Well, downtowners. All holy Sunday morning breakfast prayers have been answered. No longer will folks have to travel outside of their riverwalk comfort zones for a well-rounded morning meal. Tugboat Tony’s Bagel Café has us covered with a capital C. Cream cheese, that is.
This breakfast and lunch eatery is manned by master waterman Tony Savas and his family-filled crew. Their mission: filling up Port City locals one everything bagel at a time. Though he’s not flinging dough from scratch, Tony did wisely choose Ogden staple Empire Bagels to fill his baskets. The menu’s DIY theme offers customers the experience to create their own between-bread masterpieces—and it’s not all about the eggs. Tugboat Tony’s dishes out lunchtime fare as well, ranging from turkey wraps to Greek gyros. No matter which side of the counter customers lean on, there’s only one word to describe the café’s overall vibe: immaculate. Pristine countertops, serving surfaces and white tiles give the shop a fresh, clean feel. Props for sanitation, sir.
Now, on to the food…
I leap for lox. Of course, swap in or out ingredients as preferred, but Tony’s offers the classic, dressed in red onions, capers, and bagel and cream cheese of choice. With only four baskets—two of which I believe were brimming with plain bagels—I was a bit surprised at the minimal selection. But, thanks to opening in early October, Tony’s has only just begun (head’s up, Tony’s: I expect cinnamon raisin in my near future).
I tested two of my go-tos during the first round: veggie cream cheese and everything bagel. The cream cheese was light and airy with specks of pepper and carrot. Topped with several sheets of paper-thin smoked salmon, the bagel toasted up to a golden brown and had a light coating of flaky salt, garlic and seeds. No Carolina bagel will resemble the crusty, chewy, wood-fired taste found up north—but that’s like looking for collards in Camden, New Jersey. This is Wilmington, and these bready bites do the trick just fine. Although northern natives do like their lox piled high…
For part two, I ordered a panini. I started from the bread up, with a smear of scallion cream cheese, smoky bacon, cheddar, and eggs. Tony, feel free to throw this one onto the magic menu, because it straight-up disappeared. I expected my sandwich artist to reach into a refrigerated case for pre-cooked scrambles, but blissfully I was mistaken. At Tony’s each egg is freshly cracked and cooked to order on the flat top. The pressed bread made for an extraordinary vehicle into comfort-food land. The gooey cheddar oozed out over the sides of the crispy panini and onto its checkered wrapper—which I accidentally ate several bites of. I’m not even sorry.
Wanting to test Tony’s on their fundamental sandwich skills, next up was the turkey wrap. Not realizing the wraps were also made-to-order, I missed out on my topping opportunity and ended up with just meat and cheese. However, Tony’s doesn’t serve fancy aiolis, chutneys, spreads, or vinaigrettes. He keeps it simple with the usual suspects of mayonnaise and mustard. Although, I might traditionally opt for something with a bit more pizzazz, like the fresh mozzarella and tomato, the turkey wrap was generously packed and pressed until warm.
Calling all gyros. This authentically Greek dish seemed a bit out of place for a breakfast bistro. And as a restaurant reviewer, that’s my cue. I pleasantly was surprised by the flavorful thinly sliced lamb, crunchy cucumbers and creamy, tangy tzatziki that filled the traditional gyro. There’s no Windex-spritzing man in the back, meticulously sawing shreds off a spinning rotisserie. But this is a bagel shop after all. The chicken gyro delivered the same flavors with strips of chargrilled chicken in place of the lamb. For a tasty, pita-wrapped lunchtime option, this is a fine filler-up.
Bagels without coffee is, like … well, bagels without coffee. I prefer French roast so dark I can’t see through it, so I may be a bit biased. As far as customary coffee standards go, Tony’s hot brew pours up a pleasing cup. The flavor of the day was French Vanilla and it was lightly floral with a medium body. As a semi-iced coffee snob, I’m sorry to say I wasn’t super impressed. Unless the business is a specialty shop, grinding beans in the back, I don’t have high expectations at the on set.
On an optimistic note, Tony’s customer-friendly iced coffee dispenser allows folks to craft their own from the bottom of the cup up. This will please those with picky ice ratios (yes, I’m talking about myself again). As for the weak drink, I would recommend doubling the strength of grinds or subbing in a locally bottled cold brew. For those double tall, almond milk, half-caf, triple pump, hazelnut whatevers, Tony’s is gearing up to offer espresso, cappuccinos and lattes of all kinds.
Tugboat Tony’s isn’t claiming to serve up scratchmade eats; they’re just bringing the basics of breakfast and lunch. Since the downtown crowd, myself included, doesn’t stray far from our low-numbered streets, a bagel shop of any shape or size is a much anticipated treat.