Berea: Native Bagel Company Offers Brooklyn With an Appalachian Twist
by Alan Cornett
Recently the Appalachian Food Summit brought me to lovely Berea. Long a folk arts center, Berea also has a growing–and intriguing–food scene. While there was a great supper by guest chefs for the Food Summit that night, I wanted to kick off the day with something, well, native.
Enter, then, Berea’s Native Bagel Company food cart at the Berea Farmer’s Market. Honestly, one wouldn’t expect a purveyor of Polish Jewish baked goods to operate a food cart in Appalachia, yet there they were.
I circled around Berea’s Chestnut Street in search of the small but bustling market, finally with success. As I looked around, a musician strummed his guitar while belting out adult contemporary tunes over the assembled vegetables. Then there between an Amish father and his sons with their gigantic mums and a man making crepes to order, I found Native Bagel Co. Their many admirers were queued in anticipation.
A glance at my watch made it clear that with the long line ahead of me I was going to be late for the opening ceremonies of the Food Summit. I decided experiencing Appalachian food trumped hearing about it so I waited. And waited a bit more.
It was clear as got closer that my wait was a result of demand, not supply. The three man team was taking orders and handing out bags of bagels as quickly as they could. That’s not a bad sign for a business at all.
On offer that Saturday were some specials that offered a nod to the Appalachian Food Summit crowd. I was clearly part of the target audience as they hooked and reeled me in with no resistance.
I ordered the country ham and pickled okra on grilled cornbread bagel sandwich. Yes, that’s right–a cornbread bagel. And it wasn’t just an ordinary cornbread bagel (okay, I realize there are no ordinary cornbread bagels). This cornbread bagel used not only local Weisenberger unbolted white cornmeal, but also–wait for it–Bloody Butcher cornmeal from Lazy Eight Stock Farm in Paint Lick. Bloody Butcher is a legendary heirloom variety that is reputed to be a 19th century cross between American Indian and settler seed.
If that wasn’t enough, there was a sorghum cinnamon raisin bagel that was made even better than it sounds with the addition of maple bacon cream cheese.
With choice ingredients like Bloody Butcher cornmeal and sweet sorghum, it was pretty clear I was in Berea, Kentucky and not Brooklyn. Native.
After placing my order with Michael Startzman, I slid over the side to wait for my order. I promptly slowed down production by chatting with the effervescent Katie Startzman and her sister Abbie Nittle, dynamos of bagel slinging to satisfy the ravenous patrons.
A Berea bagel cart was the brainchild of Katie, who offers a bona fide Yankee pedigree that give her bagels the right mojo. After a successful Kickstarter earlier this year, the bagel cart debuted in the spring to long lines and quick sellouts. During the week, Native Bagel also delivers to homes and offices in Berea and Richmond. You can even subscribe–dangerous, I know. The chat with Katie also revealed a hint of a possible brick and mortar in Native Bagel Co.’s future.
Much to the relief of everyone behind me in line (and likely behind the counter), I finally stopped talking to the cooks and left with my order. The bagels I received were unlike any I’ve had before. They checked the boxes on dense and chewy, but the local Kentucky ingredients produce a unique bagel fusion.
The only thing I found lacking were the napkins I failed to grab. Let’s just say that on that sunny morning I met cream cheese and cream cheese won.
Food trucks and food carts are so often the springboard of creative food entrepreneurs. Native Bagel Co. is yet another confirmation of that. Catch them while the farmer’s market season is still on, and if you’re lucky enough to live in Madison County you can just have them bring bagels to your door.
Native Bagel Co.
Saturday: 9 AM – 1 PM at
the Berea Farmer’s Market &
by delivery to Berea and Richmond