While no one is claiming that Oyster Bay will be the next Williamsburg, there are some tantalizing similarities, say Brad and Michele Berrol, proprietors of IT BGL, which is to open Wednesday. The husband-wife team, though originally from Syosset and Plainview respectively, were once Brooklyn residents and vividly remember when Williamsburg had “nothing there,” according to Brad.
“We saw this kind of cool, hip, unique neighborhood start to change and evolve,” adds Michele, who feels a similar vibe in Oyster Bay, where she and Brad have lived for the past 8 years and are now raising their children, 6 and 3. And however you feel about the town’s present level of hip/coolness, it’s a safe bet that the Berrols’ new shop will prove to be a boon to both.
For one thing, its name is something of a misnomer. Yes, the shop is dominated by a wood-fired oven (or wood-assisted, technically) capable of churning out hundreds of bagels a day in 8 different flavors. But IT BGL aims to be far more than the hottest breakfast place in town. “We start baking at 4:30 a.m.,” says Brad, who vows that hot, fresh-from-the-oven bagels will be available all morning, after which the furnace will be cranked up an additional few hundred degrees, and the shop transition to a lunch and dinner establishment specializing in Neapolitan-style pizza, as well as gourmet bagel sandwiches. Evenings will see a lighting change and further transition, into a wine and beer-serving pizzeria (a liquor license is pending).
“We hadn’t seen this all-day eatery concept anywhere outside Manhattan and Brooklyn, at least in this format,” says Brad. “The point is to create a space where you can come in for your eggs and bagel and coffee, but you feel just as comfortable coming back for a really nice salad and sandwich at lunch, and then just as comfortable coming in for a Neapolitan pizza and a cool glass of wine at dinner.”
As such, the IT refers not only to the special it bagel the Berrols are trying to create, but Michele’s Italian heritage, which is strongly represented on the menu. Both Berrols are also Jewish, and thus equipped to unite two of the world’s great gastronomic traditions. “In Manhattan, you’ve got these two iconic culinary cultures side by side, the Lower East Side next to Little Italy,” Brad says. “We brought them under one roof.”
Still, much of IT BGL’s success will depend on those last three letters, and here too the Berrols are opting for “a hybrid of bagel-making traditions," as Michele puts it. “Our dough recipe is more of a New York style, but a lot of what goes on after that is a Montreal process,” adds Brad. The latter is reflected in the gas- and hickory-burning oven, as well as in dough preparation. Before hitting the fire, IT BGLs are boiled in honey-sweetened water and then baked on wooden slats, both Montreal hallmarks.
The end result is a bagel both salty and sweet, although striking the right balance between the two required no small amount of the Berrols’ time. Indeed, the couple has fretted over, tweaked, tasted, and tweaked again their recipe many times during the past several months.
But the work appears to have paid off. The bagel we tried was a marvel to look at (hand-rolled, like every IT bagel) and a joy to eat. (Bagels with cream cheese are $3.50, bagels with butter are $2.50, and bagels with nothing are $1.35.)
We also sampled one of the shop’s five salads, a kale caesar ($9.95) whose novelties include roasted hazelnut pieces and a light mustard vinaigrette instead of the usual dressing. There were side dishes too, both equally good and equally reflective of the couple’s dual culinary citizenship.
The arancini ($6.50) substitutes diced pastrami for ham and adds a touch of mustard flavor to the balls of risotto, while the schmaltz potatoes ($6) feature chunks of spud fried in chicken fat until they’ve achieved the crunchy irresistibility of french fries.
We also sampled an 11-inch Baymen pizza ($15), one of six on the menu, an homage to the town IT BGL will serve. The tasty white pie features local clams (the Berrols buy fresh from a local fisherman), mozzarella, arugula, lemon and olive oil.
IT BGL’s fresh approach is also evident in the design of the 20-seat shop, which was Michele’s vision. Having observed time and again the dark woods and parlor atmosphere of so many bagel places, she “really wanted an atmosphere that was bright and airy,” she says, “more of a California chic vibe.” A large, golden pine banquette was created for the shop by a Centre Island millworker, and there’s even a sculptural treatment of a tree in the corner, complete with a living fiddle-leaf fig component. “Since we have a wood-burning oven, it seemed like we should somehow have a tree too.”
Note to Oyster Bay residents and other early adopters: IT BGL will open as a morning and early afternoon establishment and then gradually phase in its dinner service after a few weeks. Within a month, the Berrols estimate that their shop will be open from early morning to late in the evening six days a week.
IT BGL is at 19 E. Main St. in Oyster Bay, 516-628-1110, itbgl.com. After a soft opening of a few weeks or so, regular hours will be Sunday through Thursday, 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.