TRURO — “The ranking goes: New York bagels,” said Claire Adams, chef and owner of North Truro’s Salty Market, “and then Montreal bagels. And then….” Here, Ellery Althaus, Salty’s manager and co-owner, butts in: “North Truro bagels.”
That ranking may not be a truth universally acknowledged. But Adams and Althaus (partners in life and in business) are doing their best to put North Truro on the bagel map. Each Sunday, the two of them make some 400 bagels. They donate 150 to the Truro Community Kitchen and Common Table at the Fox & Crow in Wellfleet, and sell the rest.
Bagel-making wasn’t always part of their plan. But after the rush of buying Dutra’s Market in 2014 and running Salty for three or four seasons died down, Montreal-transplant Adams realized something was missing from the Outer Cape.
“Bagels are my favorite,” said Adams. “And you just can’t get bagels around here. They literally don’t exist. You can’t even buy bad bagels.”
For Adams — “I’m not technically a New Yorker, but I am a Jew” — this posed a serious problem. So, for her birthday in 2018, Althaus set out to remedy it. He scoured cookbooks for what looked like a decent, unfussy bagel recipe, and set his standards low.
“But they turned out really well,” he said.
“Like, so well,” added Adams.
Within a month, Bagel Sundays at Salty Market were up and running. “Truro and beyond has always been our guinea pig for everything new,” said Althaus.
Althaus and Adams met in 2011 at Adrian’s Restaurant, a North Truro breakfast and brunch joint that closed in 2012. North Truro native Althaus was waiting tables and Adams was cooking breakfast between semesters of culinary school. Her Cape Cod stay ended when her gig did, but it wasn’t long before something (hint: it wasn’t Adrian’s, or breakfast cooking) pulled her back Capeward.
She and Althaus married in October 2014, five months after they bought Dutra’s Market on the corner that defines downtown North Truro, renovated, rebranded, and turned it into their own Salty.
“It was really struggling,” said Althaus, who’d grown up down the street from the market, “and it really wasn’t hard to see that it could be something special.”
In a broad sense, Althaus concerns himself with the front of the house, Adams with the back. But the division of labor isn’t that simple. “We’ve always needed to help each other most of the time,” said Adams — “and,” Althaus added, “always wanted to.”
And that holds true in the bagel-making operation as well. Adams might be the culinary expert. But when it comes to round bread with holes in it, she lets Althaus take the lead.
“He’s definitely the main force of the bagels, but when we’re taste-testing, I’m right there,” said Adams. “I try to be involved in the fun parts and let him do the main actual hours in the kitchen: forming, boiling, and baking for the people.”
As for that forming, boiling, and baking, “It’s tiring,” said Althaus, “but it hasn’t yet gotten old.” Partly that’s because he and Adams are constantly trying to perfect the product. They’ve tweaked nearly every part of the process, from the ingredients (“You have to pay attention to what’s available out here,” said Althaus) to the flavors (they’re currently offering everything, plain, poppy-seed, sesame, and onion, Adams’s favorite), to the technique.
“I used to roll them into a snake and pinch them together,” said Althaus. “Now I roll them into a ball, shape them that way, and poke my finger through.”
One thing, though, has stayed precisely the same throughout his bagel experiments: the boiling, which Althaus cites as key.
“There are places that do them with steam ovens,” he said, “and there are places that get par-baked from New York. But there’s not a lot of places that boil ’em. I think that makes everybody feel like they’re a more authentic bagel.”
For Salty’s customers, that’s certainly the case. “I think they’re the best I’ve had outside of New York,” said Lynette Molnar of Provincetown, picking up her order last Sunday.
And it’s true closer to home, too. At just two-and-a-half years old, Zella, Althaus’s and Adams’s daughter, is “devoted” to bagels, Althaus said.
“If I give one to her and it’s a day old, she doesn’t want it,” said Adams. “She’s a bagel snob.”
Bagel-cravers must place orders ahead, online at thesaltymarket.com/shop, or by email, via [email protected].