Eating Nashville's bagels: We rank the city's expanding bagel options

Brad Schmitt Mackensy Lunsford
Nashville Tennessean
  • Our favorite bagel is also a reader favorite
  • But we did quibble some over prices
  • One of our favorite bagels is only available on weekends, and it comes from a pizza place

Brad: Yes, red-hot Nashville is attracting national corporate headquarters, celebrity chefs, and major league sports franchises. Here's my favorite sign, though, that we're becoming a real big-boy city: Nashville's now home to SEVEN bagel shops! Seven of 'em! It makes my Yankee Jewish heart go pitter-patter.

I've dragged my carbs-avoiding, exercise-loving food partner, Mackensy Lunsford, into ranking these places. Mack, we appreciate your sacrifice! And what a sacrifice: An average plain bagel, nothing on it, is about 270 calories, the equivalent of about four slices of bread.

Sandwiches from Proper Bagel in the Belmont University area include a cream cheese and lox on a bialy, center, a cream cheese on sesame bagel, left and right, and an egg, cheese, bacon and potato on an everything bagel, center back

Mackensy: I would have preferred you left that four-slice stat out. Yikes. But let's not fight over how many carbs I do or don't eat (carbs are important for energy, folks!). Let's have a fight over cost. Because you're very price-conscious when it comes to bagels.

Brad: Ha! "Very price conscious" is an exaggeration β€” you yourself, Mack, have seen that I'm willing to spend my money (and definitely the company's money πŸ˜‰) for high-priced, quality food. What I'm not willing to do is spend $4 on a single, nothing-on-it bagel. Anywhere. Not in New York, and especially not in Nashville. Most bagels here are half that price, and the $4 bagel at Bagelshop in the Fairlane Hotel, while excellent, is not twice as good as its competitors.

Mackensy: Inflation has made the cost of doing business higher, as you know. Even without that, making a proper bagel is labor-intensive. Ideally, it involves high-quality ingredients, a multi-step boiling and baking process and, again hopefully, a fairly paid worker to do all of that. That's not even to mention the cost of keeping a restaurant open. If you're not buying bagels in bulk, $4 is reasonable for a quality bagel that's big enough to be a whole meal. You can't even get a warm beer on Broadway for that much.

Anyway, to the contenders. Note: We didn't consider large chains such as Breugger's.

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7. Star Bagel Cafe

4504 Murphy Road

Brad: Hats off to this OG bagel shop, locally owned and slinging bagels in West Nashville/Sylvan Park since 1995. For years, it was the only bagel place in town. For me, Star Bagel, though, hasn't kept up with its competitors in terms of the quality of its bagels and sandwiches. One of our tasters noted, correctly, that the garlic bagel was "gummy." I must say, though it's not a bagel, that their housemade chocolate chip cookie is one of the best I've had, anywhere.

Star Bagel in Sylvan Park in Nashville April 15, 2023

Mackensy: Yep! These bagels are just fine, and the Spicy Mike breakfast sandwich is delicious. When I lived on the West Side, this satisfied my occasional bagel craving nicely.

6. Jersey Oven

300 Pleasant Grove Road, Mt. Juliet

Brad: First things first β€” Mt. Juliet, you've got yourselves a legit locally owned bagel shop, and that's something to celebrate. You can only find national chain bagel places in other Nashville 'burbs, even in Franklin 😲. Hits and misses here for me. Great pastrami and swiss, good pork roll sandwich, OK lox cream cheese. I do wish the bagels themselves had a bit of crunch on the outside.

A reuben sandwich on a pumpernickel bagel from Jersey Oven in Mt. Juliet, Tenn., March 31, 2023. A pork roll sandwich is behind it to the left.

Mackensy: This is a solid spot with real-deal bagels and great jalapeno cream cheese, one of my major weaknesses. I would visit here if I lived in that neck of the woods. But I don't and didn't find it worth the drive. If it's convenient for you, put Jersey Oven on your list.

5. H&S Bagels

105 17th Ave. S.

Brad: Love the owner's story β€” New Jersey native Hector Sanchez started making hand-rolled bagels when he was 16, cranking out 520 bagels in 45 minutes in the olden days. Now, Hector owns H&S Bagels here, generating some pretty solid sandwiches in his Midtown shop. The knock on his product β€” believe it or not, the bagels are too big, coming out sometimes like too bready, round balls of dough. I really like the flavor, but I do agree that there's literally too much.

Cuban, ham and egg, and lox and cream cheese sandwiches from H&S Bagels in Midtown Nashville April 4, 2023

Mack: I love that Sanchez filters his water to mimic New York City water. These are very good bagels and, true to Big Apple form, this spot offers Taylor ham, though on a bagel, not a roll. Yes, these are giant bagels, and inexpensive, too. Admittedly, my usual order at this restaurant, which is very close to The Tennessean's office, is a bacon, egg and cheese. But in a wrap. I'll see myself out.

Brad: πŸ™„

4. Bagelshop in the Fairlane Hotel

401 Union St.

Brad: Wowser, these are really, really good bagels. Yes, I enjoyed the New Yorker (cream cheese, lox and capers) and the Reuben, but honestly, the bagels themselves are the stars of the show. Perfectly boiled and baked, just a little crunch on the outside and super fresh, with the perfect amount of poppyseed, garlic, salt or whatever else you like on the outside of the bagel. My ONLY hesitation, as I mentioned earlier: They sell single nothing-on-them bagels for $4 each, about twice what it costs at other Nashville bagel shops.

A Rreuben sandwich on a garlic bagel at Bagelshop in the Fairlane Hotel in downtown Nashville April 11, 2023

Mackensy: You nailed the description. This is an excellent bagel. They're big but also not too billowy, made in-house and have the right texture. Definitely heard a New York-accented man come up to the counter and order "the regular." Hey vegans: Bagelshop has non-dairy cream cheese. And hey Donelson: there's another location coming to your neck of the woods.

3. Nicky's Coal Fired Bagel Shop

5026 Centennial Blvd.

9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays only

Brad: Y'all, these right here could very well be the best bagels in Nashville. Super fresh, pull-apart goodness with the perfect amount of flavor on each one. Get the "garlic bread" bagel, which has a buttery taste that sets it apart from any regular garlic bagel. Its limited offerings and limited hours (weekend mornings only) keep it from being Nashville's best bagel shop. But man, superb products β€” and if you go, make sure you get the egg/cheese sandwich with a schmear of Calabrian chili cream cheese, which gives a perfect spicy kick.

Super fresh bagels are stacked high in the kitchen on Sunday morning, April 16, 2023, in what by night is Nicky's Coal Fired in the Nations neighborhood in Nashville.

Mackensy: I've long been a champion of Nicky's pizza and weekend bagels, but Brad always pushes back. So imagine my delight when I received this text on Sunday morning: "As much as it pains me to say, you are right about Nicky's."

I love, love the texture of these bagels β€” that coal-fired oven adds a nice crunch. I'm also completely obsessed with the Calabrian cream cheese. I have some in my fridge right now in fact, and I sometimes just eat it straight out of the tub with crackers.

A lox bagel from Nicky's Coal Fired

2. Crieve Hall Bagel Co.

4825 Trousdale Drive

Brad: Here's a unique product as each bagel, regardless of flavor, is made from sourdough. Owner Ben Cornfield, a one-time health care industry exec, started experimenting with sourdough bagels during the pandemic, and voila! He has a popular new spot in his Crieve Hall neighborhood. The star of the show is the jalapeno bagel, which I haven't seen elsewhere in Nashville. It has the perfect amount of heat.

Crieve Hall Bagel Co. in Nashville on April 12, 2023

Mackensy: Also, the Nashville hot bagel was a lot of fun, especially when piled with egg and cheese. But I'd beg to differ with the star of the show here: It's the everything bagel with lox, red onion, tomato and chive cream cheese. That should be your order.

1. Proper Bagel

2011 Belmont Blvd.

Brad: Just walking into this crowded Belmont-area bagel shop is breathtaking, with rows and rows of schmears behind glass as you walk to the cash register. The bagels themselves are perfect. Get a warm, plain bagel out of the oven, pull it apart and you can really appreciate the craftsmanship of that boiled-and-baked bagel. The sandwiches are wonderful, and the options are seemingly endless. Yes, it gets crowded and the lines can be long, but there's a reason; this is the best bagel shop in Nashville.

A gouda cheese, egg, bacon and hash brown sandwich with spicy ketchup on an everything bagel from Proper Bagel in the Belmont University area of Nashville on April 6, 2023

Mack: Proper indeed. I like the big-as-your-head bagel sandwich with Nova lox, capers, onion, tomato and dill-scallion cream cheese, and I add a fistful of greens because hello, extra vegetables. Also earth to Brad: That ends up clocking in at almost $17 before tax and tip. But this is the gold standard, and everyone in Nashville knows it.

What's your favorite bagel in Nashville? If you love our picks, find Brad at brad@tennessean.com. For all other comments, please direct them to Mackensy at mlunsford@southernkitchen.com.