwiches and seven combos for lunch. Most cost $9, with a few departures from that norm for fancy ingredients like nova lox ($12). Bagels ($2) come in a dozen flavors including just about all of the NYC bagel-shop favorites.
We went with tradition and enjoyed a nova lox bagel sandwich ($12) and cream cheese on an onion bagel ($4.50).
The lox bagel, pictured at the top of the page, came loaded with goodies. Both halves of the bagel were prepared with a schmear of plain cream cheese studded with mild red onion and capers, then sandwiched with two thick slices of very fresh lox and a couple of tomato slices. We chose a tasty everything bagel and it came fresh from the oven.
The bagel with cream cheese ($4.50) was excellent. A fine onion bagel was generously spread with soft, spreadable cheese, and that simple approach was plenty to make me happy. A poppy-seed bagel ($2) to take home for later was just as good,heated in the toaster oven the next morning and simply spread with butter. (Pro tip: Fresh bagels don’t benefit from toasting, but it’s a great way to bring life back into day-old items.)
Peet’s coffee ($3.10) lived up to its reputation: Strong and fresh, slightly tangy and no more bitter than good black coffee should be.
Noise Level: This is primarily a take-out shop and wasn’t noticeably noisy. No decibel reading taken.
Accessibility: The modern shopping center space appears to be accessible to wheelchair users, but bagel pickup is through a small window about five feet above floor level.
Smør Nordic Bakeri
Hygge, a Danish word that’s become a thing in English, is defined as a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being. Danes do it. We should, too. Smør Nordic Bakeri offers a good place to start.
Smør (the word is Swedish for “butter”) moved just last month from small quarters next door to its sibling eatery, Oskar’s Slider Bar, into a large room upstairs with access around the corner on the Trevilian Way side.
From its open spaces and gentle pastel colors to a grouping of comfortable armchairs and coffee tables around a picture window, to, of course, its display of Scandinavian-style pastries and dark Nordic rye and wheat loaves. Smør breathes hygge and feels relaxing.
Selections vary from day to day, but generally include a good selection of 15 Scandinavian pastries. Quite a few of them are knots, a Swedish pastry made from thin strands of dough rolled together and twisted into a knot-like bun that bakes with a light and tender crumb.
A hazel-knot ($4) pastry was scented with cardamom, a spicy character that’s hard to describe but easy to recognize if you think of it as “the way danish pastries smell.” This delicious item was fresh from the oven, soft and tender, layered with chopped hazelnuts and little pockets of dark chocolate, finished on top with a hazelnut-sugar streusel. Washed with egg and baked, it comes out a beautiful dark golden-brown.
Kringla ($3) is a soft and tender almond-scented pastry formed in an S shape. Remarkably light and airy, it almost seems to disappear in your mouth, leaving behind a distinct almond scent.
Noise Level: Very quiet, with limited seating, this too is a quiet establishment. No decibel reading.
Accessibility: It appears to be accessible to wheelchair users throughout.