Every Friday Roots in Alpharetta features an article on food and dining in a series called Foodie Friday.
It’s rare to see a suburban eatery get so much praise that it trumps even trendy ITP joints. You can count on one hand the number of such places in the Alpharetta area. BB’s Bagels certainly would be on the list. Two years ago they won the AJC’s award for best bagels in Atlanta, both from the critics and readers of the paper. The restaurant with an attitude expanded to a second location on State Bridge in late 2010 and is talking about a third location in Atlanta.
What many forget in talking about BB’s is that they have a close cousin. Essex Bagels in Johns Creek is remarkably similar to the enormously popular BB’s – too much so to be coincidence. Their menu is nearly identical and their bagels are water-boiled and giant in size.
There’s a relationship between the two restaurants but it isn’t talked about much. When I asked BB’s about this on twitter recently, they responded only with “we help (Essex) with their bagel production.” While I’m sure BB’s would not want to harm Essex, they’d rather you visit one of their expanding list of locations.
Nevertheless I think Essex offers a very good alternative to BB’s, especially for customers who have been turned off to the restaurant for one reason or another. Here’s a list of differences and similarities.
Menu - Very close to the same. The combinations and options for basic egg platters are nearly identical. Essex even carries corned beef hash, a popular and delicious option at BB’s. Some of the prices at Essex seem cheaper though.
Bagels - Both are water-boiled and oversized. BB’s are probably a tad better in that they are a little more chewy. If I had to guess, I think BB’s is wholesaling bagel dough to Essex.
Cleanliness - Essex wins here. My wife has always been put off by the dirty appearance at BB’s, particularly at the McFarland location. This store has a history of sub-par inspection grades. Then again, maybe it is part of the greasy spoon vibe that they are going for. Whatever it is, if you’re concerned about cleanliness, Essex should be your choice.
Service - I get their schtick – surly staff from the Bronx. It’s best to have a thick skin when dealing with these guys. Some of them still give me crap over my article in the Revue & News where I said I didn’t find their menu very compelling. I just tell them to fuhgeddaboudit!
But many are put off by the service and occasional rude behavior of the staff. One reviewer on Yelp said “I was literally yelled at while attempting to place my order.” I’ve seen similar comments on twitter. If the service and vibe of the staff is a turn-off, go to Essex. It’s a much slower pace over there.
So that’s my take. One joint is named for a borough and one for a north Jersey county. Both make killer bagels. If you want that greasy spoon vibe with a grimy personality to match, stick with BB’s. If any of this turns you off, Essex is your best bet. You can’t go wrong with a toasted everything bagel with butter from either joint.