100 Plaza Dr #A, Williamsville, NY 14221
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Probably the area's best bagel shop, featuring both a nice variety of bagels and other nice brunch items ranging from pastries to sandwiches. Reasonable prices and great flavors. Drive-through option.
Meats and coffees served here aren't always ideal; environment is classically impersonal deli-style with fairly long lines.
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"Whether you're looking for a $2 snack, a $15 lunch for two, or a big sack of fresh bagels to take home, Bagel Jay's has something to offer anyone except for low-carb dieters."
After the dust cleared from Manhattan Bagel's acquisition of the formerly beloved local chain Bagel Brothers, which had come to dominate Buffalo's bagel scene after opening in 1976, one of the Brothers opened Bagel Jay's, a successor that he has described as better than the original. Now with three locations, Jay's may not have the New York deli feel of its predecessor - a simultaneous draw for some and repellant for others - but the clean, modern shops specialize in turning out the area's tastiest bagels. Using a "water bagel" cooking technique that first briefly submerges the dough in hot water before baking it, resulting in a bagel that's perfectly soft inside with a thin layer of taut, nearly rubbery skin, Bagel Jay's has a huge variety of delicious flavors, as well as specialty sandwiches and accompanying brunch fare.
The Story: Many delicatessens offer extremely broad menus filled with the names of classic sandwiches, exotic-sounding salads, and scads of pastries - that's not Bagel Jay's. Though Jay's shops do have some non-bagel options, posted on tall, high placards above the counters where people line up to watch their food and drinks being prepared, the name properly explains their focus and specialization: you may wind up with a coffee, a cookie, or a sandwich, but you should come here for the bagels, and expect them to be Western New York's best. They're also very reasonably priced, starting at $1 without frills.
Highs: Jay's bagels are, as promised, great. Whether you're ordering a plain, garlic, blueberry, onion, or cheddar bagel completely dry, loading it with a "schmear" of flavored cream cheese and lox (smoked salmon), or assembling a full bagel sandwich with egg, cheese, or ham, the quality of the doughs and the dried ingredients they're infused with is unmistakably high. It is possible at Bagel Jay's, we have noted, to completely enjoy a bagel ($1) that has merely been lightly toasted, without even butter as a topping; our plain garlic bagel here had precisely the right amount of real garlic flavor. It's sometimes hard to enjoy bagels elsewhere unless they've been covered in toppings.
The full bagel sandwiches are also in a completely different category from big chain versions. The fluffiness of the ingredients inside the egg and cheese bagel ($3) shown here was a sign of freshness; its disappearance within minutes of delivery was another. Bagel Jay's also offers wraps, as well as sweet pastries and desserts, including pastry hearts, brownies, and cookies, which aren't standouts but will satisfy someone with an appetite for sugar. True foodies should note that the options at Jay's are intentionally limited, and the items never lean towards the exotic; this is a small chain that specializes in doing the old standards very well.
Lows: A roast beef bagel we tried showed plenty of attention to the bagel and the unnecessary schmear of garlicy cream cheese, but less to the beef, which could have been a lot fresher and better tasting. Similarly, the shop's $2 iced coffees were merely passable, arriving with plenty of ice, and barely sweetened but for a squirt of flavored syrup. Neither the chocolate nor the caramel versions we tried made any positive impression. Finally, the environment is - other than the clean, modern decor - typical of delis, generally with a big line of people waiting for bagels and occupying small tables. You'll be equally well-served if you're rushing a take-out order or going through the drive-thru window.
The Verdict: Whether you're looking for a $2 snack for one, a $15 lunch for two, or a big sack of fresh bagels to take home, Bagel Jay's has something to offer anyone except for low-carb dieters. Even then, the look and smell of one of these toasted rings of dough will almost certainly demand a taste, and then a full-fledged exception to the diet's rules; you needn't be a bagel fan to appreciate the quality of this restaurant's signature items.