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Bagels, bagels, bagels

A bagel is a hearty snack — all crusty and chewy, with a slight yeasty tang and a mild malted sweetness.

It's a perfect way start to the day. The dense texture seems equally well adapted to gobbling on the go with few crumbs or loading up with cream cheese, lox, onion and maybe even tomato and capers for a leisurely weekend morning.

While bagel purists might wince, I like the way a bagel stands up to layers of deli meats, cheeses and vegetables in a sturdy sandwich at lunchtime or gooey melted cheese for a late-night snack.

Clearly a fan of the bagel, I was glad to see two bagel shops pop up in Medford recently.

Grand Central Bagel, 141 S. Central Ave., is tucked between the burgeoning Rogue Community College complex and the Central Library. Combining gleaming corrugated metal and table cloths in muted tones, the cozy shop manages to look both hip and comfy. It caters to students, but also draws professionals from surrounding offices.

Grand Central owner Matt Soper teamed up with the owner of Black Oak Deli to open the downtown shop in December 2006. The Black Oak location bakes 17 varieties of bagels daily for both shops and mixes up a half dozen or so flavors of cream cheese.

The dough skews a bit to the sweet side, so I like the balance provided in the salt and garlic salt bagels. Or pick a sweet flavor like blueberry or cinnamon raisin and it's as good as dessert.

A plain bagel, any flavor, is 90 cents; adding butter, jam or peanut butter pushes the price to $1.50 and a flavored cream cheese schmear brings the total to $2.50. A half-dozen bagels cost $4.95 and a baker's dozen is $9.25.

Grand Central also offers breakfast egg sandwiches ranging in price from $2.95 to $4.75 and deli-style bagel sandwiches with whimsical names, just like Black Oak Deli does. I love the Hungry Hippo — a $5.50 veggie sandwich with hummus, avocado, lettuce, tomato and swiss. Deli sandwiches, on bread or bagels, are served with chips.

Soper also brings in locally made soups and other baked goods such as cookies and quick breads. He serves Good Bean coffee.

Across town in the Albertsons-anchored shopping center at 2386 W. Main St., Ahuva Bagel Co. opened in August. The small shop, which takes its name from the Hebrew word for "beloved," offers limited seating, but good music and fast service for a steady stream of customers.

It's owned by Chris Stebbins and his brother and sister-in-law Brad and Alanna Stebbins.

They bake 13 flavors of bagels six days a week. Prices start at 85 cents for "basic" bagels such as plain, seeded, salt and garlic, and 95 cents for "gourmet" bagels such as cheese, jalapeño and sun-dried tomato and basil. A $9 sampler box with one of each flavor is the best bet for buying bagels in bulk.

Spreads, including plain and flavored cream cheeses, peanut butter, jam, honey, hummus, pesto and a honey mustard sauce with dill, push prices up quickly with the fanciest options hitting $2.80.

Sandwich toppings such as lox, veggies, deli meats and tuna salad can be piled on open-faced bagels or squeezed into bagel sandwiches. Prices range from $2.80 to $4.95.

Ahuva serves Mellelo coffee, Tazo teas and a rotating array of soups from a Portland kitchen.

— Anita Burke