I’m just going to put it out there: These are the best damn bagels I’ve ever had in Wilmington. Nay, in North Carolina. Yes—I said “nay.”
With a family that hails from the northeast, readers can imagine my bagel standards are on the lofty side. While there are a handful of shops in the Port City slinging cream cheese and lox, one bite of a Round bagel made my Wilmington world change.
Here are my thoughts on what makes a spectacular bagel: It’s all about balance between a crispy, crackly exterior and an airy, soft interior. Practically every other bagel I’ve found in the South falls short in one of these categories. The crisp outer shell is too harsh, or the fluffy center is crumbly and stale. Round delivers on both aspects and produces a blissfully beautiful baked good. I’ll tell readers about the sandwiches I sampled, but it doesn’t matter what’s in the middle when the bagel is this good.
Just as I had hoped it would be, Round inconspicuously is tucked into a strip mall off of Kerr Avenue (just a hop down the road from Wilmington Brewing Company). Bagel shops doing it right don’t have to rely on a fancy locale, and Round falls into this category. The deli’s inside is brighter and more up to date than its previous tenant, Bagel Basket. Round is a humble, cozy, inviting café with a chalkboard menu, patio seating, and counter-style service. With superior breakfast and lunch, what else does anyone really need?
Not to knock other bakeries and coffee shops, but it’s rare to find a place actually hand-making bagels (as opposed to having them brought in from somewhere else in town). When it comes to high-quality freshness, bagels aren’t a very forgiving food. Bagel snob or not, anyone can tell the difference between day-old versus daily-made goodies. My first mouthful was a sausage, egg and cheddar sandwich on a cinnamon raisin bagel. My teeth effortlessly sunk into its warm crust, and the first thing I tasted was the juicy pop of a fresh raisin. The savory sausage was sandwiched between not one but two egg patties (a wonderful surprise). I ordered a tub of the strawberry cream cheese on the side and heaped a generous dollop onto each bite. The fruity spread cut through the fatty sausage like a pro. Without being heavy, this breakfast sandwich left me undeniably sated.
Next up was the lox, and this is one area where I consider myself an expert. I was pleased to find the toasted everything bagel was studded with seeds and spices—and not just on the bagel’s top. This, my friends, is a rare trait to find. It could have used a touch more crunch of pepper in the veggie cream cheese, but that’s a personal opinion. As for the smoked salmon, it was classic northeastern nova—not too fishy, not overly piled on and sliced paper-thin. Every ethereal oniony and capery bite was light and crisp.
For my last go-around at breakfast, donuts seemed a must. I learned they bring these in rather than making them in-house. The glazed donut was buttery and delicious. I opted for the donut of the day, and holy holidays! It was decked out for Christmas. Green, red, and white frosting cracked off rather easily, but the donut’s dressing certainly put me in a festive mood.
To pair with my sugar buzz, I ordered a small dark roast coffee. It was unfortunately too weak for my taste, but, again, this is a simple deli specializing in homemade bagels, not expertly frothed cappuccinos.
For my lunch selections, I spotted Boar’s Head meats. I knew with such a phenomenal bagel base, it would be hard to go wrong. First up was the Port City Club on toasted multi-grain. The bagel was earthy, delicate and stuffed with turkey, salty bacon, cheddar, spinach, and honey mustard. Next was the Sammy—a fairly basic combo of turkey, pesto, tomato, and provolone. I slathered some chive cream cheese on, and the velvety combination of garlicky pesto and creamy cream cheese made it hard to put down. Both sandwiches came with chips and a pickle and were reasonably priced. Did either lunch sandwich boast wildly imaginative fillings? Not especially. But sometimes it’s strictly about what’s holding the sandwich together that makes the meal.
If you’re like practically everyone else in this town who has desperately been seeking something resembling a New York or Jersey-style bagel, then look no further. From now on, it’s Round for breakfast or bust.