Friday, June 21, 2024

A bagel sandwich at Black Sheep in Cambridge’s Harvard Square. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Good, fresh bagels are hard to come by, and I don’t mean that we don’t have enough bagel shops – it’s just that the ones we have are wildly popular. Just amble by Bagelsaurus in Porter Square on a Saturday or Sunday morning and you’ll see a line down the block, with a sign in a nearby alleyway asking the faithful to “not block” traffic as they wait for order, assuming their choice of bagel has not sold out. Get there early or get the dregs.

Besides Bagelsaurus, there’s Davis Square Donuts & Bagels, the new Brooklyn Bagel Factory near Inman Square (review forthcoming), and the slightly under-the-radar Black Sheep Bagel on JFK Street in Harvard Square, with a market outpost in Cambridgeport. Black Sheep makes its bagels fresh and onsite. What the Harvard Square cafe has over the others is a great gathering space where you can plug in, sit down and study, work or natter with friends and family over doughy delights and fresh brewed coffee. The subterranean space is homey, modern and spare with a bohemian touch.

For eats, it’s bagels, bagels and more bagels – the selection is pretty much what you’d expect, with a few rarities such as rosemary sea salt, za’atar and Cajun spice (some sold only on the weekends). You can get bagels with your schmear of choice, but the nice spin at Black Sheep is a menu of bagel sandwiches. They come in a variety of essential offerings that include lox, avocado toast and a deviled egg salad toast (the “toast” here being a bagel), but also have meatier, lunchtime eats such as the caprese; turkey mozzarella; and turkey avocado. I tried the two gobbler versions on my bagel of choice, sea salt. Like the Bagelsaurus version, these always comes out at Black Sheep with the right amount of salt. Too much can really ruin the experience.

The turkey and mozzarella comes with pesto and the option to add a balsamic reduction drizzle. The mozz was pretty fresh, and I was glad I got the balsamic add-on – but get extra napkins. The turkey and avocado is more of a classic deli offering, with Swiss, lettuce and tomato (which was fresh and juicy) and chipotle aioli. The bagels, as advertised, were soft and chewy; if you want them toasted, you need to specify.

If you’re looking for more breakfast or eggy fare, there is a breakfast BLT that comes with maple bacon cream cheese (yum) and the bacon, egg and fig, with jalapeño cream cheese, fig jam and Cajun seasoning. Be advised: If you’re a griddled cooked egg lover, these eggs are hard boiled. The market in Cambridgeport is more of a grab-and-go spot, but has spa offerings and pastries from vendors such as Union Square Donuts. Though I had no problem getting a seat on my last visit to the JFK cafe, it’s pretty well trafficked; on my way out, the sign on the sidewalk said “Sorry, we’ve sold out of bagels, but we still have coffee!”

Black Sheep Bagel Cafe (56 JFK St., Harvard Square, Cambridge)

Tom Meek is a writer living in Cambridge. His reviews, essays, short stories and articles have appeared in the WBUR ARTery, The Boston Phoenix, The Boston Globe, The Rumpus, The Charleston City Paper and SLAB literary journal. Tom is also a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics and rides his bike everywhere.