Bohemia Bagel Express
An unlikely contender emerges in the ongoing search for Prague's best sandwich
Passenger: Is it from New York or DC?
Stewardess: Oh, I'm sorry, it's from DC.
Passenger: Thank you for understanding why that's important.
Delta plane from DC to NY, Overheard in New York
That exchange just about says it all.
With New Yorkers, there is a certain snobbery when it comes to New York bagels. They'll tell you there's something special in the city's water. It makes the bagel interior fluffier, the outer crust crunchier. They say they can't be duplicated anywhere else, that nothing else comes close.
Of course, they're right. It's just that almost no one else really cares.
Message: I care.
But I'm not a fanatic. I grew up near New York City, and I do appreciate my hometown bagels above others. But I am not so much of a snob that I can't enjoy a non-New York bagel.
Prague really has only a few bagel outposts. Bohemia Bagel is a small, but slowly expanding chain here that sells reasonable iterations of bagels in Prague. I most often hit the small shack that houses the Bohemia Bagel Express at Tylovo náměstí, about halfway between Wenceslas Square and Náměstí Miru.
They do make bagel sandwiches. If you know me, you know that my quest for a good sandwich is never-ending. I will start off by saying that I don't think bagels are the best base material for sandwiches.
So, even I am rather surprised to announce that the Bohemia Bagel chicken salad "sandwich" has achieved current favorite sandwich status. You can pick one up yourself for 79 CZK.
First, I almost always get my bagel sandwiches made with garlic bagels. Toasted. I tried it untoasted once to avoid the extra waiting time. A mistake. Too chewy.
But it is the chicken salad itself that's really special. It is one of the best versions I've ever had, besides homemade.
It's got your basic chicken chunks with plenty of mayo. I like extra mayo. But it also includes finely chopped basil leaves, sun-dried tomatoes, and red onions. The tomato tints the mayo slightly pink.
The bagel sandwich also includes lettuce, fresh tomato and red onion slices. For an extra 10 CZK, they'll melt cheese on it, but I've always said no to that. The chicken salad is delicious by itself.
For a change of pace, I tried the pastrami sandwich, also on a garlic bagel, for 89 CZK. It includes American bacon, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, mustard, mayonnaise, and melted Swiss cheese. Heavy.
The pastrami, served warm, is not something that a New Yorker would recognize as real pastrami. It's not bad, but more like a supermarket cold cut than the smoked, salted, and peppered beef I get when I go back home.
When I ordered this "sandwich," I got all the included extras because it just says "Pastrami sandwich" on the menu on the wall. Another mistake.
First, the lettuce wilted badly from the heat. But, more significantly, I remembered a lesson from my youth. I was watching the scene from Woody Allen's Annie Hall, where she goes with him to a New York deli and orders pastrami on white bread with mayonnaise, tomatoes and lettuce.
This is a quick, casual joke aimed squarely at New Yorkers. I first saw that movie with my father, and he burst out laughing at that scene. Still a novice, I asked what was so funny.
"Some things are just not done," he explained.
Lesson: Mustard and rye bread go with pastrami. Lettuce, tomatoes, and mayo and white bread do not. Ever. Onions maybe. Bacon is not correct, but doesn't feel wrong for some reason.
You can easily tell the server at the Bohemia Bagel Express window to include or exclude anything you want. Everyone working there seems to speak English. They'll speak it even if you try to speak Czech.
One morning, I needed to get something in my stomach quickly and I happened to be in the area. I got a toasted cinnamon raisin bagel for 49 CZK. It is made with real American-style cream cheese, which they call "Philadelphia" here.
The tangy-creamy spread is the real deal and not so easy to find in Prague. It can also be ordered with veggie cream cheese, but this is not a recommended combination for a cinnamon raisin bagel.
The bagel has a little sweetness, mostly from the raisins. Toasting is a must. This is a great breakfast on the run and will keep your motor going and your stomach from growling for hours. A cup of regular filter coffee to go with it is only an extra 10 CZK.
It usually takes five minutes or so to get an order complete. So, for an approximate waiting time, multiply five minutes by the number of people standing in front of you, if there is a line.
I got good at figuring waiting times after working as a host at a restaurant on Charing Cross Road in London. One trick of the trade: Always overestimate. Anyway, I usually won't stop if there's more than one person standing there.
During warmer months, there are just a few tables in front of the shack on the street corner. If those are full, you could also join the mix of office workers and other strange characters on a bench at Tylovo náměstí. Otherwise, take it to go.
They do have a bacon, egg, and cheese bagel sandwich for 59 CZK, with the same 10 CZK extra deal for coffee. I had this once at the Újezd location in Malá Strana. Didn't like it. The egg was a perfectly formed disc that came from a warming tray. The bacon was pre-cooked and hard as a rock, very difficult to chew. The whole thing wasn't very warm.
I pass by the Malá Strana restaurant fairly often, but I don't go in that much. These days, I usually only get something sweet. I did once try the pulled pork sandwich with barbecue sauce (125 CZK). I remember I was not happy because the meat wasn't warm enough. The fries, which appeared to be hand-cut and made in-house, were limp. But that was long ago.
Bohemia Bagel at Újezd does a number of other American-style breakfasts, including pancakes, omelettes, and biscuits with gravy. The pancakes were not great when I tried them, a bit leathery. V had a vegetarian chili for 115 CZK that she said was pretty good.
Warning: Service at the Mala Strana location can be painfully slow on a busy weekend afternoon.
I will confess that I very much like their apple pie, which I believe is 50 CZK a slice. It has a nice, sweet lemon-cinnamon flavor. The crust used to be better, a little flakier, but it is still quite good and holds together well. Several times, I've ordered whole ones for around 500 CZK to serve at parties, and it disappeared fast.
The brownies for 30 CZK are also something I'll pick up now and again. Very fudgey and rich.
This location also offers a number of salads, soups, burgers (never tried), chili, quiche, and beer. Many of these items are not available at the Express location. There are now a total of five locations around the city.
I mostly stick to the sandwiches and cream cheese bagels. And the sweets. Not much else interests me there these days.
Some people like Bohemia Bagel shops. I know at least one other New Yorker who regularly picks up a dozen bagels to go. Some people don't. Some are just flat-out chicken salad freaks.
Tastes in these matters are formed by a wide variety of ethnic, geographical, and socioeconomic factors. My view is that everyone is entitled to their opinion.
Even New Yorkers.
Thank you for understanding why that's important.
Bohemia Bagel Express
Tel.: (+420) 603 196 636
Open: Mon - Fri 7:00 - 22:00
Sat + Sun 8:00 - 22:00
Prague Directory Listing
Bohemia Bagel (Original Location)
Tel.: (+420) 224 812 560
Open: Mon - Fri 7:00 - 24:00
Sat + Sun 8:00 - 24:00
Prague Directory Listing
August 21st, 2007
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